Tell Tales: Driving forces
21 October 2021
In, close to be, 50 years of existing, Baltic Yachts has produced many very special yachts and created a name for itself on the yachting scene. It is naturally the products that are interesting to the public, but I was thinking that a short story on the structures, event and development inside the company might also be of interest. Looking, from the outside, I assume that things seem to have been running smoothly during all these years, with all the interesting new products being developed. The reality is, like for most companies, that there have been ups and downs.
If we go back, in time, to the start of the company times were not all that good. Almost immediately, after our start, the world was hit by a severe oil crise that changed the world market and especially the yachting segment. This naturally did not make life easy for a new company and, although thing might have looked good from the outside, our life was an economical struggle. To keep the company running until the market improved, we ended up selling our company to a Finnish shipyard, Hollming Ltd. This happened as early as 1977.
Hollming, as an owner, gave Baltic Yachts the financial possibility to increase PR and Baltic Yachts became more internationally visible at this time. It also enabled a more aggressive development of yacht models and production processes. In other words, a good owner for the company.
Hollming shipyard in Rauma, Finland.
The above picture describes well one of the many impacts the Hollming ownership had on Baltic Yachts. The four half-round buildings are the original premises and the large facility in the background was a result of Hollming ownership.
The larger facilities and better economical backing gave us the possibility to develop Baltic Yachts. However, I still believe that the four half-round buildings had a very good return on investment. Not much to brag about but they did the job.
In the process of Hollming becoming the owner two of the original five founders, Nils Luoma and Ingmar Sundelin left the company.
Hollming was the owner until the beginning of 1990. At this time the general industrial economics in Finland had taken a dive. Hollming wanted to concentrate on their core business and asked if we could arrange for some sort of management, or similar, takeover to save/continue Baltic Yachts. Baltic Yacht was an important workplace for the local community and to shut down the company would have been very destructive for the area. We were 32 employees in the company that got together and decided to take over and continue the business.
At this time, it was also clear the company needed to go down in size, world economics and marketing potentials were down. We were forced to lay several people off due to a low orderbook. Also, some of the engineers and designer agreed to start their own company and act as subcontractors. This was the case for Roland Kasslin and Jan Wikar, they founded R&J Design. The same thing happened with Chris Flink; he started his electric/electronic company. These two companies were located in our office, and we did and have always considered them as “our in-house designer”.
In this process we lost another of the original founder, Tor Hinders.
One of the first things we did, in the beginning of the new adventure, was to get a Managing Director for our company. Lisbeth Staffans had worked with us on the marketing for many years and was well known and respected to everybody, so we offered her the job and she immediately accepted the challenge.
With a bad orderbook and uncertain future there were several sleepless nights in the beginning of this new era. The two first years were difficult resulting in a financial struggle. Lisbeth had a very close hand on the economics, and after a while we managed to improve our orderbook and things were moving in the right direction.
We also had a very good support from the previous owner, Hollming. They wanted our company to succeed and supported us in many ways. They owned the building and rented them to us for reasonable price. They also had a large material and equipment stock that we could draw from in the pace we needed. Without the support from Hollming we would not have survived the first two years.
Lisbeth was a very good person for that job, keeping track of cashflow and making sure the money was there when needed, handling the financial contacts with our clients including a lot guarantees and paperwork. Our financial situation was such that we could not afford making mistakes and she made sure we didn’t. In addition, Lisbeth was a very good PR and customer relations person. She participated actively in marketing and boat shows, plus many other jobs that came with the territory.
I have always enjoyed and appreciated to work with Lisbeth. She is a very straight forward person, if she had something on her mind, she let you know, no playing games.
Another person that was perhaps not so visible to the outside was our production manager Christer Lill. He was responsible for running the production and during this time that was not an easy task. The project we had this time were large and technically extremely advanced and to organize this kind of production takes a very special person. Some famous person ones came up with a quote saying something like
Nothing is impossible, but the impossible might take a little bit longer
That could have been Christer’s quote.
Both Christer but especially Lisbeth was involved in the development of the contracts and deals we did with clients, we did it together. However, it happened that sitting in a conference with a prospective client I had to make decisions on my own. It also happened that some of those decisions were slightly on the limit of what I should have done but needed to be done to get the contracts signed. When I came home and presented a contract like that to these two, I would get a comment like “not so good, you should probably not have done this”. But that was the end of that discussion, and the rest was discussions on the subject “what can we do to optimize and get the most out of this”.
The constellation with 32 owners started beginning 1990 and continued approx. 20 years. This period is the one I appreciate most and is most proud of. We did a good job. During this time, we moved up in size of project and created project like first Pink Gin 97 FT, 147 FT Visione, 140 FT Canica, 152 Ft Pink Gin etc. And the best of all we kept the company profitable which is not the easiest considering the challenging projects that took place during this time.
Personally, I ended up retiring 2009, five years earlier that I had planned, and my 40 years in the yachting business had come to an end. I had planned to work for another five years but health issues changed those plans. I cannot complain I had the very best and interesting 40 year working life one can ask for.
During these 40 years I worked together with some very good managing directors and the best one, without a doubt, was Lisbeth. I also worked together with some very good production managers and the best one, without a doubt, was Christer.
There can be few yacht builders like PG Johansson, who can boast an unbroken career with the company he co-founded almost 50 years ago. In that time PG Johansson has witnessed every twist and turn of a colourful, exciting and technically pioneering industry accumulating a wealth of fascinating stories, some familiar, some still untold. In this blog PG will be recalling his experiences of the yachts he has built, the people he has met and some of the more unusual events on the journey to turning clients’ dreams into reality.
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