Interview with Marco Valle: CEO Azimut|Benetti Group

What interests you about this role?

Anticipate challenges. Being worldwide the leader for 24 consecutive years, we need vision, investments, strategies and passion to improve our standards every day. We never stop. We think creatively, working to foresee our markets needs and the key challenges of the industry. For example, the global concerns of the industry about environmental sustainability is quite recent, but not for us. Our commitment to the ambience started over twenty years ago, when the founder of our Group, Paolo Vitelli, began investing heavily in research aimed at reducing carbon emissions. It was 2006 when Benetti built Ambrosia, the first diesel electric mega yacht of the world. As a result of our green path, we stand as one of the few—perhaps the only  shipyard capable of announcing significant milestones today.

Under the Azimut brand, we take pride in having over half of our product range comprised of ‘Low Emission Yachts,’ which are yachts consuming over30% less than traditional boats of similar size, as of today. How did we achieve this? A few key factors played a role:

Using lighter construction materials, with carbon fiber being extensively employed on our series boats, whose production we have internalized. Designing hulls with highly hydrodynamic shapes, some of which we have patented for their advanced technology.

Efficient propulsion systems. We are also the shipyard with the most advanced hybrid and diesel-electric installations – Benetti’s “Luminosity," delivered in 2020, holds the title of the world’s largest hybrid yacht, and the B.YOND 37M, the first semi-custom hybrid yacht of this size, was recognized as the “Greenest Yacht of the Year" in 2022.

The use of Biofuel. Last June 2023, we announced the first partnership in the sector with Eni Sustainable Mobility, an agreement dedicated to accelerate the path towards mobility carbon neutrality. We are the firs yachting Group replacing the fuel used for sea trials, technical tests and transfer of properties with HVOlution, the biofuel from renewable* raw materials created by Eni. Our R&D department made specific laboratory tests of the new Azimut “Magellano 60"which, during summer, sailed in the Mediterranean powered by HVO. These tests recorded a reduction in well-to-wake CO2 emissions of more than 80% compared to a yacht of comparable size powered by fossil fuel.

* Pursuant to EU Directive 2018/2001 “REDII".

How has this position evolved?

I have been working with the Group since 1996,starting as junior salesperson for the non-European market, driven by passion for this industry from the very beginning. In 2020, I assumed the role of Sale Director for this specific area, and my responsibilities expanded when I was appointed Worldwide Sales and After Sales Director in 2007. I took the role of Azimut CEO in 2016. Azimut Benetti Group is a family-owned company, where our President Giovanna, represents the second generation of the Vitelli’s family leadership.  Key roles within the company are undertaken by carefully selected managers. Since 2020, as CEO of the Group, I stand as a true testament to the career opportunities that this Group can offer to our young, passionate and aspiring employees.

Motopanfilo 37M Jacuzzi
Motopanfilo 37M Interior

Tell us about the story of the brand

Benetti brand represents a history of limitless innovation and passion; it is a well-known and prestigious Italian luxury mega yacht with a longstanding history of building and innovating high-quality superyachts. Benetti began its journey in the 1870s with Lorenzo Benetti purchasing the Cantiere Darsena Lucca and founded the Benetti Shipyard. As one of the oldest shipyards in the world, Benetti describes itself as The House of Yachting to encapsulate its 150 years of history, experience, tradition, and knowledge, as well as a promise to its clients and partners to provide a unique and valuable offering.

Later in 1985, the founder of Azimut Yachts, Paolo Vitelli, acquired Benetti to form The Azimut | Benetti Group, and this marked the beginning of a new era for the prestigious Italian shipyard that becomes the world’s most extensive yacht and mega yacht network. Since its establishment, Benetti has gained a reputation for their craftsmanship, attention to detail, and luxurious designs. Benetti’s yachts are also known for their elegant styling, spacious interiors, and state-of-the-art technology.

We offer a range of yacht models, including custom-built superyachts and semi-custom yachts; we have a diverse portfolio that caters to different client preferences, ranging from sleek and contemporary designs to more traditional and classic styles. Benetti’s legacy includes some of the world’s most recognisable yachts, including SpectreFreedom(ex: Reverie) and Soundwave (ex: 11.11), that have been created by leading designers, such as Giorgio Cassetta and Stefano Natucci. Benetti yachts are typically large and luxurious, with lengths ranging from 34 meters (112 feet) to 100+meters (328 feet). These yachts are often equipped with amenities such as swimming pools, helipads, multiple decks, lavish cabins, and various entertainment spaces.

Benetti Motopanfilo 37M

How long has Benetti been in Thailand?

