Growing up in Italy, Gianguido Girotti says he was “surrounded by beauty” and a culture that had a profound respect for aesthetics, from Ferrari and Lamborghini supercars to Mediterranean yacht design and construction.
Boats and boating culture have strong roots in Girotti’s family, too. His grandfather was a naval architect, and Girotti followed that same path into the marine industry, earning his naval architecture degree from the University of Southampton, then working for the yacht design house of Germán Frers.
“That [was] my starting block,” Girotti says. “[Designing] for the Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cup allowed me to understand the importance of teamwork as well as the obsession for detail and performance.”
It was at the Frers office where Girotti began to work on semicustom and series production projects. “That, for me, was the turning point,” he says. “It triggered in me the search for the perfect balance between technical specs and customer needs. The adrenaline was not in winning a race then, but in making something that other people were ready to buy and enjoy. Finding the perfect balance between the invisible [the technical part] and the visible was the goal.”
He then moved to Cantiere del Pardo (Grand Soleil and Dufour), where he honed other disciplines “as well as having the possibility to test rapidly, make mistakes … and learn as soon as possible how to fix it.”
He joined Groupe Beneteau as marketing director in 2015 and became deputy CEO in 2019. When he’s not working, he says, “just put me on a boat and you will see my happy face, no matter what boat.”
How did your previous experiences prepare you to oversee product and brand strategy at Groupe Beneteau?
I think that most of what I know and I can do today is thanks to two key elements: the people that have been and are close to me, and secondly my curiosity. As an Italian, I grew up into a culture surrounded by beauty and search for aesthetics. More specifically, I come from a region in which we don’t do cars; we just build Ferrari, Lamborghini, which are more objects of art than commodities.
If you add to it that boating as well as naval architecture have always been in my genes from my grandfather onwards, I think I owe a lot to those initial roots and the mix of passion and work bonded together. I really wanted to join Groupe Beneteau since I felt it was the best way for me to work with the biggest and most structured [yachting] team in the world. What I have found was much better than expected, with talents and skilled people in every field. They all enriched my curiosity. Curiosity makes you notice something where most people see nothing. Curiosity transforms the ordinary into extraordinary. Curiosity makes your everyday a special day.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the group to readjust. How has a portfolio with a dozen brands prevented each from truly growing?
“An unexpected event is our only hope,” said Cesare Pavese, a popular Italian poet. I started working on Groupe Beneteau’s brand portfolio in July 2019 when I was appointed deputy CEO. So I was already well advanced in reshaping the group’s portfolio when the health crisis arrived in Europe.
Over the last decade, all our brands had grown and developed, yet some of them found their direct competitors within the group, and that was not acceptable from a business point of view. During the Covid-19 lockdown, I had the possibility to rethink about the plan, and I feel that it allowed us to have the courage to deploy faster what we were already trying to achieve before.
How did you choose the brands to keep under the Groupe Beneteau umbrella?
Together with the product marketing teams, I’ve analyzed all our brands, ranges and models with the goal to bring in stronger brand identities, iconic ranges and global models. As a result, some brands like Four Winns and Delphia have been repositioned. We’ve also crossed this analysis with the market dynamics over 30 segments in sailing and powerboating. We’ve removed direct competition inside the group and extended market coverage to new segments. I’m very confident that our eight-brand portfolio with their product plan will deliver strong results.
Four companies that are not moving forward have strong brand recognition stateside. How might they have a life with another owner?
All four brands — Glastron, Scarab, Monte Carlo Yachts and CNB yachts — do have strong brand recognition. We are not discontinuing them; on the contrary, we are looking for solid partners to continue to develop them and secure their future, simply outside the group.
Let’s talk about what you have referred to as the “challenge brands.” What would you like to see with Delphia in the United States?
I refer to Delphia, Four Winns, Wellcraft and Excess as the “challenger” or “high potential” brands, as they still need to conquer the market position they have the capacity to occupy. For instance, Delphia will be completely repositioned with a dedicated offer of cruising powerboats intended for rivers, lakes and other inland waters. Delphia’s boats will include electric propulsion and also other smart innovations on board.
What kind of growth do you see for Excess?
