Carmen Lau: Leading Lady
Having had a job offer with a ‘big four’ accounting firm, Carmen Lau instead decided to take “the adventurous route” by joining a Chinese shipyard in 2004. It was the start of a multi-faceted yachting career that has seen the Hong Kong-born, Canada-educated Lau develop into one of Asia’s leading superyacht specialists.
Carmen Lau, Senior Advisor, Camper & Nicholsons
Now a Senior Advisor at Camper & Nicholsons after working in the superyacht industry for 18 years, Carmen Lau still gets excited about the Monaco Yacht Show. She thinks she has attended the superyacht spectacle “over a dozen times” starting in 2004, when she was a wide-eyed Marketing Manager for Kingship Marine and new to the industry.
Celebrating its 240th anniversary this year, Camper & Nicholsons has a strong line-up at Monaco including the 65m Feadship Callisto, 55m Baglietto C and two of the largest sailing yachts at Quai l’Hirondelle – the 51m Royal Huisman Borkumriff IV (2002) and 45m Perini Navi Blush (2007).
“I’m excited every time I go to the Monaco Yacht Show, with new yachts and new ideas in the yachting world all showcased in a wonderful setting,” Carmen says. “It’s great to see the harbour filled with all these renowned superyachts because I feel like I’m watching horse racing and trying to spot the winner for my clients!”
START OF A LONG JOURNEY
Her own listings within Camper & Nicholsons have expanded this year to include the new 36.6m Tecnomar Evo 120 Lucy and the remarkable CLX96, the 29.5m CL Yachts flagship that will have its world premiere at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show (October 26-30).
Carmen in Monaco in 2022
Carmen, whose CAs also include the 41m aluminium powercat Royal Falcon One and 29.6m Horizon Victorious (2010), has come a long way in the industry. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she moved to Canada when she was 15 to attend high school and then the University of Toronto for a Bachelor of Business Administration.
Returning to Hong Kong, she worked briefly as an accountant and helped set up an online book store before deciding to embark on a serious career path. Deloitte formally offered her a job as an auditor, presenting a secure career pathway with one of the world’s ‘big four’ accountancy firms.
Meanwhile, Roger Liang, who founded Kingship in 2004, was looking for a marketing manager who would spend much of the week at his shipyard in Zhongshan, a ferry ride from Hong Kong.
At the 2004 Monaco Yacht Show
“One job offered a steady career path, and the other was a very adventurous route for me,” she said of the Kingship offer. “I had to be based in China and sometimes in the Hong Kong office, but it promised a lot of travel, with the opportunity to work across Asia, Europe and US. I thought was a fantastic opportunity.”
With Deloitte pressing for an answer, Liang offered Carmen the position of Marketing Manager and it was to prove a fantastic starting role for an industry newcomer, even if it tested her nerves on occasion.
Three weeks after she started, she received an 8pm call in the office from a serious prospect asking about the Expedition 110 yacht. Excited by the call, she was later among a team who later met Kingship’s first client, his captain and his engineer at the 2004 Monaco Yacht Show, where Kingship had a booth.
At the 2004 Monaco Yacht Show with Yacht Style’s Olivier Burlot (second left) and Kingship’s Roger Liang (far right)
“I had a very hands-on job. My first role was Marketing Manager, but I also helped the sales team and became Sales & Marketing Manager. Roger gave me a lot of flexibility and responsibility,” says Carmen, who visited the Monaco show and Cannes Yachting Festival regularly with Kingship, also travelling to Florida for work.
“I was also working in accounts and purchase, got involved in production and the build schedule, and every day I would go into the shipyard and meet with the workers. Roger taught me a lot, including regulations from MCA to Lloyd’s.”
WING TAI TO BENETTI
Her career steadily progressed, as she was headhunted for a series of roles that all expanded her expertise across different aspects of the industry.
From 2008 to 2011, she was Manager of Wing Tai corporation, where she represented the Hong Kong company on their multiple yacht projects. Her first role was to retrieve a 45m superyacht from a bankrupt yard in Denmark and bring it back to Hong Kong for completion.
STCW course at Warsash Maritime School in Southampton
“My first task was to speak to the lawyers and various experts, find a settlement with the court, and extract the boat from the shipyard. I flew to Aarhus in Denmark, settled the crew and went through the papers,” Carmen says.
