How did you get into the maritime industry?
I was part of a small team that bought out the Hunton business in 2010. It was a first investment into the marine industry but I saw the beauty of the product and was excited at building a British luxury brand. I saw the opportunity for international expansion that previously had not been harnessed.
Tell us about Hunton. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
Hunton is the quintessential British boat brand – it displays the best of British design & engineering. It was borne out of one man’s passion for boating & racing. What Jeff Hunton learnt from racing he put into better & better design for the boats, which is why they have such amazing handling & performance, unique in a luxury boat of our size.
My vision is to make Hunton a global luxury brand. I am just launching internationally, with the US market being our first overseas presence. Our mission is to make the best boats of our generation with a finish & an attention to detail more akin to superyacht standards than a production day boat.
What strategic partnerships have you implemented that have attributed to Hunton's success?
So far I am taking it slowly with strategic partnerships. I think many companies do this out of a lack of knowing what else to do rather than there being a real collaboration. I have partnered with Harrods in August. We had a pop up in store for 6 weeks, as part of their Made with Love campaign, an exhibition celebrating the best of bespoke British luxury, hence we were a perfect fit. We will continue to develop a deeper collaboration with Harrods into 2015, with more projects in the pipeline.
There are a few other British brands I am speaking to about a collaboration on certain projects, but these are all under wraps for now.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
Certainly a willingness and desire to buy the best. I am seeing more & more clients wanting something truly bespoke which fits right into my strategy with Hunton. We hand build all our boats so have the ability to customize to match completely the clients wishes. This isn’t something that our competitors can do. Our exclusivity and low volumes means we build each boat as a separate project so do not have to fit into a big production line schedule.
To be the best you possibly can be
To build the best boats of our generation
Your greatest success as CEO of Hunton? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
Greatest success – well I only re-launched the business last year but I would say to date it’s the design of the new 52 foot – to be released early next year – it’s fabulous and will not be what the market is expecting!
My most difficult moment has been the integration of what I call “new Hunton” into the old regime. Hunton was run as a small hobby business with no direction, investment or real strategy for growth. The old practices were outdated and there were no clear processes in place. I have had to clear out a lot of the old “dead wood” and make way for the new Hunton vision, one of growth, excellence, higher standards and the desire to be the best in everything we do. The guys I have on the factory floor now, some existing staff, some are new, are all on board and excited about the future, but there was resistance from some of the old guard. Plus being a female in very much a man’s world, and not coming from the boating industry meant I faced further hurdles.
What I learnt was to believe in my vision and stick to it. I haven’t allowed myself to be swayed by following my competition or by being dissuaded by the negative comments from those that didn’t think I could do it.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Believe in yourself but also know when to admit your mistakes and know when to change strategy if need be – basically be nimble. Its one of your biggest advantages over your larger competitors.
Favorite travel destination?
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
What literature is on your bed stand?
A very large stack of books I want to read but don’t get time to – but I am currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s David & Goliath, Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert & Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
Role model - business and personal?
Business - Google founders Larry Page & Sergey Brin; they empower their teams to be innovative and give them a freedom to take chances and come up with new products; they are not afraid to kill what is not making a meaningful impact on bottom line and they are constantly striving to make their products better.
Personal - Ayn Rand, the Russian-American novelist and her philosophy on life; basically to work hard to achieve a life of purpose and to earn genuine self-esteem; to pursue your own happiness and stick to what you believe in
Watching The Bridge 2 box set – its gripping and beautifully filmed.
Most interesting headline you've read this week?
Sex, death & good TV
What's next for Hunton?
The launch In Jan 2015 of the new 52ft cruiser
Fiona’s primary career was in finance having worked on the Credit Trading desk at Credit Suisse as one of three traders on a multi-currency global trading book, using financial derivatives to repackage securities. She then moved to Goldman Sachs as an Executive Director, where she established the Credit Trading book. Three years later, she left to follow her true love of design, co-founding with Scott Henshall, a successful fashion design business, winning the first Vidal Sassoon Young Designer of the Year award and being a fixture on the London Fashion Week schedule as well as showing in Paris and Milan. Having secured 40 stockists worldwide, she secured significant investment into the business from a Singaporean family and sold out her stake in 2001. She then returned to the financial world, joining Bank of America in London as a distressed debt trader and shortly thereafter was appointed Head of European High Yield Sales, Trading and Research. She left in 2006 to become a partner in a specialist structured finance consulting firm, but was approached in early 2008 to establish and run a small, luxury fashion label, which she grew to 18 stockists and £500,000 turnover before leaving in May 2010. She joined Hunton in September 2010.