Taking The Lead: Giovanna Vitelli of Azimut-Benetti
Giovanna Vitelli, Vice-President of Azimut-Benetti Group, explains why the family-owned company is enjoying record orders and tops the Global Order Book for a 23rd successive year, plus why she’s pushing for more transparency in fuel consumption and emissions. Interview: John Higginson.
Giovanna Vitelli at the launch of B.Yond 37M
What has led to Azimut-Benetti’s “all-time high” record book and the company finishing last year by increasing its lead at the top of the Global Order Book?
I can’t recall when the market has been like this. It has been booming for the past year or so. Our order book was up to €3 billion after the first two boat shows of the season, the Cannes Yachting Festival and the Genoa International Boat Show (in September 2022). It’s a record for us, not only for the value of the order book but especially for the duration, as we have orders for deliveries up to 2026 and 2027.
Such an order book helps us plan production because we can foresee our orders. It’s great in terms of value but also in terms of giving stability for many years. It’s also recognition from the market. Why has this happened? For all the industry, the pandemic was incredible. None of us was expecting this. It led to people rediscovering the pleasure of yachting, being in a place where you’re free, both in terms of where you can move and in terms of choosing the people around you.
This applies from the smaller models to the big yachts. We have been probably luckier or better than others in introducing trends that became even more popular during the pandemic, such as this idea to go back to nature. Our Benetti Oasis has enjoyed record sales. It’s incredible. For the Oasis 40M, we had to double the moulds to satisfy the demand. This has never happened before for a 40m yacht.
Benetti Oasis 40M introduced the Oasis Deck
The idea is to have a beach club which is really a beach area, not a cave where you go inside. Instead, you go back to being close to the sea, to the water, enjoying one connected area between inside and outside, with big windows that open. This lifestyle-focused design has been extremely successful, especially in certain mature markets, with Europe the forerunner.
So, why has Azimut-Benetti led the Global Order Book for superyachts for 23 years?
It’s a reflection of the business going well. It’s a reflection of being winners on the market with our yachts, which is rewarding because it means we’re selected by many owners. However, the growth can’t be fast and big forever, because we want to keep quality under control.
We don’t want to grow our facilities even though the market is booming now. We are at the limit, which is why our deliveries are so far ahead. We don’t want to push production too much today, but to keep the situation under control, especially quality wise.
The Group says it has anticipated the trends and wishes of existing owners while gradually acquiring younger owners, with an average age of 45 for Azimut buyers and 55 for Benetti clients. How have you achieved this?
It’s interesting from a social perspective to see how the profiles of wealthy people are changing, and that’s not just in this industry but across the globe. In the past, it took you a lifetime to become really rich, but in the new economy, digital technologies have changed this.
Vitelli speaks at the Discover the House of Yachting event in Viareggio
In Benetti, we still have the classic navettas or the Motopanfilo [37M], but in the last five years we’ve added some extra product ranges more focused on a lifestyle proposition, such as the Oasis. Even in the steel production, the B.Now series, we propose a more traditional stern and the Oasis Deck® version, which is extremely popular.
Can you tell us more about your focus on Low Emission Yachts, which Azimut says accounts for over half of its current models.
Our new-generation Low Emission Yachts offer considerable reduction in consumption, about 20-30 per cent less than the market average. This has even started to become a selling point. In the Azimut Grande range, we’ve focused on three elements for 10 years. Firstly, the light weight of the models due to the extensive use of carbon-fibre, which we produce internally for the superstructure.
Secondly, our hull shapes, including some that are patented such as the D2P (displacement to planing), which is even more efficient in its latest generation.
Azimut Grande 26M features the POD 4600 propulsion system by ZF
The third ingredient is the propulsion and having the best propulsion for the type of yacht we use. We’ve been pioneers in pods. First, it was with Volvo, such as the triple installation of the IPS on the Azimut line, then it was Rolls-Royce pods on the Benetti Fast series. Now, the new Azimut Grande 26M is the first to have the Pod 4,600 system by ZF.
So, basically weight, hull efficiency and pods. The combination of the three elements brings effective results in terms of reducing consumption, which means less emissions – and we’re not talking a couple of per cent.
We’re also very interested in ideas for the future, so we’re involved in new fuels, hydrogen and so on, but that is the next stage. Today, we believe hybrid electric propulsion is an answer.
