Video and Photos by Lucas Compan
Times Square, New York. This was the unique location hosting an exclusive and exciting installation that featured one of the finest yachts in the Azimut Yachts product line. The remarkable initiative, in partnership with Design Pavilion and NYCxDesign, completed the New York celebration organized by Azimut Benetti to mark the group’s 50th anniversary, demonstrating once again the firm’s commitment to promoting the interaction between art, yachting, and design.
Onboard the Azimut S6, we met Giovanna Vitelli, Vice-president Azimut Benetti.
First of all, what is the significance of your presence in Times Square, the crossroads of the world?
We chose to have this special celebration in New York City as the U.S. is our number one market, but also because this location talks about the cultural approach of our company. Times Square represents the fusion of many global trends, of many different attitudes, the place where for the first time videos turned into advertisements, where some rules were broken. Somehow this is part of our DNA, of our daily work, to be pioneers and create something different from the past. What can you imagine to be more unusual than a boat taken from the water and brought into the middle of Times Square? This out of the box thinking is part of our vision.
Azimut Benetti is a Made in Italy’s brand ambassador. How do you feel about this responsibility?
It’s a great honor and a great satisfaction. Generally speaking, Italy is very strong in the creative industry, from fashion to interior design, to yachting. As a country, we are the largest producer of mega yachts in the world and, actually, Azimut Benetti is the world’s largest company producing mega yachts. I would say the combination of different ingredients is the key to our success: we have always been very disruptive on the technological side. This is something that I have inherited from my father. But a new boat is always like a blank page, you don’t have to think about what has been done so far, but try to anticipate trends and needs that people don’t even know they have yet. From a design point of view what, I think, has been very rewarding in these past ten years is that we were the first ones to introduce designers from different disciplines to the yachting world. In the 80s and 90s, when yachting was booming, we had a type of language which remained unchanged for too many years. Thus, the opulence, typified by the abundance of rich materials – onyx, and gloss ebony – turned into a more sophisticated architectural project in which the luxury feel is given by exquisite details rather than by the materials. And this is very much Italian. We took on board very important Italian designers, some of which were true discoveries, and with most of them we established a successful collaboration. I think that this has really brought a breath of fresh air.
Starting from Elle Decor USA-List member Achille Salvagni to Vincenzo De Cotiis, who is, first of all, an artist who treats the boat as a piece of art itself, without limiting himself to just putting his collectibles in it.
And now we are also working on a Benetti 40 meter (130 feet) boat with the New York-based European duo Enrico Bonetti/Dominic Kozerski, currently in charge of the new Pace Gallery project in New York. It is a very interesting job because it is very much across-the-board.
You recently launched an international competition for design students entitled “Can You See/Sea the Future?” How do you recognize a talent and how will you identify the winner of this contest in December?
This is a contest we do every year but normally it is more on a European scale, so we involve European designers and universities, especially British ones, in consideration of their strong tradition in design. For the first time, through Arts Thread, which is a platform dedicated to design contests, we are involving important American institutions in something very interesting. The topic is the design of a 10 meter (30 feet) boat and they work on exteriors, interiors, and details. The key elements for the jury will be sustainability in terms of materials, concept, and global vision of the project. The winner will be awarded a 3 months paid internship at our headquarters in Italy.
You mentioned technology as a key factor in the success of your yachts. How much is Azimut Benetti investing in research and development?
This is the area in which we invest the most. We invest in technology, design, and whatever infrastructure is connected to new products. Even in the tough years of the financial crisis we never cut a single cent from this area, which meant that, in the end, we gained market share while most of the competition was very silent. This is something connected to our business model and to our family business. The fact that we have the luxury to reinvest our profits in the company with a long-term vision, without having to give back to any private equity fund, or banks, or using it short term, gives us great freedom and it’s an important element for our customers and buyers.
A family business that right now has 3 giga yachts building simultaneously…
And in 100 days! There’s no other company that has ever done this before, it is a unique record in the industry and another reason for customers to spend their money with us? Together with the fact that our family business has a role and value also in the resale. In fact, our boats are particularly successful in the second-hand market. This is due to the fact, I think, that our two brands (Azimut and Benetti) have demonstrated their continuity in time.
You are celebrating your first 50 years in the business and you’ve already organized events in Dubai and New York City. Cannes in September, Hong Kong in November, and in December you will celebrate in Avigliana, your headquarters. Can you share some details about these upcoming events?
In September we are going to celebrate during the most beautiful, in my opinion, boat show in the world. This celebration is dedicated to our European clientele. However, we just discovered that 102 Americans have already confirmed their presence and will be spending one week with us in Italy and France, so it is going to be part of a larger program. We’ll celebrate in Cap d’Antibes with a unique and fun evening with our customers. Then, in November in Hong Kong and in December in our headquarters, with the Alps and their snow behind us, we will present our production in a very creative way by transforming each production moment in a spectacular show.
What are the goals for the next 50 years?
Something really unique in the company, which I want to always maintain, is the passion of our people. I don’t know if it’s because we are a family business, or because of the products, or just a fantastic chemistry that brings people together. Most of the people that work with Azimut Benetti have been with us for many years, they are growing in the company. The challenge, for example, to move this boat to NY involved people as if it was their company. I saw people not sleeping days and nights fighting this battle. So, I really want to keep this spirit over time. I also think we will face new challenges in the technological area, with sustainability being, for sure, among the biggest ones for the future. Another one concerns everything that makes the use of the boats easier, from boats that can move on their own, to technologies that can allow more and more domotics, like the electronic on-board turning touch screen, as well as everything that contributes to user-friendliness and comfort aboard.
You recently declared in an interview that your yachts, or yachts in general, could be considered the castles of the third millennium. Do you believe that maybe in the future people could decide to select a yacht or a giga yacht as their main residence?
Certainly, today yachts are perceived as places where to spend your free time and, in this sense, people dare to be more creative regarding the look of a yacht instead of the one of a residence because it isn’t the place where they usually live. In this regard, I hope that things will remain the same with this phenomena of “daring more”. On the other hand, more comfort on board and improved stabilizing systems and instruments have caused people to spend more time on board. Many of our customers are spending half the year on board. So yes it could come and, hopefully, it will remain a bit of an extraordinary world where people dream, express themselves and have a lot of fun.
The nautical world is quite a male one. What’s the leadership style that you bring as a woman entrepreneur?
The fact that product development, which is the core of this business, was progressively entrusted to me under my father (Paolo Vitelli, founder of Azimut Benetti, Ed.) was very generous, and also a clever move because it is the right way to give continuity to the business. I think that this product is something that a woman has in her blood, especially concerning the creativity area, the design part is extremely fascinating. I think, the typical sensibility of a woman includes the idea of teamwork, of being inclusive with people that are really ready to throw themselves into the fire for the company, and sharing ideas, which, in the end, also means giving responsibilities to people and without centralizing them in one person.
Do you have any dream for the future of Azimut Benetti?
I don’t think I have the dream to grow the company, I really like the structure we have now. My dream is to speak to a wider range of people, not just among the yachting community, but every person in the street. If you think about the excellence of the Made in Italy brand you think about fashion and sports cars. I’d like for people to think also about Azimut Benetti and yachting in general.