Spanning nearly four decades, Paul Grys’ career includes 19 years with luxury car maker Jaguar (1984-2003) and 17 years at construction-equipment manufacturer JCB (2003-2020), where he was Managing Director of several business units before spending three years as Group Business Operations Director. He led and developed complex manufacturing businesses, a skillset that led to his appointment as CEO of Fairline Yachts in late 2021.
Paul, how would you assess your role and Fairline following your first full year as CEO?
The front end of the business is in really good shape. We’ve got good order coverage, which is outstripping our production plan for the next 12 months, while the product plan is excellent. The challenges in the business are around the supply chain and operationally, and my background is predominantly operations.
Most of the years I spent at Jaguar were in operations and I moved to JCB to do more of that before I started running businesses there. At Fairline, I’m focusing on making sure we’re in good shape from the perspective of operations as well as leadership, making sure we’re connected by a joined-up plan and focused on the right priorities.
To help catch up with production, has there been any talk about expanding or supplementing Fairline’s manufacturing base in Oundle or the commissioning facility in Ipswich?
We acquired a small facility locally in Corby (west of Oundle, also in Northamptonshire) in 2022 and relocated our prototype and development team there. This has created space in Oundle for a new line, which is predominantly where the [Squadron] 58 is being built.
I believe that will keep us going through 2023. If things go to plan, I expect we’d need to expand our facilities from 2024 onwards.
What has been the response to the Phantom, the first model of Fairline’s new sportbridge series, which was displayed at the Cannes Yachting Festival and Genoa International Boat Show last September and is part of the Boot Dusseldorf 2023 line-up?
The hull is based on the Squadron 68 and the main differences are the layout on the main deck and having a sportbridge rather than a full flybridge.
The new contemporary interior style we introduced on the upgraded Squadron 68 [in 2022] is also very apparent in the Phantom 65 and is the blueprint throughout all our new boats.
We’ve also had to revise the top speed of the Phantom 65 from 35 knots, as we’ve had it out on the sea at 37 knots, so we’re quite pleased about that. It’s a fun ride in a boat like this.
One of the first units of the new Squadron 68 was delivered to Thailand last year through Simpson Marine. Can you talk about the model’s main changes from the earlier version released in 2019?
There’s a softer feel from a furnishing perspective. It’s lighter inside. We’ve changed the wood and colours to give an airier feel. There has also been a lot of work done in terms of optimizing the space on the boat, which is key.
The F//Line 33 arrived with quite a fanfare in 2019 before an updated version with optional hard top was released two years later. How is the demand for Fairline’s fastest, smallest model?
Sales have been steady. I think we produced about 17 units in 2022, so we’re keeping up with orders at that rate. The model is only available now with the new deck layout and about 50 per cent of new orders are taking the hard top option, which often depends on where the boat is based. The hard top is also available as a retro-fit and many clients are realizing it could be a good addition.
There’s a lot of excitement about the upcoming Squadron 58, which will feature drop-down sides.
One of the things people want on a boat is extra space, especially around the aft cockpit area. It’s something we feel is going to work for Fairline. We’re also doing a drop-down bulwark on the [upcoming] Targa 40 but just on one side. It’s a design that makes a boat more flexible and versatile, and again is a way of optimizing space.
Are there any concerns about implementing this feature for the first time at Fairline?
The designers and engineers play the key role, while we need to keep an eye on the design for manufacturing, from a production perspective. From a design perspective, it’s great, but we must make sure we can build the boat efficiently, so we can continue to deliver on time.
Each Fairline model needs to have its own personal identity, but there also needs to be a theme flowing through the ranges, so I’m trying to get a bit of commonality. I think it’s important we get better at that as we go through these new phases of our long-term plan. I’m conscious the yacht industry is different to the automotive business, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a few lessons.
So, what can the yacht industry learn from the car industry in terms of production efficiency?
I mentioned about ‘design for manufacturing’. I think Fairline is fantastic at designing for our customers and I think our customers should continue to be the number one priority. But I think we can be more conscious about how we design for manufacturing.
We’re strengthening the team and manufacturing engineering is a key element of our recruitment. Our new manufacturing team manager started in September. The idea is for that team to become the bridge between the design team and production.
I stress that we’re not changing the look or feel of our boats at all and we’re not ‘nickel and diming it’. We’re still making sure Fairline yachts embody the luxury our customers expect. We’re just pursuing a slightly different way of making the boats, which is one aspect of learning from the car industry.
Another is focusing on production targets. It doesn’t matter what you’re building or how long it takes, you need checks and balances every day to know you’re making progress according to the plan. In the automotive world – or even in the digger world, which I was in at JCB – if you build 90-100 cars a day and you’ve only built 90, you’ve not had a good day. If you build 101, you’ve had a great day.
Monitoring like this in the marine industry is quite difficult, so systems need to be in place to let you know if you’re on schedule, rather than waiting a month to find out you’re not. It requires visible KPIs or measures in place to see that progress.
I think this is important, so everybody knows whether they’ve had a good or bad day. If they’ve had a bad day, we can then work on how to correct it, so we can recover. As much as anything else, it’s a mindset, which you would naturally get in the automotive world, because you can see the numbers.
We’re trying to get to a situation where we can see it here, although I understand there’s a lot more craftsmanship involved in building yachts. I don’t want to get into discussions about lean manufacturing, Toyota and the likes, as that’s completely different, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have some of those disciplines in place.
You mentioned that production has already improved, with numbers for the first eight months of last year matching the 12 months in 2021. What’s driving the improvement?
I’d say our new approach played a small part and has a bit of influence, but the improved production is mostly because we’ve got a steadier workforce and the supply chain has got better, although there are still challenges.
We have about 400 employees, we’re more stable now, so we have a good foundation from which to grow the business.
However, new designs and new product remain the lifeblood of our business and determine growth. Over the last 12 months, we’ve really strengthened our design team, which has been great.
Justin Waring is our Head of Design and is supported by Andrew Pope and Christian Gott, our Lead Concept Designer. We should have a steady 2023 as the new models bed in, then we can really go for it.