Benetti B.Yond 37M uses a new Siemens hybrid propulsion system
We recently launched the Benetti B.Yond 37M, the greenest yacht in its class. Its Siemens hybrid propulsion system reduces CO2 (carbon dioxide) by 24 per cent and NOX (nitrogen oxides) by 85 per cent. New applications are always a risk, so it was truly an entrepreneurial decision. We discussed it within the company, with the sales team initially preferring to have the systems tested elsewhere.
However, we as a family, especially my father, were saying, “If you want to stay ahead, you have to take a risk.” We worked cheek to cheek with Siemens and the system proved to work very well. Of course, it’s much more work for the technical department, so these steps in technology are a challenge, but this is how you show you’re a leader.
What are your thoughts on the Water Revolution Foundation’s new Yacht Environmental Transparency Index?
People often talk about sustainability in very generic ways, and I think we should all try to use figures with an index. To me, the only real index today is consumption, because it’s something that can be tested and used to compare boats. I think the industry should start to only talk about numbers and not just people talking about the “most sustainable materials” but without a tangible approach. I think it’s important to show the real commitment of the industry to this topic.
The 30M is the flagship of Azimut’s Magellano series
I think the idea for the Water Revolution Foundation to establish an index is absolutely the right one, because the industry doesn’t have one, although I believe YETI (click for news article) consumption is a good index. I believe should be passed to an independent authority such as a class society, for example, so it’s not part of an association with members and we take away all possible ‘second thoughts’ behind that. I think the concept is right, but should probably pass from the Water Revolution Foundation to an independent body at a certain point.
What do you think will be the major change in superyachts in the comingyears?
I think sustainability and reducing emissions is a necessity. We should not go against the regulations, but we do need regulations that allow shipyards and engine and propulsion producers the time to adapt to new standards.
Even at the association level, I think we should join forces in developing these new technologies together. In the end, the competitive advantage you have in announcing you’re the first with hybrid propulsion or hydrogen is a brief marketing advantage of a few days. In an industry with high investment but few units, we should be more together. I am on the Board in SYBAss (Superyacht Builders Association) and I want to push more in that direction. It’s better to invest our energies and money together.
How do you view the Asia market, where Azimut and Benetti have a strong history and continue to be very popular?
Asia has always been a very rewarding market and we have a long relationship with the region. After my father bought Benetti in 1984, the Hong Kong-based owner of Ambrosia was a minority shareholder. He was a very good customer of Benetti and fell in love with the company, so that helped us enter the market before others.
The Oasis Deck® option is offered on the B.Now series including the 67M
We sell models across our ranges, both from Azimut and Benetti, into Asia and I believe the owners there are sophisticated customers. The mainland China market is yet to evolve properly and is not progressing as we had all hoped, for a variety of reasons including boating regulations and free use of the coastline. We see Chinese owners keeping their boats elsewhere. In the short term, I don’t see a market of middle class owners buying 50-60ft Azimuts and moving up in size, like elsewhere.
Marine Italia is one of Azimut’s most successful dealers, based in Hong Kong but also representing the brand in Taiwan, Guangdong and Singapore. They’ve traditionally sold a lot of Fly and Grande models, but are now starting to sell more models from the Magellano line, which your father highlighted as one of his most important initiatives in Azimut’s first 50 years. What is the appeal of this line?
Magellano has been a revolution in yachting, as the first crossover model in the market. It was conceived in 2007 and launched in 2009. We were followed by many other shipyards, from the small ones to the big ones, and now everybody talks about crossovers. The idea was inspired by trawlers, designed for long cruises, where you enjoy volume and comfort inside.
However, the Magellano is efficient in displacement mode and has a bit more speed than conservative trawlers, so owners can reach 22-24 knots if they need to reach a port quickly or the weather suddenly changes.
Azimut’s Magellano 25M revived the series
The flagship Magellano 30M we launched at the last Cannes Yachting Festival is amazing and we had double-figure sales before it was at any show. I believe in this concept and personally cruised on a Magellano 25M a couple of years ago, having spent all my life on planing hulls. I made a long cruise in a short time because I had to take it from our Fano shipyard (on Italy’s Adriatic coast) all the way down to the southern part of Italy and back north and on to the Cannes show.
