The Wedding Planner

Posted on November 30, 2012 by Lucie Maluck, Images by Robert Hack

The head of Arabian shipyard Gulf Craft likens his job to that of a wedding planner - he makes his customers' greatest dreams come true.
Emirat Al-Quwain, United Arab Emirates

It is an odd fact. Most owners of large luxury yachts come from the United Arab Emirates. But the yachts themselves are built in Europe or America. That is set to change if Gulf Craft achieves its ambitions. Based in the Emirate of Umm al Quwwayn, close to Dubai, the shipyard makes yachts up to 50 meters in length – featuring the latest technology and every one of them to bespoke requirements.

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You have to be a little bit eccentric to compare yacht-building to planning weddings. Or perhaps we should say creative. Erwin Bamps is eccentric and creative. He compares yachts with a wedding cakes, cars with cupcakes and the business of selling yachts with an ice-cream parlors. But maybe it is precisely his eccentricity that makes him so successful. Erwin Bamps is the Chief Operating Offcer of Gulf Craft, the biggest yacht-building yard in the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf Region. His motto is “making miracles come true”. It sounds like a platitude, but those who witness him at work believe him.

Erwin Bamps has been COO of Gulf Craft for ten years. He compares yacht-building with planning weddings because in both cases it is matter of fulfilling your clients’ greatest dreams.

Meteoric rise

Erwin Bamps came to U.A.E. ten years ago. At that time, Gulf Craft employed 200 people and sold its yachts in the United Arab Emirates – to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and occasionally to Oman or Bahrain if things were going well. But Mahammed Al Shaali, the Gulf Craft chairman, had bigger plans. “We want to become one of the largest yacht-builders in the world,” he said at the time. To make that ambition a reality would definitely require a miracle. Or that is what Bamps, newly arrived from his native Belgium, thought at the time. But he didn’t know U.A.E. very well then. Today, the shipyard employs 5,000 staff and builds as many as 500 boats a year. From small, six-meter pleasure cruisers to megayachts over 40 meters long. He will not hear of anybody describing it as mass production, however. The opposite is the case, he maintains. And this is where his first comparison comes in. Making cars is like baking cupcakes. Building yachts, on the other hand, is like making a wedding cake – and that is the business Gulf Craft is in. What is special about their yachts is that they are made to the clients’ specifications. Only two features are unalterable: all Gulf Craft yachts are made of fiberglass and they are all monohull designs. Everything else is the client’s choice, whether it’s the color of the hull, the interior fittings or the size of the swimming pool. “Other manufacturers of comparably sized yachts do not offer their clients as much choice as we do,” states Bamps with conviction. Despite that, he can still claim, “We are cheaper than our competitors in Europe.”

U.A.E. isn’t just simply a country; it is home to the whole world.

Erwin Bamps - COO, Gulf Craft

Motivation the key to success

How is that possible? One glance into the gigantic sheds in which the yachts are constructed provides the answer. It is absolutely teeming with people in blue overalls. Standing on scaffolds such as you would only expect to see on large building sites, they fill, paint, hammer and drill. The hum of their voices in the background is like the sound of a fairground. It is hard to believe, but there are three megayachts under construction here at the same time. “People who come to U.A.E. do so for one reason above all: to make money,” points out Erwin Bamps. Unlike in Europe, the lives of his employees revolve around work rather than their free time outside of work. “They are so motivated that I have to forcibly send them home in the evening, otherwise they would spend all night here,” he recounts with a mischievous laugh.

About 80 people work on a yacht from gigantic scaffolds. After one and a half years, it is ready to be set afloat.

“Culture of change and uncertainty”

But that was not the only reason for the success of his company, he told us. “U.A.E. isn’t just simply a country; it is home to the whole world,” the Belgian expanded. And that was an advantage he aimed to exploit. “We don’t just know one market, we are familiar with them all,” Bamps believes. Chinese buyers, he revealed, do not require bedrooms on their yachts because they never stay on their boats overnight. And large sail shades were very important to them because – unlike Europeans – they were not at all keen on lying in the sun. “Building for U.A.E. means building for the world,” he states. Twenty percent of Gulf Craft clients come from Europe, 40 percent from the Gulf region and 25 percent from Asia.

However, the speed at which the market is expanding presents Gulf Craft with more than just advantages. “We are living in a culture of change and uncertainty,” Erwin Bamps illuminates. So he wasn’t sure how the wages of his staff would develop. And suppliers had to be frequently changed because businesses were constantly disappearing and being replaced by others. One thing was certain, however: The market has potential.

With a length of 40 meters (135 feet) the “Majesty 135” is the biggest yacht built by Gulf Craft.

Breaking down complexity

“Seventy percent of the world is covered with water but only thirty percent of people have ever been on a boat,” he says, positively bursting with enthusiasm. So you couldn’t help but see the potential of the yacht business. And he has an idea how to convince even more people to buy a yacht. “Yachts need to be easier to operate,” he observes. He believes that up to now it has simply been too complicated to own a yacht – you need a crew and are hardly ever allowed to steer the boat yourself. “If I buy a yacht I get an instruction manual the size of a phone book; but ultimately, a yacht is nothing more than a great big toy which I want to be able to play with without having to wade through reams of instructions,” he expounds with another of his interesting comparisons.