“I was working for a very experienced and knowledgeable owner who knows every aspect of yachts. From this experience, I understood the importance of contracts and details, the mentality of an owner, as well as various ways to negotiate contracts and prepare budgets.”
Carmen also acted as an owner’s representative on a 27m Kingship launched in 2010 and a 46m Sanlorenzo. Her responsibilities included overseeing the build processes, working with the captain to ensure the projects were on schedule and built to specification and class, take delivery of the yachts on behalf of the owners, and continue to manage the yachts after acceptance.
At the 2012 Asia Pacific Superyacht Conference in Singapore as Benetti’s Asia Marketing Manager
In 2011, following an approach from Benetti CEO Vincenzo Poerio, Carmen joined the Italian shipyard’s new Asia office in Hong Kong as its Marketing Manager, working in a small team under General Manager Giordano Pellacani. The role included managing all marketing and sales promotion activities, participation at boat shows and events, and supporting local and after-sales activities.
Within three years, the new office had sold four Benetti yachts to Asia including two 56m superyachts, while the role also included marketing Azimut’s new Grande range of superyachts.
“I helped with looking after the clients and supporting sales activities,” says Carmen, whose experience grew with an STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) course at Warsash Maritime School at Solent University in Southampton.
Enjoying the 2012 Benetti Yachtmaster in Italy
“I also learnt a lot about crew requirements and the maintenance of superyachts. In Hong Kong, many crew came from smaller boats and yachts and didn’t have formal training in terms of safety, maintenance and services on board. There weren’t many experienced crew in Asia 10 years ago and I realised there was a lack of yacht management services in Asia.”
CONSULTANCY TO CAMPER
In 2014, after three years with Benetti and following the birth of her first child, Carmen founded Lighthouse Yacht Management, starting with four yachts across Europe and Hong Kong for Asian owners including Lai Sun Chairman Dr Peter Lam. Lighthouse’s services included yacht management, property management, contract consultation, brokerage and charter.
“I saw a strong demand for a tailor-made yacht service for Asian owners who looked at yachting from an Asian perspective,” says Carmen, who also had a second child during this period.
Inspecting the 37m Zeepaard in Palma in 2015
“I managed the crews with the captains, helped to organise each owner’s trip, prepared the overhead budget, and managed the annual maintenance work for the fleet of managed yachts. Then, after Lai Sun bought Camper & Nicholsons, Dr Lam asked me to join him.”
Lai Sun Development, part of the Lai Sun Group, became a major shareholder of Camper & Nicholsons in October 2016 and early the following year Carmen was appointed to head the company’s new Asia business from its Hong Kong office.
As Managing Director and a Board Member of Camper & Nicholsons Asia, she helped the company expand its staff and enter new markets across Asia-Pacific, growing its charter, management and brokerage services among Asia-based clients.
It was Carmen’s most high-profile role and required overseeing an experienced team including many seasoned industry veterans, while also travelling regularly to see her family and children in the UK.
“I’ve enjoyed being on the front line, serving the most top-tier yacht owners in Asia. I travelled regularly across the region including Australia, Thailand and Japan, and during Covid I kept travelling extensively, across Europe, the Middle East and Hong Kong,” she says.
“It was a valuable experience working for a listed company in Hong Kong and finding the alignment with a now 240-year-old company in Europe. I prepared financial reports, business proposals and set budgets. It’s intriguing to work on the corporate side of business, but I find most enjoyment when I work directly with owners and talk about their yacht projects.”
As Managing Director of Camper & Nicholsons Asia at a company cocktail evening in 2020
After her four-year term finished in 2021, during a complicated time for business and travel due to Covid, her position at the company changed to Senior Advisor, so she could focus on attending to her clients’ needs.
Carmen prefers the title ‘Senior Advisor’ to ‘Broker’, believing the latter has far more pressure to sell. She doesn’t see herself as a salesman but as someone who remains hands-on through all stages of a project, representing an owner’s interests before, during and even after ownership.
Carmen secured the 67m Global on behalf of an Asian owner in 2020
In fact, Carmen secured her first personal superyacht sale while still running Lighthouse Yacht Management, having travelled across Europe to conclude the deal for Zeepaard, the 37.2m JFA Yachts expedition yacht.
