Hatteras CEO James Meyer gives us some insight into what makes this highly respected brand one of the most recognized in the world.
It Starts At The Top
By Capt. Ken Kreisler
Photography by Jim Raycroft and Hatteras Yachts
This interview with Hatteras CEO James Meyer is the first of a three-part story focusing on Hatteras Yachts and the company’s place in the industry.
There’s a sweet sound coming out of the inner banks area around the historic town of New Bern, North Carolina, and it is as much of what typifies this part of the country as that of a rocking chair on the wide porch of a stately mansion just north of Broad Street or the tinkle of ice cubes as they frost the outside of a mint julep glass on a warm summer’s afternoon. And if you follow its reverberation, out on North Glenburnie Road, it will lead you to the manufacturing facility of Hatteras Yachts.
It is a distinctive tone that resonates with the history and tradition set down by iconic, visionary, and more times than not, larger than life personalities such as Hatteras founder Willis Slane and noted marine architect Jack Hargrave, and is one of many reasons why the company continues to occupy a very special place in the rarefied air of sportfish and motor yacht design and construction.
The sound is that of the celebrated boat builder’s work force as it turns to at 6:30 every morning of the work week, to get the 60 Motor Yacht line going; to finish off a 68 Enclosed Bridge Convertible and send it off to the make-ready facility and get set for an open bridge 60GT to take its place; prepare to turn a 105-footer over to its proud new owner; infuse yet another hull and set of stringers, and see to all the other fine products in various stages of construction, going on in the nine buildings comprising the site, that are included in the current Hatteras line up.
During a recent visit to the New Bern facility, I had the opportunity to speak with some of the major players responsible for Hatteras’ continued success in the industry. And what transpired over the two-plus days I spent there, gave me even more insight into just what Hatteras is all about as the company wraps up 50 years of boat building to become firmly established in the 21st Century.
First up was some well-spent time with company CEO James Meyer, whose comfortable and self-assured mannerism is totally dedicated and focused on the business of the highly respected brand. Meyer, the former vice president of product development, as well as the supply chain and business integration for the Brunswick Boat Group, joined the company in 2006. Prior to that, he had been with the Ford Motor Company.
KK: Let’s begin with some background information starting when you assumed the CEO position of Hatteras Yachts.
JM: I came aboard as CEO in November of 2008 when Brunswick elected to make some changes during a time when the company was focused on matching the size of the business with the rate that the economy was shrinking the industry. The first six months were not especially pleasant but we got ourselves sized right and very quickly. With that, we worked on lowering our inventory levels and through those efforts were able to invest very heavily in the brand positioning for the future; in setting up the factories for the future; and in setting up all the new tooling for some of the things we are going to talk about.
KK: Sounds like there’s quite a bit of product development being put into play. But before we get to that, what sets Hatteras apart from the others?
JM: I think there are a lot of things that set Hatteras apart from everyone else. I’ll start with the fact that we’re a fifty-year-old company and in a lot of ways created the convertible sportfishing market, popularized tournament sportfishing through our products, and over the years, through an intense focus on those products, a brand was born. We are not just a boat company, having one of the great marque brands in the world that sits along any great one in any industry.
A major part of that is, of course, the product and while we continue to focus on product leadership, we’ve also grown our business to include what we believe to be the best in industry and world-class customer care. It’s how we work with prospective customers to make the build process very special; it’s how we deliver the boat to the customer; and how we take care of them, not only after the sale and through the warranty period, but forever. We just delivered a boat for a customer that came back for Hatteras #12 and I was recently in the Virgin Islands with some seniors who are into their third and fourth Hatteras and meeting their grown kids who are in the process of buying their first. We’re really focused on making this a family experience and much more than just the boat itself. That’s really something special.
KK: You touched a bit on product development and you seem to have an aggressive schedule ramping up. Why don’t we continue with that part of the business.
JM: That’s the one thing now that we are absolutely excited about. We are doing more product development between Hatteras and our other brand, Cabo, then either company has done in their history over an 18-month period of time.
Between the two brands we have nine products that are in various stages of production and will be coming out over the next six to eight months. Here at Hatteras, that’s going to include a whole new line of sportfishing convertibles. We think this is going to stir up the industry and thrill our customer base. But beyond that is the fact that we are able to be doing this now. I mean, again, the industry is going through some very tough times and a lot of our competitors, and even some of those who we do not compete with, are struggling to survive. We have been very fortunate as a business that we have been able to invest at such a high level and come to market in one of the biggest ways we’ve ever done. It started at this past Miami and will hit full force this coming Ft. Lauderdale. By Miami 2011, everything will be there.