As he does, he laughs and his voice gets louder. This is undoubtedly a man who is convinced of what he is saying. Almost silent by comparison is Mostafa Agib El Nahta. He is the Operations &Technical Manager at Gulf Craft and meets us in the engine room of a new Majesty 135. The yacht is standing there in all its magnificence, waiting to be set afloat for the first time. In a couple of days, that time will have arrived. It will be a big moment for Mostafa, because he and his team having been building the yacht for a year and a half. The most striking feature of the yacht is its golden hull, though the engines take some beating for aesthetic appeal as well – gleaming white with sparkling chrome cylinder heads. Mostafa admires them adoringly. The two mtu Series 4000s will each supply 2,580 kilowatts of propulsive power. The buyer? “Secret,” whispers Mostafa. It is a VIP is all he can reveal. He would rather talk about the fact that it is the biggest yacht Gulf Craft has ever built.

Fuel-efficiency is where mtu scores extra points. Which is important, because nothing is more tiresome than refueling.

Mostafa Agib El Nahta - Operations & Technical Manager, Gulf Craft

Range decisive

For 16 years, Mostafa has been responsible for ensuring that an initial plan turns into a finished yacht. He comes from Egypt but U.A.E. is his home. He is sure that yacht-building will expand enormously. It isn’t just the yachts that need to be easier to operate; the same is true of the engines, he concedes. “mtu can still improve in that regard,” the engineer ventures. It appears almost painful for him to say it. “These engines are the Lamborghinis of yacht engines. They are very powerful, but unfortunately not always easy to operate,” he said. “But I know that mtu is working on it, and a lot has already been done,” he adds, almost apologetically. He looks across with a smile at Walid Ibrahim from mtu distributors Al Masood of U.A.E. and Bahrain. The two know each other well and meet regularly. “We have been fitting mtu engines for 20 years, and for us, Al Masood is not only a supplier but also a trusted partner,” he said: a partner with whom he constantly discusses the latest trends in the yacht business. And complexity is not the only issue the two have identified. Fuel-effcient engines are just as important to clients. “And that is where mtu scores extra points,” Mostafa says with a smile. He is certain that the price of diesel will rise in the next few years and so sees economical engines playing an important role, from the point of view of range as well as cost – because “nothing is more tiresome than refueling."

Erwin Bamps (left) and Walid Ibrahim of mtu Distributor Al Masaood (right) are in regular contact.

The wedding planner

Erwin Bamps is now striding through the factory sheds. He laughs and waves to an employee in the distance. “We are the United Nations here,” he relates with a chuckle. Staff from almost 80 different countries work together here. In the front part of the building they are making a new Majesty 135, the same length and size as the one outside the shed waiting to be set afloat on the water. But this one is just having its windows fitted; there is a lot of hammering and drilling going on. Bamps is already looking forward to handing over the craft to the client. And, as ever, he is aiming to make miracles come true. The elusive “wow effect” is what he wants. “If the customer is happy, that’s great. But we want more. We want them to be delighted when they get their yacht,” he says with conviction. He points out that achieving that isn’t so easy, because most customers are not interested in the technology, only the design. “We are selling ice cream, and everyone has their own favorite flavor.” Another one of those curious metaphors. What have ice cream and yachts got to do with each other? Erwin Bamps laughs. He explains that, just like design, ice cream is a matter of taste, and selling taste is a diffcult job. “It’s funny. Our clients are interested in almost nothing but the design. And they have very precise ideas in that regard. But yacht-building is actually all about technology; for us, the design is the last part of the process.” He tells of customers who ask for a helipad on a ten-meter yacht. Or another who wanted his bathroom painted completely green. Yet another wanted the hull covered entirely in Swarovski crystals. “Sometimes I start to feel like a wedding planner,” he says with laugh. “The clients have an idea in their minds that they can’t exactly describe. So it is my job to find out what it is they have always dreamed of and build a yacht just like it,” the self-styled wedding planner elucidates.

My yacht has to be powerful, reliable and fitted with the latest equipment.

Mohammed Al Shaali - Chiarman of Gulf Craft

Powerful, reliable, innovative

It was presumably a lot easier when he built a yacht for his boss, Mohammed Al Shaali, the chairman of Gulf Craft, because he knew exactly what he wanted: “My yacht has to be powerful, reliable and fitted with the latest equipment,” he said with a smile. It was obvious that mtu would play an important part in the project. “We have an excellent working relationship with mtu and the distributor Al Masaood,” he said quietly. A few years ago, Gulf Craft was still a niche supplier and he had never dreamed that his boatyard would one day become so big. But now, the aim is clear: “Reach the number one spot.“


And Erwin Bamps has never forgotten that. You can tell that he has been working in U.A.E. for some years. The can-do mentality appears to be infectious. Could he have imagined ten years ago that he would be planning proper weddings and baking five-tiered wedding cakes? Hardly. But if you asked him today, the answer would be anunhesitating “Absolutely!”.

The content of the stories reflects the status as of the respective date of publication. They are not updated. Further developments are therefore not taken into account.

Point of contact

Walid Magd E. Ibrahim
+971 2 551 0707

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