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THE ISSUES Peter Lürssen P


eter Lürssen is a generous man. I learned this when we had lunch together in London one day this summer. At Kai, an upscale Chinese restaurant in Mayfair, we sat, spoke, drank white wine and made our way through what seemed like the entirety of a long and excellent menu. After a couple of hours, as another round of plates was being cleared, Lürssen said: ‘Are you ready for the main course?’ He was joking – sort of. After this, he ordered several desserts for the table, including one called Oprah’s Contradiction. (Oprah once said, ‘You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once.’ This was the pudding that proved her wrong.)


But Lürssen is generous in another sense too. A little while ago


he quietly agreed to fund the entirety of Blue Marine Foundation’s operating budget for five years – at a cost of $2 million. There was no big announcement at the time, but he is willing to speak about the decision now. ‘It’s quite difficult, making people part with their money,’ Lürssen told me. But by covering the operating costs of Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) – and allowing the charity to assure other donors that every penny they give goes directly to projects – he hopes to encourage more people to support BLUE’s work. (Some of which is described in detail by HRH Princess Eugenie and the foundation’s CEO Clare Brook on page 20). ‘You can give those people who donate the money [directly to projects] the sense of ownership and pride in the achievement, which is very important.’ He noted that some charities – none of which he would name – are able to host a nice cocktail reception at the Monaco Yacht Show. But that isn’t the same as actually achieving something. ‘It’s good for your conscience,’ he said. ‘But does it get you anywhere? I always feel life is too short – especially when you’re over 60, like me – to waste your energy and your resources on something that is not getting proper results. And that is something that I really like about BLUE. They do get results. ‘The ocean is the one thing that connects us all. And the more you think about it and look into it and read about it, you realise how important the oceans really are to the world. It’s way beyond the supply of fish. It’s way beyond swimming. You know, it’s a hugely important factor for us to be able to live on this earth.’


Lürssen is able to support BLUE in such a way thanks to his


stewardship of Lürssen Yachts. During his time at the company, the nearly 150-year-old family business has been transformed from an industrial firm producing products for the defence sector into a true luxury brand, and perhaps the leading builder of superyachts in the world. As CEO he has presided over the delivery of one extraordinary, ground-breaking vessel after another. These include the 180-metre Azzam, which is capable of more than 30 knots and, at one point, was the longest superyacht in the world, and Dilbar. Launched in 2016, at 156 metres long and more than 23 metres wide, Dilbar became the biggest yacht in the world by gross tonnage. The company – which fiercely guards the privacy of its clients – has also produced vessels for late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, record producer David Geffen and members of Middle-Eastern royalty. Over lunch, I asked him about his life, his career and where Lürssen is headed next.


***


Did you always want to join the family business, or did you feel pressure to do so? It just was just a natural development. I never felt the pressure. Really, you know, after [leaving school] I was told to do that. But I would never rebel against that decision because I knew it would be good. I wasn’t questioning the wisdom of running the business. My cousin was even born in the shipyard, so it was a very deep natural relationship with the people, with the business. And it was normal for us. I cannot remember ever wanting to do something like be a fireman or an astronaut. Shipbuilding was always very much a fascination.


I always feel life is too short


to waste your energy on something that is not getting proper results


When you first came into the business, it was largely reliant on the defence sector for work. But a lot of Lürssen’s growth over the last couple of decades has come from yachting. How did that transition happen? Well the first challenge that I had, was to tell my family, ‘Look, I know I’m the engineer, and you think I should be the technical director, but it is a no-go.’ To run production, I told them, ‘your brain has to be wired in a particular way.’ I just can’t do that. I realised that very early on. When I came into the business, our output was about 95 per cent defence and naval, and the rest was miscellaneous. My uncle used to joke that every 10 years we can allow ourselves to build a yacht. We built Carinthia V and VI. We built a boat called Shergar 81, which was quite special. But then in ‘87, ‘88 diversification was a big thing and we had a seminar. The idea – I think they call it the trumpet model – was to [sketch out] the best case and the worst case scenario. And if you prepare for both, you’ll be prepared for something in the middle. At that seminar we looked at fast aluminium ferries, or yachts. We had done a lot of yachts in the 1920s. We built a few yachts after the war, but just a handful really. Luckily we decided not to go for ferries but to go for yachts. And that was the job I took on in ‘88: trying to start a yacht business. It always sounds good to say ‘and the rest is history’. But that is a rather bold statement – and it is not really true. It was exciting, but it wasn’t easy. We had a hard time selling the first yacht. It turned out that the buyer was not able to pay and we had to repossess the vessel.


GUILLAUME PLISSON


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