From a tornado-ravaged marina to a boat brokerage empire, Galati Yacht Sales has succeeded at doing what so many American businesses have not: balancing work and play.
It’s a common and cruel statistic that only 30 percent of businesses make it into the hands of a second generation; 12 percent get passed down to the third generation. It drops off even more precipitously from there. The Galati family is anything but common.
Celebrating their 50th year in business, the family-run, strong work ethic-fueled brokerage giant Galati Yacht Sales has accomplished what so many others have failed to do: Balance work and family by creating a culture that celebrates both. Today, all 12 grandchildren of founders Michael and Anna Maria Galati are employees of the company serving myriad roles.
To understand how they were able to raise the kind of family capable of working together, you have to start at the foundation. In the early morning hours before the start of the Miami Yacht Show, I sat surrounded by 16 members of the Galati family in the cool salon of a Hargrave they had on display. Children, spouses and grandchildren of the company founders banter and prod each other but mostly talk shop. They have a busy day ahead and they’re sticklers for efficiency. So much so that they created a simple system of referencing each other. The five children of Michael and Anna Maria refer to their children—affectionately—as “gen 3” followed by the number corresponding to the order of their birth. So gen 3 number 1 would be their oldest grandson, and gen 3 number 12 is the youngest granddaughter.
We quickly find our seats, gens 2 and 3 mixed together. I’d learn from various family members that Michael and Anna Maria Galati were born and raised in New Rochelle, New York. Born to be a serial entrepreneur, before such a title had even entered the American lexicon, Michael’s primary business was that of a bakery owner.
An avid boater in his leisure time, Michael felt the magnetic pull of the sea and sought a new business venture that would allow him to marry passion to profession. He would find just the place in a bank-owned, tornado-ravaged marina on Anna Maria Island, a spit of land not far from Sarasota. (That his wife and new business location shared the same name is a coincidence, of course, but you can’t help but think that, for a man whose kids call him “a sales genius,” it must have sweetened the deal.)
A grainy, black-and-white aerial photograph shows a humble marina with a few dozen boats in need of service and about a dozen cars sprinkled across the campus. Those early years were spent repairing the marina and servicing boats; the family, which would grow to include five kids, lived in the marina while a house was built on their new property.
“In June we purchased the marina and Mike said: ‘If you’re by my side and we work hard. And the kids work hard. We’ll make it,’” said Anna Maria in a video interview. “It was a challenge, but we worked together. We made it work. I’m proud of each and every one of them [my kids].”
“In the earliest days my father would work out of the living room in our house and when he was on a sales call there was a curtain he would close,” recalls Joe Galati with a grin. “We would sit there listening but couldn’t say a word. So dad’s negotiating and he says to some guy, ‘My kids are going to be eating hot dogs for days at that price. I won’t be able to feed my family!’ My sister, she starts tearing up because she thought he was serious. We were 4, 6 and 8 at the time.”
Those early years—and struggles—bound the siblings together and established the framework for the next 50 years, five decades of steady growth.
“My dad always told us that if you make your decisions based on right and wrong and not how much it costs then you’ll have a good reputation,” Joe explains. “He’d say, ‘You’re going to write some checks that are painful, but you’ll get that money back tenfold.’”
Michael would pass away in 1992, leaving the burgeoning business to his five children.
“When my dad died, [my siblings and I] were young, barely ready to take over the family business and we did,” says Joe. “We didn’t understand how unique it was until later on that five siblings got along and worked together so well.”
While the family patriarch is credited, fairly, for building up the business and setting standards, it is their mother that the kids credit for instilling in them a strong work ethic and family-first ethos.
“My mother, in my opinion, really created the work ethic. We lived out of a single room when we first got the marina. We didn’t have a kitchen or a bathroom. The bathrooms were the marina restrooms. She was doing dishes in the spigot with well water and having us kids work and help her,” Carmine Galati Sr. explains. “We didn’t realize it at the time but that was the reason for our closeness and our work ethic. I credit her 100 percent for it.”
“And she’s still like that,” interjects Maria Galati, a gregarious member of the family’s third generation. “Every time we’re at her house she sits us down and reminds us that we need to watch each other’s backs.”
Statistically speaking, it was going to be the third generation of Galatis that would make or break the family business. With their current track record of 12 out of 12 grandkids employed by the company, they seem to be making it work with ease.
The grandchildren of Michael and Anna Maria swear, even when questioned with a raised eyebrow, that they were not coerced into joining the family business. The second-generation jokes, yet with a tone that implies seriousness, that they were given no such choice. They were “made an offer we couldn’t refuse. If you were out of the business you were out of the family,” says Carmine with a laugh that betrays the fact that he isn’t actually kidding.
Two granddaughters in the clan, in fact, started college majoring in speech pathology and elementary education—surefire paths that would diverge from the family-run business. A handful of business classes and the magnetic pull of the family culture would eventually convince both to switch majors in favor of degrees that would lead them back home.
While they may not have been forced, none in the salon can say with a straight face that they weren’t bred for careers in the boat business.
“We all started young. I started working after school in high school. We detailed boats, painted bottoms, sanded the bottoms. We got to see what it was like from the bottom,” says Michael Galati III. “Then I eventually made it inside to do my dad’s files; I handled his travel. And I eventually started reconciling specs for boats that we had in stock. I still do that job today.”
It didn’t take long, only about 20 minutes or so, for our formal interview to devolve into a casual family discussion. The grandchildren laughed and interjected stories from what seems, by all accounts, happy childhoods. Faces lit up when telling about the time so and so was enlisted to memorize a spec sheet and show some boats at their rendezvous at just 11 years old. Another recalled working all summer to earn a new pair of sunglasses. “You guys really got off easy with me!” Laughter erupts throughout the salon.
And just like that, with their guards down, one story turned into another, memories and moments frozen in time.
“When I look at our company you would think that we’ve provided a lot to gen 3, but really seeing them work and seeing their successes brought gen 2 to a whole new level,” says Carmine with a look of pride scribed across his face. “The future is not just what they brought to the table for themselves, it’s what they’ve brought to our generation too. To see them all succeed is energizing for us all.”
It’s often hard to appreciate how, like coal turning into a diamond, early hardships and pressures can create the strongest of foundations. From a storm-tossed piece of land to a world-renowned dealer for Viking, Princess, Cruisers, Prestige, Maritimo, Hargrave and others, with 11 locations in three countries and a third generation pounding the docks like a force at all the major U.S. boat shows, it’s that foundation, grounded in a family- and business-first ethos that has seen them through hardships and across to the other side. It’s safe to say that this is one family that certainly beat the odds.