Recognizing the rising disposable income that propelling the Asia Pacific luxury yacht market growth, Benetti set up a Hong Kong office in 2010 in order to better serve the region. Particularly, the rising living standards and escalating incomes across Southeast Asian nations have ignited an insatiable demand for luxury yacht ownership and private charters between the nouveau riche and the generationally wealthy. In Southeast Asia, Thailand and in particular, is a strategically important cruising ground for the whole Asia. The yachts are owned by both locals and foreigners, however as the yacht owners’ experience grows, they like to venture more and cruise longer than usual. Consequently, we are seeing an increase interest in long-distance oriented yachts amongst yacht owners, leading to a higher ownership of these yachts such as B.YOND.

Thailand has also been an area enjoyed by Benetti owners – both locals and visitors – for a long time and we frequently see larger yachts form our global fleet spending time exploring and enjoying the vast array of sights and islands. We are very keen to expand our new boats in the arena where we have seen improvement in infrastructure to support yachts more effectively than in the past.

Motopanfilo 37M Bedroom

The trend now is about sustainability, can you elaborate on how this is reflected through Benetti?

Overall, we are seeing an increasing emphasis on sustainable lifestyles as well as sustainable choices amongst consumers in the Asian market. Regarding this, we are focused on building our yachts with longer-lasting materials that are better for the environment, as opposed to unsustainable or toxic materials, as well as integrating energy-efficient systems that enable low carbon emissions. For example, Benetti’s B.YOND 37M uses an e-mode hybrid propulsion, an auxiliary propulsion system with electric engines working in parallel with its main diesel engines, enabling the yacht to halve the running hours of the main engines and gensets. As a result, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions can be reduced by up to 16% and NOx emissions by up to 80% compared with traditional propulsion systems.

The e-mode hybrid propulsion system also makes it suitable for short trips along the coast – with its zero-emission mode, the yacht is allowed to enter protected marine areas or zones usually designated as off-limits to motor yacht, with the range depending on the capacity of the battery pack. Besides seeking for lightweight, flexible and sustainable yachts, we are also seeing yacht buyers looking for yachts that are designed to redefine the onboard hospitality experiences for themselves and their guests.

Specifically, we are seeing the new generation of owners looking for a more convivial and less formal onboard lifestyle that is also chic and refined, but one that is always in close contact with the water. Benetti’s revolutionary and winning Oasis Deck® design is one clear demonstration of the company’s commitment to innovating design features and advanced technology to future owners, and to raise the quality and style of its creations to levels never seen before.

What are the innovations of Benetti and is there a process for this?

Benetti has always been a disruptive company; we have been (and always will be) a pioneer in many significant achievements of the nautical industry. Benetti’s vision is to provide a cruising experience that seamlessly combines unparalleled quality and onboard comfort with an eco-friendly ethos. The challenges posed by the environment, together with the increasingly widespread desire to live a more sustainable lifestyle, are behind its commitment to an eco-conscious approach to yachting. With that in mind, Benetti continues to implement advanced technologies to design yachts that meet the lifestyle today’s HNWIs are seeking while decreasing fuel and energy consumption across a greater selection of Benetti yachts.

For Benetti to better anticipate the desires of ship owners and the latest market trends, we always keep our feet on the ground, and constantly communicate with our clients to gain first-hand insights into what they want. Eventually, we are able to combine our century worth of experiences and innovative abilities to design and build the ideal yacht that aligns with our clients’ demands, and even exceeds their expectations.

To create a yacht that appeals to today’s cruisers and respond to the ever-evolving market trends, Benetti collaborates with some of the world’s foremost yacht designers. One such example is the Motopanfilo 37M that was created and designed by Carl Pickering and Claudio Lazzarini (from Lazzarini Pickering Architetti, the design studio responsible for the interior), and Francesco Struglia, the exterior stylist. This is a boat that most assuredly speaks the language of the twenty first century whilst echoing the carefree spirit and the design typical of the Sixties, with several nods to Benetti’s heritage and iconic boats of that evocative decade. Specifically, the designers felt it was crucial that this yacht look like a yacht instead of a floating home; they designed this yacht to be linear compared with modern mega-yachts, much the way recreational craft did five decades ago.

Another notable feature of the Motopanfilo is the huge space amid the 25-foot 3-inch beam. As Pickering said, “the luxury in a boat is in space – real or perceived". This was achieved through the new concept of the interior as the skeleton of a large whale, where the designers sought to rediscover and reinterpret many of the traditional elements of the original Motopanfilo in the name of a new style of classicism. Subsequently, the idea evolved to delineating the various spaces through an architectural approach that reimagines traditional beams as structural rib bones and essentially dematerialises the walls. It is left to the vast lateral windows to contain the space, and the effect is immense spaciousness and openness, which even the furnishings, cannot detract from. Artful use of mirrored surfaces expands the perception of interior space and amplifies the views of the sea and sky outside. Moreover, this is key to today’s buyers who are looking for a yacht, which offers open spaces for outdoor living and socialisation.