KK: Let’s speak about the core ideas of the design and engineering team and how they are able to make the vision a reality.
JM: We have a treasure trove of expertise on the technical side and it really goes back to the core DNA of this company; the first company to come out with a fiberglass base convertible. From day one, with Willis Slane, we have always been about innovation and for 50 years now, it has never let up. I’m not sure if I really know how we have managed to build and maintain that magic, but it’s there. You see it with our competitors that copy us, from our tunnel designs to our propeller designs to how we do our electrical systems to the entire technical spectrum of what makes up a great boat product, chances are the innovations started here.
What people are talking about these days is not so much on the design side but on the manufacturing side with resin infusion technology. This very complex and special procedure allows us to put what we feel is our superior, solid bottom boats into weight competitiveness against any of our competition. Everything we build today is a resin infused product which we feel is a major part of what is making us special and allows us to do a world-class, luxury yacht on a very competitively weighted fishing platform.
KK: These new products that are forthcoming, that are going to continue to put Hatteras in the forefront, how are they going to affect the short-term as well as the long-term health of the company?
JM: With everything we’ve done over the last decade, some of its been great and some disappointing. We’ve taken stock in that and what we’ve been doing with this new range, and we want to have come out, is a line of products with a similar DNA on the performance and other functional sides as well as in styling and appearance attributes.
That’s exactly what we’re going to be doing with the new GT Series: the GT 54, the GT 60, and the GT 63. Every one of these is going to be sharing a common Hatteras pedigree yet every one will have its own distinctive personality that is very targeted to its own customer base.
If there have been any holes in our lineup created over the past decade either due to our top end speed considerations or that some of our styling was inconsistent, these products—and here, the design brief was very clear to the team: That the boats were to be world class, pedigree Hatteras products with no excuses on anything; not speed, not looks, not fishability. You name it, it’s there—so it’s very important how we emerge out the current economic slump and how we’re going to accelerate our business going forward. If we’ve done our homework right, and I believe we have, we’ve created platform basis that will serve this company well into the next decade and beyond. And I’d like to offer one corollary: If you look at some other iconic products out there, products, for example, such as a Rolex Oyster; it is so great as it is, if you take it and continually change it, redesign it, you almost devalue it. What we think we’ve done with these products is just so spot-on that they will carry us on to the long-term.
KK: Something that you previously alluded to was that Hatteras has always been a company that is steeped in tradition and heritage. How do you take that very strong heritage and fold it into state-of-the-art and emerging technologies?
JM: I think what the new technologies allow us to do is continue to take that core heritage that made our products and us so special and continue to make them better and better. While building on a succession of 50 years of heritage, one of the things we saw was an increasing interest in the market penetration of the custom builders off the Carolina coast, as a collection. The question we ask then, is what is it about those products that is attracting the interest? I think some would argue there is a special design flare in several designs that a number of the production boat builders don’t possess. We’re trying, as an example, to incorporate that classic Carolina styling into a contemporary and current interpretation for all these new products. However, instead of cold molded, or open molded fiberglass construction, we do it with the resin infusion technology and we get the lighter weight, higher performing package with it.
KK: As we wrap things up, why don’t you take this opportunity to give us what you envision as the company’s future.
JM: As we go forward, my hope is that we are going to be equally known for our ability to provide great service in the same way we have positioned ourselves as a quality builder. We want to leverage our brand, which is one that people aspire to and want to be associated with, to the entire process; from design, through the build, and the post delivery experience, we want to be there with the kind of world-class service expected of us: To know where out boats are and should issues come up, we want to be the first responders, to turn something gone wrong into something gone right. We want people to be thinking of us and coming to us because they know there is never a question of trust in us as the company they are making their investments in.
We want to be there later on in their ownership cycle as well. We have a refit business now and it’s doing great things for us by bringing back owners to the factory we haven’t seen for a while. It’s a wonderful way of reconnecting and keeping the boats the way the customers want them while putting value back in their investments. The big vision as we go forward is that we’re as much about providing great service and taking care of customers as we are building a great product.
In our next installment: What’s Past is Prologue
Hatteras gives its 60 Motor Yacht a redesign without compromising anything the builder is noted for.
For more information: http://www.hatterasyachts.com