“This was a fun project. I travelled to Palma to inspect the yacht, then visited the yacht with the potential buyer in Italy, did her survey in Croatia and took delivery in Greece!”
Another of Carmen’s favourite transactions was the 67m US-built Global, which was launched in 1982, converted into a luxury expedition yacht by Shadow Marine in 2007, and features an enormous crane for a submarine.
The Azimut Grande 35 Metri in Hong Kong
Carmen secured the purchase on behalf of an Asian owner in Fort Lauderdale in January 2020 before the yacht eventually made its way to Asia during a difficult time for shipping due to the global spread of Covid.
In the past couple of years, she has been involved in a series of major transactions for Camper & Nicholsons including a 66m brokerage sale in collaboration with another brokerage house and consecutive sales of a new Azimut Grande 35 Metri.
Lau’s sales with C&N include the 43m Feadship Eclipse
Carmen also represented the buyer of the 43m Feadship Eclipse, which arrived in Hong Kong in early 2022 and was sold by C&N Senior Broker Alex Lees-Buckley, marking his fifth time selling the 141ft custom build from its launch in 1993.
Last year, Carmen handled the purchase of a newly designed 24m Gentleman’s Yacht being built by Codecasa and scheduled for delivery to Asia in 2023. Inspired by 1950s and 1960s designs, the yacht was conceived by designer Luca Dini, has an aluminium hull and features a mahogany finish.
The 24m Gentlemen’s Yacht by Codecasa is due in 2023
“The client is a very experienced owner who has owned a lot of yachts. Actually, he was the one who saw an image of the Gentleman’s Yacht, thought it was beautiful and asked me to follow up with Codecasa,” says Carmen, who is also currently handling multiple confidential new builds
The number and scale of such transactions illustrate the respect and trust Carmen has earned in the elite world of Asia’s superyacht owners but also her wide-ranging experience that she has steadily built up across 18 years in the industry.
With C&N colleagues at Codecasa inspecting the 24m Gentlemen’s Yacht
“Some brokers can get excitable when they talk to clients, but I’ve been dealing directly with yacht owners since 2004,” she says.
“I’ve been lucky since I started with Kingship, because since then I’ve been headhunted for all my jobs so was trusted by my employer, who later became my client or vice-versa. I’m still around after 18 years and owners still call me about their yacht-related matters, which is my biggest achievement.”
Carmen says she doesn’t perceive any difficult being a woman in the industry but believes there can sometimes be a slightly patronising attitude towards superyacht owners from Asia.
With Dr Peter Lam, Chairman of Camper & Nicholsons
“Asia is a new market for superyachts compared to Europe and the US, so often people want to educate a billionaire owner in Asia how to use their boat. I think ‘educating an owner’ can sometimes be more discriminating than me being a woman or Asian,” she says.
“I’ve known Asian yacht owners for a long time and I’m here to work for the client. The owner tells me what they want and it’s my duty to get it done, either by working with the shipyard to find a solution or working with the owner’s team to find an alternative.”
Carmen says owners trust her not only because of word of mouth but also because she has worked on both the builder side, with Kingship and Benetti, and the owner’s side.
Carmen’s CA listings include CL Yachts’ flagship CLX96
As such, she’s able to offer balanced advice on any potential purchase, charter if required and yacht management, having also worked extensively on the financials of yacht ownership and crew requirements.
“I’ve even ‘unsold’ yachts when I didn’t think the yacht was right for the owner or if I didn’t have faith in the project,” says Carmen, who last year set up S&S Stratton to provide bespoke global investment services for select customers.
“Like everyone, I’m always learning. The business keeps evolving, a lot due to technology, but having a diverse background helps me to ask the right questions and manage situations. I’m a good mediator.”
With C&N colleagues and CL Yachts staff at the Hong Kong premiere of CLX96
Carmen, who continues to split her time between Asia and Europe, says her close connections to yacht owners may provide the most rewarding aspect of her job, but also jokes that they can provide some of her sternest challenges.
“As I’m Chinese and from Hong Kong, the yacht owners can speak to me in their first language,” she says. “They like having a direct connection, but this also means when they’re frustrated or need an answer, I’m the one they call in the middle of the night.”