All In A Day's Work: Career on an even keel

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am

Benny Yu Tak-fu, account manager at Mandarin Yacht, has to know as much as he can about the technical aspects of boats

I studied in New York and worked as a programmer for a while. There was no money to be made in the United States so I returned to Hong Kong. The opportunity to work with Mandarin Yacht came up by chance. My boss, who is a good friend of mine, owned a boat and used to live aboard. Someone liked his boat and wanted to buy it from him, and he sold it. Then the same thing happened again and soon he started building yachts in a shipyard on the mainland as a business and selling them in Hong Kong. I've been taking care of this business for more than 10 years.

When I meet new customers, they already have certain ideas and designs for their boats. In this business, it is necessary to listen and understand customer needs. The interior of the yachts can be tailor-made according to what the clients want, but the exterior of the boat is of a standard appearance and size, anywhere from 48 or 50 feet to 75 feet. We calculate the price of building a boat at HK$60,000 per foot on average. The customer may want to use the boat for pleasure just for a short period, or they want to use it for cruising or just for living aboard. Normally, we suggest a small engine, like 150 horsepower, for those who just want to stay and live aboard. It works out cheaper.

The first thing I do when I go to work in the mornings is check e-mails. Usually, I receive a few inquiries. We also provide a service to repair and maintain boats. We have sold about 15 to 20 boats in the past three years. I keep close contact with all my clients as a follow-up service is important in building good relations. I get a lot of referrals through our clients.

I don't think it is an easy job being an account manager in this specific trade because the most difficult part is to understand the technical side of the boats and the different kinds of models on the market.

I travel to the mainland often to check on the construction process of the yachts. It is very important to maintain quality control, otherwise the yachts may not turn out according to the client's expectations.

Having a good attitude with the builders at the Chinese shipyards is necessary to ensure that the job is done well and delivery is met. I find this job very satisfying because it takes about eight months to build a boat and I can see the whole process through from the design on paper to the complete model - like having a baby. It is very exciting.

We offer a one-year warranty and I am constantly in touch with the client during that period to provide the service they need. Many people who live aboard like to have a boat on weekends and also to cruise out. There used to be a number of airline pilots living on boats because Discovery Bay is close to the airport. But now I see more professionals, executives and families choosing to live aboard.

The biggest problem in the future is berthing. There seems to be increasing demand for yachts. I think more serious thought needs to be put into this area. China's licensing fees and tax on owning a boat is holding the industry back.

It is very good to live on a boat. With a better engine and a generator, one can cruise out on the boat to have seafood on many outlying islands in Hong Kong. It's beautiful and peaceful to be out in wide open waters away from the city. I'm planning to get a boat myself.