Though the design is much more linear, the Motopanfilo 37M does have a beach club, thanks to the fold-down transom. Because the yacht is semi-custom, the beach club can include whatever client’s wish best suits their needs. From fuel consumption perspective, Benetti is involved in new fuels, hydrogen etc. in the recent times, and believes that hybrid electric propulsion is a key market trend, on top of ensuring its yachts are lightweight, safe and with eco-friendly designs without sacrificing the quality of the design aspect of its yachts.

Particularly, Benetti believes that product innovation is critical in ensuring that we win on the market – even in the period of global economic crisis in 2008-09, we continue to invest in new products that gave us the opportunity to gain market share. Some examples of Benetti’s innovations include:

E-mode hybrid system: This advanced system combines traditional and electric propulsion systems that helps reduce fuel consumption and emission. Specifically, fuel consumption and CO2 can be reduced by up to 24% and NOx by up to 85% based on an annual use of 1000 hours. For example, Benetti’s Luminosity, launched in 2020, remains the world’s largest hybrid yacht, while the B. Yond 37M with a diesel-electric hybrid engine was named the “greenest yacht” of the year in 2023. The e-mode hybrid propulsion system also makes it suitable for short trips along the coast – with its zero-emission mode, the yacht is allowed to enter protected marine areas or zones usually designated as off-limits to motor yacht, with the range depending on the capacity of the battery pack.

Hotel Mode: When in Hotel Mode, the yacht can remain at anchor in vibration-free mode and completely eradicate CO2 emissions.

Motopanfilo 37M Upper Deck
Motopanfilo 37M Communal Space

Tell us about some of the collaborations

Benetti strongly believes in forming strategic partnerships with likeminded industry partners to design and create innovative and excellent mega yachts that offer exceptional cruising experiences. Benetti forged exclusive collaborations with the finest contemporary architects and designers — Stefano Righini, Giorgio M. Cassetta and the British RWD studio – to design and build a “home-away-from-home" superyacht for today’s consumers.

Benetti also maintained a friendly long-term cooperative relationship with Bonetti Kozerski Architecture. Specifically, we worked with them to design the Oasis 40M where we broke the rigid nautical traditions, draw attention to the sea, open spaces, and light. Oasis 40M interiors offer a layout reminiscent of an elegant loft space, which provides an experience in total symbiosis with nature. By reinterpreting the classical nautical language and implementing the specific characteristics as sophisticated elements into their design solutions, Benetti preserves and exalts the unity between vessel and sea.

On sustainability, Benetti works with Water Revolution Foundation,  a no-profit organisation whose main aim has for years been to reduce the yacht industry’s impact, above all on the marine environment. Water Revolution Foundation’s mission is to further sustainability through innovation, cooperation and technological development in both building and refitting. We also worked with the UK-based Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE), which aims to create a network of protected marine areas and promote sustainable, artisanal and small-scale fishing, thus contributing to the recovery of fish stocks.

How does Benetti build super yachts to exceed the expectations of ship owners today and tomorrow?

Benetti’s business has always been underpinned by experience, passion and innovation. The team works hard to improve and develop our knowledge and recognize the value of people and their diversity, which we see as an indispensable resource. The customer’s journey with Benetti Yachts is also critical to the shipyard’s success. At Benetti, we place great emphasis on the relationship with our clients, and aim to create an enjoyable family experience based on trust and commitment.

We work alongside them in making their dream yachts a reality through our customized solutions, and bring about an unparalleled experience of ownership that they deserve. We have an exceptional team of experts who will be with the customer for each step during the entire journey – from initial meetings to delivery of the yacht and fuss-free post-sales services. Privacy and exclusivity are synonymous with large yacht ownership and a Benetti buyer or owner should be assured that the shipyard respects this on top of top quality and well- designed product. As a privately owned company, the ethos of Benetti Yachts revolves around creating and maintaining an atmosphere of “family" and teamwork with our customers and their crew who are important members of this family.

We are also fully aware of the differences in client preferences across the different markets, and pay close attention to the different cultural and regional variations. Specifically, in Asia, buyers are constantly on a lookout for yachts that offer finest, superior hospitality that creates a seamless and luxurious experience on board.

For instance, Asian clients seek for optimal kitchen equipment and space that allows them to whip up a cozy meal for themselves and their guests. State-of-the-art entertainment facilities are another point of consideration when they select their yachts – which aimed to create a seamless connectivity and advanced entertainment systems to ensure high quality and exceptional onboard experience.

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Published 30th January 2024