In 2017, Franco Fusignani joined Benetti as director of operations. Fusignani had had a highly successful career in the automotive industry, holding key management positions with Fiat, including director of multiple divisions and CEO of its IVECO division.
In 2013, after 45 years with Fiat, he became a senior consultant for Deloitte Italy. In late 2018, he was named CEO of Benetti. According to Boat International’s 2019 order book, Azimut-Benetti remains the world’s largest superyacht builder, with 97 yachts larger than 80 feet under construction.
Fusignani spoke to Trade Only Today at the Miami Yacht Show.
Trade Only Today: You’ve had a long, successful career. Why have you taken on this job?
Franco Fusignani: This job is not a job. It’s a passion for me. When I started in Fiat’s auto division in the 1970s and then took over the creation of the new Diesel Engines Division, part of that was dealing with IVECO Diesel Engine Division’s marine segment. It was a fantastic period for me. We did a lot of technical cooperation with the offshore racing segment. That includes Fabio Buzzi, who headed FB Design. We did a lot of championships in both Europe and Italy, broke the New York to Nassau record, Monaco to Venice. I feel very close to this marine sector. My relationship with marine involved more than a sponsorship. It was a long friendship for 40 years. I’ve also owned 14 boats over the years.
TOT: How does the superyacht segment compare to the automotive world?
FF: The people are outstanding, whether it’s the workers in the shipyard, suppliers or the talented naval architects. I also like the owners. They’re often thinking two or three boats ahead, so we end up talking technology. We also see younger customers buying 164-foot yachts who are interested in speed. We make different types of products for our customers, whether it’s the composite yachts from 92 to 164 feet, semicustom and custom steel from 164 feet to more than 328 feet, or our BNow series, which is using a platform to be able to produce the boat much faster. We can do much more customization in the interior of those boats, at a much faster time.
TOT: You’re determined to reduce production times, correct?
FF: Yes. We think we can work more in parallel between our different departments and suppliers. We want to link development and engineering in-house, but especially with our suppliers. If you integrate the suppliers, that could cut 50 percent of the development time while bringing up quality and possibly reducing cost. That sort of integration is not so common in this industry.
TOT: What other ways can you increase efficiency?
FF: We need to work on the informational system so there is a common platform for development. Our suppliers work with multiple shipyards around the country, but there is no compatible software. That limits how efficient and functional communications can be come. We need to bring that from the automotive field. I also think we need to rationalize our supplier base and reward the suppliers who are open-minded, flexible and practical. If you can integrate the supply chain, the results are very tangible.
TOT: How do you see Benetti’s culture changing as you move forward?
FF: We have to really understand the customer — what he likes to see or, more importantly, what he likes to touch. That can make a big difference, and we have to spend a lot of time convincing him that the shipyard is right for him, from the beginning. You have to convince him that the way you’re producing his yacht is the rational way. Everything has to be perfect in terms of presentation — even the shipyard should be spotless. You have to move the process more into the way it is done in the automotive industry.
TOT: Do you find that clients can be helpful?
FF: The customer can be a wonderful source of new ideas. We’ve learned a lot from the owner of Spectre [a 230-foot Benetti]. He has presented us with many ideas that we can use on other yachts.
TOT: Benetti has entered the gigayacht sector, with three boats larger than 330 feet. How has that gone?
FF: Very well. We launched one in December and another [in January]. When you enter this kind of size range, the dimensions and complexity are entirely different from our smaller superyachts. The innovation is much more advanced, whether it’s the lighting, music, security, monitoring and a dozen other systems. You need other skills to build these boats. The second one we’ve launched is also a diesel-electric propulsion, which adds another level of complexity. The third is a hybrid — the largest hybrid yacht in the world, in fact. This kind of advanced technology also requires special suppliers, as well as exclusive quality in the furniture and other fit and finish.
TOT: Will Benetti continue to build gigayachts?
FF: Yes. If we made such large investments, we will continue. We want to become as German as the Germans in this realm. We now have hundreds of exports working on these projects.
TOT: You mentioned that you’re looking at changing the culture within Benetti. How?
FF: If we hire someone who is an expert in the field, we want to make sure that person gets integrated with the people in the company. We might also want to send our most promising young workers to other countries so they have a better understanding of our external markets.
TOT: So you’re talking about some form of democratization?
FF: In a way, yes. We have to work together. The projects we work on are very complex. You have to delegate authority. If you delegate, you move faster, especially if you let the second and third teams have more authority. Of course, there have to be rules and respect, but we’ve found that as people are allowed to present ideas, the creativity begins to come out. We believe in lots of brainstorming, and it will provide an incredible boost. You’re capable of getting things done in a few weeks that you never would’ve thought possible. We’re just starting on that path with Benetti, but we believe it will have a powerful influence in the future.