Many times, I was eating lunch during navigation – it was so pleasant, even at 21 knots. You can eat and sleep during navigation because it’s so smooth over the waves. It’s a different way of cruising. There’s a lot of internal space with a contemporary design, without that traditional feeling of the old trawlers.
How have you enjoyed collaborating with Vincenzo De Cotiis, whose first yachting projects were the interiors of the Magellano 25M and 30M models?
When he started working with us, all the interior magazines in the US asked for an exclusive because he’s a big name. He’s an architect as well as an artist. He designs collectibles and is represented in New York by the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, which is renowned around the world. He brings an architectural approach and some ideas for the layout I wasn’t expecting and was really impressed with, especially as he had never worked in the industry.
Vincenzo De Cotiis on the Magellano 25M
For example, on the Magellano 25M, it was the first time I’ve ever heard somebody say to me, ‘In the main saloon, why do you put the dining table like this (athwartships), which is a visual obstacle once you get in. If you turn it (along the centreline), the boat has a much wider effect and is much more pleasant, with better service.”
Then when I cruised on the model, I always kept it longitudinally, because he’s right: you don’t have such a big structure in your view, which changes the effect of the boat.
He also plays a lot with mirrors, so you always have a view of the sea and the feeling of water. On top of that, for his collectibles, he has this idea of combining poor materials with rich materials, but these poor materials are reinterpreted. He told me, “My favourite material is fibreglass because I personally convert it by hand and put in some colour powder myself, providing this effect, a mixture between a textile, a resin, a material which does not exist.”
Interior detail on the Magellano 25M
So, the options include this artistic fibreglass, which is handmade, according to his recipe! It’s very textural. It has nothing to do with the fibreglass we’re used to and it’s fascinating because it’s such a typical marine material completely converted into something you wouldn’t recognise as such. It’s very interesting.
On the Magellano 30M, where we propose both this material and more traditional options, most of the customers went for the design from De Cotiis.
His design is very sophisticated. It’s a contemporary interior, but different to what you see on other boats, which are often an empty box where the customer can play with loose furniture, typically by the big brands like Minotti and Poltrona Frau. I believe the Magellano is very interesting because the interior is a contemporary interpretation but with a very specific personality.
As Vice President, you work directly with your father Paolo, President of Azimut-Benetti. What have you learnt from him and how do you work together?
I’ve learned from my father that in this market, you win with the product. Marketing is nice, but you must win on the market with your boats. Even in the period of the global economic crisis in 2008 and 2009, we didn’t save one penny in product development. That made a difference. It was an opportunity to gain market share in those years because we were able to keep investing in new products. Our focus is to keep our feet on the ground and concentrate on being winners in what we offer to our customers.
Paolo and Giovanna Vitelli
Since working together, we’ve planned and managed an important change from the founders’ time to the next stage. Today, Azimut-Benetti is a billion-dollar turnover company. Over 10 years, we planned the growth of our management, so we have a clear governance, where the family has the vision and we are still the ones to decide on the product development. The product is then based on a committee that I coordinate but then delegate and leave space to managers, because this is the way you grow.
The company could not exist as a one-man or one-woman show. I believe we’re on the right path, as this is a way to prepare the company in the future for growing bigger, maybe going public or involving more managers. I think this is a path for good, sustainable growth rather than keeping the family 100 per cent hands on and limiting expansion.
Today, my father is involved in the strategic vision, fortunately, but much less involved in the everyday business. Apart from the B.Yond family, which really came from his spirit and vision, he’s not that involved in the rest of the product development anymore. Sometimes, when I have a little doubt, I go to him for advice, but it’s more about my personal concerns. He’s spending more time on his hospitality activities, as the family owns several hotels in the mountains, but he keeps an eye on the company.
Since 2000, Giovanna Vitelli has been a member of the Board of Azimut-Benetti Group, which is owned by her father Paolo, who founded Azimut in 1969 and acquired Benetti in 1984. She is currently Vice-President with executive responsibility on product strategy and development, as well as Group R&D. Prior to entering the family-owned Group, Giovanna graduated in Law from Turin University and practised in one of Italy’s leading law firms, Bonelli Erede Pappalardo in Milan.
Note: The original interview appears in Issue 69 (click to download/read PDF).