Masters of Modern Luxury: Paolo Vitelli

<< Back to Robb Report, July 2013

In 1969, while studying business and economics at Italy’s University of Turin, Paolo Vitelli founded Azimut Yachts as a charter company with savings he earned running a nightclub. Today his Azimut Benetti Group is the world’s largest yacht builder. With Vitelli, 65, becoming more involved in politics—he was elected to the Italian Parliament in March—his 38-year-old daughter and successor, Giovanna, is taking a more active role running the company. But Vitelli remains the most powerful person in the yachting industry, and the future looks bright from the helm.  

Enduring Style
All around the world, people want Italian design, Italian quality, Italian craftsmanship, Italian fabrics, Italian brands, Italian food. So I have the impression that we have the opportunity to export our interpretation of luxury into the world without compromising our principles. We are lucky that everybody respects Italian luxury and that we can impose it around the world. I would say that globalization is not affecting quality, because luxury is something above globalization. And Italian luxury is a symbol of luxury all around the world.

Peace of Mind
The sensation of luxury that you get on a yacht is enormously bigger than that of, say, a top-quality hotel. The freedom that you get on a yacht, the quality of the ambience, and the fact that it’s your floating palace make yachting way above any level of luxury. We can discuss the tools necessary to achieve that, but in reality, what you want is to enjoy without any problems—to be free to enjoy without the headaches of the real world. For many people, achieving luxury comes with a lot of headaches with personnel, with problems of organization. This is not luxury. Luxury is when you reach that level of enjoyment without any headaches, with the total freedom of doing what you like. Because luxury today is without limits, clients can dream without limits. We are there to respond to their dreams.

Refining Principles
The necessity to become more productive and more cost-efficient now is pushing companies like ours to reinvest in the process of production. We are increasing the number of boat models, and therefore jobs, and are reinvesting money to improve the process, both in terms of efficiency and gaining a higher level of quality in the yachts. As an example, 10 years ago, a boat was laminated by hand using glass and resin. Today we use infusion, which means no one is touching the resin and no one is breathing the resin, so it’s better for the environment and for the people. Because we now cut the glass using machinery—putting the glass on the mold and injecting the resin—the process is 10 times more engineered and sophisticated than it was 10 years ago.

Comfortably in the Lead
Azimut Benetti was the first one to put big windows in the hull, to put the garage in the back, and to make a living area in the front of the yacht; and we were the first one to use a really large flybridge. And today we’re seeing that people like to get closer to the water in every respect—just look at how many yachts now have balconies opening from the side, bridges in the back, and easy access to the water. People want to be more sportive, they want to swim, and they want to dine under the stars.

In terms of technology, I would say that comfort is the prime requirement in the last 10 years. If you consider the noise level on a yacht 10 years ago, today that noise is a fraction of what it was. We’re also working on the stability of the yacht in bad weather and sea conditions if you’re sailing or at anchor. People like innovation, but they don’t want to abandon comfort.

Looking Ahead
We are very proud to be Italian and to be part of a country that has styling in its blood. Boating has been a significant part of our economy, but the internal market has dropped dramatically. Of course, the mentality of a businessman is so different from the mentality of a politician, especially in Italy. [As a member of Parliament] I hope to offer my experience and to give some contribution to the development of the nautical field, because the yachting industry is suffering in Italy at the moment. I think we need to promote charter activity. We are grateful to the Russians, who are becoming some of the most important yacht buyers after experiencing charter. We expect that the Chinese will be the next pioneers of charter, which is a tool to get them acquainted with yachting so that they can then become buyers as well. So, yes, we are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.

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