Part 2: After all these years in business, Ferretti still manages to retain the optimism of an adventurer.
By Alan Harper - November 2003
Azimut’s purchase of the family-owned Italian sportboat builder Gobbi last year was less an attempt to increase turnover than a strategic move to try to prevent British builders from having things entirely their own way in the Mediterranean markets. Nothing could better illustrate the differing styles between Azimut and Ferretti than the way Vitelli managed the acquisition. He is convinced of the virtues of central control, while Ferretti has generally kept existing founders and managers in place and given them the freedom to run their own show. Vitelli at first kept on Angelo Gobbi, the company’s founder, but also sent in his own manager at the top, Carla de Maria. Within months the old structure broke down, and Gobbi left.
“The philosophy of the entrepreneur did not match that of the group,” Vitelli explains carefully. “So we had to split. We tried to do it the Ferretti way, while being ready with a three-year plan to create a management capable of replacing Mr. Gobbi.” Succession planning for a man perhaps not quite ready to be succeeded—surely that was why he left? “One of the reasons,” says Vitelli inscrutably.
His doggedness on the point is understandable. In 1985 Azimut took the enormously risky step of buying the Benetti shipyard, which even the company’s official history acknowledges was nearly a disaster. The existing management structure couldn’t deal with the vastly increased size of the organization, and Vitelli allowed himself to be distracted by the Azimut Atlantic Challenger record attempt. He has maintained a laser-sharp focus on boatbuilding ever since and a strict system of financial control.
But this doesn’t mean he’s constantly looking over people’s shoulders. “I report every week or so, for an hour or two,” says Massimo Perotti, head of the Azimut division and Vitelli’s most senior manager. “He knows I will tell him everything. We have a close relationship; there is great trust, and delegation is very high.” Vitelli takes a keen interest in the development of every new boat and will give his opinion, but not force it. “He has never vetoed anything,” says Perotti, and that includes the egg-shape windows of 1997’s Azimut 58, one of the most widely imitated styling innovations of all time. “But that doesn’t stop him complaining afterwards if he doesn’t like it!” adds Perotti, 42, who has worked for Vitelli for nearly 20 years.
After all these years in business, Ferretti still manages to retain the optimism of an adventurer. “Azimut? Excellent group, excellent company, with a different mentality,” he says. His management techniques also differ from Vitelli’s, particularly with regard to how he deals with acquisitions. “If you have a good manager or the founder—for example in Pershing and Apreamare—it’s very easy,” he says breezily. “If you change, you are crazy. But if you don’t have them, like in Riva, you need to put in good managers.”
Next page > Part 3: It is a typical Ferretti tactic, keeping the eggs in different baskets. > Page 1, 2, 3
This article originally appeared in the October 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.