Chris Baird starts his job as CEO of Oceanmax today, his third stint as an executive with a New Zealand-based company. The former general manager of Fusion is regarded as a primary force behind the electronics manufacturer’s growth, before and after Garmin acquired the company in 2014. Baird also was a key executive at Navman, the New Zealand-based electronics manufacturer that Brunswick Corp. acquired in 2003.
Baird’s leadership at Oceanmax will be with a new type of company, less glamorous than marine electronics but also much less competitive. The manufacturer of two foul-release coatings, Propspeed and Lightspeed, started about 20 years ago after a superyacht captain visiting the America’s Cup in Auckland, New Zealand, saw a gold-coated propeller.
“The captain found out it was a coating to prevent marine growth from bonding on metal running gear below the waterline,” said Clint Jones, the former Oceanmax CEO, who will now handle its international expansion. “The captain took it back to Florida, and Oceanmax started getting some business, but it moved forward slowly.”
Over the last five years, Oceanmax has beefed up its staff and export efforts. The company is still relatively unknown in Europe and even the United States, which accounts for about half of its revenues. But it has forged relationships with such distributors as Land ‘n’ Sea and won a product of the year award from West Marine last year. The company has 18 employees, five on the ground in the United States to increase sales.
Jones, who has been closely involved with multiple America’s Cup races, has used his contacts to give Propspeed and sister product Lightspeed (for underwater lighting) credibility in the sailing and superyacht worlds. But the company also wants to take its products mainstream. “We see ourselves as the Coca Cola of propeller coatings,” Jones said. “We believe we will create a completely new niche in the marketplace with these products.”
Baird will be tasked with raising sales to a much higher level. He forecasts 300 to 400 percent growth over the next three to four years, with a major expansion into Europe, particularly in the warm-water Mediterranean region.
“Without giving names, we’re about to sign a regional head for Europe and another regional head for the U.S.,” said Baird, who sat on the Oceanmax board for several years before moving into the CEO position. “These are people who are highly respected in the industry.”
Exports account for about 95 percent of Oceanmax’s sales, so Baird says that “building offshore operations” is critical to the brand’s growth. That will include U.S. and New Zealand offices, and possibly manufacturing in the United States. “The big thing now is to go after the markets by actually being there,” Baird said. “We weren’t taken seriously at Fusion, and then we went after it. We’re not just going to sit here and export.”
Baird plans to follow the successful game plan adopted by Fusion of partnering with boatbuilders and offering their products as standard equipment. “Every Riviera now has Propspeed, and we’re speaking with Viking and Merritt, two more fantastic brands,” he says. “You can be sure that the OEMs will all soon get a knock on their doors.”
While Propspeed and Lightspeed are aimed at “bigger boats,” Baird said, the company plans to release new products that apply to most boats. The announcement will likely be made at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in the fall.
Baird said Oceanmax also is planning future acquisitions, possibly other product lines.
The growth targets are coming off a “pretty reasonable starting point,” Baird said. “That tells you that it’s very aggressive going forward. I know the Land ‘n’ Seas and West Marines are very excited about the growth potential. We did the same thing at Fusion.”
The company is looking at commercial ferries as another possible market. “We’re working with a company that will be building the world’s first fast electric ferry,” Jones said. “That could be a significant market going forward as it develops. We’re seeing the opportunities and driving it hard in those directions.”
Jones said his focus on new markets and Baird’s ability to successfully grow a business should play well together. “We run our business as a flat company with no hierarchy,” Jones said. “We’re just one team. Most people who look at our business get excited about it.”
For Baird, who will turn 57 this year, the jump to Oceanmax is seen as the third significant move in his career after Navman and Fusion. “It’s pretty exciting to have the opportunity to build up a third company to a whole new level,” he said. “In three to four years’ time, I’d like to see Oceanmax be where Navman and Fusion were at that point. The great thing about doing it the third time is that you know the mistakes you made and can avoid them going forward.”