On a cruising multihull market dominated by Lagoon, Excess will bring catamarans with more sensations on board. We have many ideas that we will deploy in the upcoming years to challenge a market in which, without being arrogant, we are followed with Lagoon and we feel we can deliver more to customers that will improve their understanding on multihulls.
You called Wellcraft “my dream brand” and have compared it to Jeep. Can you expand on that?
It is a dream brand since you do not often have the opportunity to find a great brand with strong values and heritage, and at the same time you can boost it with an innovative series of boats that can perfectly match the DNA. That’s why I was referring to Jeep, which has been a great icon with the Wrangler model, and thanks to that and a well-spotted series of products, they gain consistently in the U.S. market as well as in the European one over the years. The dream is to find the magic product mix as well as marketing that will really boost it at an international level.
Four Winns is slated to continue with similar models, but also expand into outboard-powered catamarans. Why?
We believe that Four Winns has a good and solid product portfolio with its deckboats and bowriders to maintain a solid market share. We will now reinforce the bowrider series with new products, with the aim to find the “new classic” that can fit and match today’s customer expectation. The outboard-powered catamaran idea is what I call a “deckboat on steroids.” The concept will perfectly answer the needs of a great dayboat, but with the possibility to have more space and features. The range is a perfect crossover which can easily fit the freshwater segment as well as saltwater needs, allowing a wider spectrum in terms of market coverage both in North America and in Europe.
Out of the remaining brands, how will you continue to differentiate between Jeanneau and Beneteau?
Managing two market leaders in our portfolio is certainly not an easy exercise, but surely it is very exciting. The starting point is always the brand value proposition and how each brand talks to and answers its customer needs.
Even when our brands are positioned in the same segments, our aim is to push a positive internal challenge in order to keep on raising the bar. It has been the case, for example, in the sailboat monohull market, which has faced a drop of 6 percent in volumes over the past 10 years while we gained more than 6 percent market share within that same period. So at the end of it, when you have one of the best teams in the world who knows the rules of the game and respects them, I consider it as one of those good problems to have.
Will we see more outboard models from Beneteau and Jeanneau?
Surely, you can count on that. We have entered through a niche market, the pocket cruisers, a couple of years ago, and we are rapidly positioning ourselves as key players. As I said in the strategic plan’s announcement in July, we have ranges like the Jeanneau Leader or the Beneteau Antares that surely will have a lot more to say in the upcoming years with new products and features even more adapted to specific U.S. needs.
Can you tell us more about Beneteau’s Project E line?
The E line is the premium offer and an extension of the existing Swift Trawler line of Beneteau. It is a new range of boats that will soon come to the market. It aims to consolidate and stretch the legacy of hundreds of owners of the most popular range in its segment by size and turnover up to 50 feet LOA. Higher standards, both technical as well as in finishing details, will be at the core of this offer, which will be built in Monfalcone, Italy, to fully exploit the skills we have grown there for this type of product.
What will Prestige’s role be in the portfolio?
Prestige’s role is very simple: It is the flybridge brand within the group. That is why in parallel to the existing fly offer — which is already the worldwide leader up to 60 feet both in volumes and turnover — we are adding the X line.
This new crossover revolutionizes the architectural codes to maximize the volume inside and outside. She will create a new space in the market. The first new model, the 70, will show all the effort done to raise the bar further in quality and finish.
What are some key strategies of Groupe Beneteau’s “Let’s Go Beyond” five-year plan?
Beside brands and products that are a core element of the “Let’s Go Beyond” plan, there is the industrial pillar that looks at how to use our operational assets better and adapt our production capacity in line with volumes. We’ve also simplified the organization of our industrial operations with a global management of all business lines, and are looking to accelerate development cycles while reducing development costs.
We also have strong midterm ambitions in the digitalization, innovation and development of services. Groupe Beneteau intends to establish itself as a pioneer for sustainable recreational boating and environmentally responsible leisure homes.
Is there anything else you’d like to highlight about Groupe Beneteau or its model lines?
Launching such an ambitious plan in uncertain times like these is certainly not an easy task. But I know the plan is both solid and realistic, so I’m looking forward to its execution — although the upcoming months will most probably be challenging for the group, as well as for the whole industry. The overall goal of our plan is precisely to look further, to go beyond.
This article was originally published in the September 2020 issue.