Meet the founders: 10 Years of SMART

SuperYacht Times sat down with Ian and Steve to learn how their journeys into the world of superyacht technology began.

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SuperYacht Times

Written by Francesca Webster

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With endless innovations and advancements across the technology sector, it is no surprise that the superyacht industry takes note and follows suit. Steve Puckering and Ian Dixon have carved out successful careers in technology consulting for superyachts with their company SMART Technology Advisers. Their pioneering approach to deliver both transparency and innovation within the superyacht technology sector, has seen SMART elevate standards and consistently deliver innovative solutions and in most cases with cost neutral projects for their growing portfolio of happy owners over the past 10 years.

Ian Dixon and Steve Puckering, Founders of SMART Advisors

SuperYacht Times sat down with Ian and Steve for a series of three editorials, to learn more about how they have harnessed their careers together at SMART and how their journeys into the world of superyacht technology began.

How did you get introduced to the yachting industry?

Steve: In the 1980s I was working as a specialist electronics engineer for the German company, Grundig. In those days electronics engineers like me were trained to fault find right down to component level, and it was a time when the first satellite televisions were being introduced.. We were initially commissioned by P&O to assist them with an issue they were having with their satellite systems, and I was sent in as the specialist to resolve the problem. Over time we became the service partner of choice for P&O globally. Then in 1997 we became involved with the design and development of the technology systems onboard the 49.9-metre Amels superyacht Tigre D’or (now Jaz), which led onto a myriad of other projects such as Sarafsa (now Faribana V) and Thunder Gulch (now Marla) and many more besides.

Vitamin Sea II anchored
Photo: Superyacht Times

By the early 2000s my company ANT (Advanced New Technologies) was the largest marine electronics company in the industry, with 126 employees, €13 million in annual revenue and offices in the UK, France, Holland and the US. Some of the largest projects in the superyacht world fleet were completed by ANT, in yards ranging from Lürssen, Oceanco, Amels and Feadship to Blohm & Voss and CRN to name but a few. Then came the crash of 2008 and we lost a third of our in build projects almost overnight. Against the advice of many, I was determined to save the business and brought Ian in to assist with turning it around, which we did. The business was eventually sold to a large USA based conglomerate. I stepped away in 2011 as the offer of a “VP” position did not appeal to me (as I am an engineer).

Ian: Unlike Steve, my background is as a chartered accountant. I trained at KPMG and later worked for the marine paint company Jotun, where I got my first taste of the yachting world. I received a call one day from a colleague at KPMG who asked if I'd be interested in talking to his client - ANT - who needed some urgent financial management. As Steve explained, I was parachuted in to help and we spent two years turning the business around before we were able to sell it in 2010, without having lost a single job in the process and making sure all our suppliers were paid in full.

Jubilee motor yacht by Oceanco
Photo: Superyacht Times

So, you went from supplier to owner’s technology advisers, how did that transition occur and what was the catalyst for SMART?

Steve: After leaving the business I semi-retired and was convinced I’d left yachting behind. I then received a call from a representative who had a big issue with a new build. There were contractual and financial issues within the proposed specification as well as numerous technical problems and they needed someone with expert knowledge of prices, timelines and technology to help resolve them. That project was Jubilee, now known worldwide as Kaos. About a month into the project Ian came to visit and I explained what I was working on – like me Ian had sworn he’d never work on the supplier / integrator side again but working on the owner’s side had an immediate appeal.

We decided to do the project together and run it as ethically and transparently as possible, taking it back to basics and stripping out the non-tangible costs that were running up budgets and timelines without any improvement in the technology being offered. The owner was extremely happy with the outcome, as was the broker who asked us to work on another new project and that was really the beginning of SMART.

Galvas yacht in Monaco
Photo: Yvan Grubski

SMART was seen as a bit of a disruptor in those early days, with its open book mentality and focus on ethics, can you explain a bit more about this?

Steve: I suppose that in a way we were disruptive, but it wasn’t our intention to be so. When we founded SMART, a lot of the players in the sector were what we’d call a ‘consultant-plus’, i.e., they were both consultants and suppliers, consultants and integrators, consultants and investors. They had two priorities; one to the project’s owner and one to themselves, as they derived income elsewhere on the project to supplement their fees. We saw the opportunity to position SMART as the independent technology experts the owners and their representative were looking for.

It was a hard sell in those early days, as no one in the industry believed we would commit to it. However, we have, and owners and their representatives return to us because they know we are open, honest and ethical in how we run our business, as well as being experts in technology.

One of the key benefits this approach has is that we have been able to have unequalled access to manufacturers and regularly talk to them about their future developments, as we pose no commercial risk to them. We can say that because we have no partnerships or affiliations with any product or supplier, which means that we can approach every player in the sector (and a growing number now outside of superyachts where we’ve been able to bring their expertise into the sector for the first time) and they know they have the opportunity to present their best work to us.

Ian: This ethical practice has been so ingrained in SMART from the very beginning. So much so that at the end of every year every member of staff has to declare that they have not received any additional benefits from working on any of our projects. Transparency is absolutely essential to our business and our staff are held to a very high standard.

How do you stay at the forefront of technical innovation and development?

Steve: As we mentioned above, because we don’t have any bias when it comes to technology, it enables us to approach any business in the sector and to have a candid discussion about future developments. We are often aware of R&D years before a project becomes a reality, and this enables us to specify an onboard infrastructure commonly as far ahead as four years (or more), for products that may not even commercially exist yet!

We also have a highly passionate team at SMART. Individuals like our first employee Tom, who along with the rest of the team have unequalled knowledge and understanding of the technology itself, and of future innovation. This often far outweighs both ours, the shipyard’s and our owner’s knowledge combined.

Lady S yacht cruising
Photo: Feadship

Ian: In a sense, we are able to future proof our projects from the very earliest stage. We don't have to have a difficult conversation in the final year of a build that the displays, audio system, control systems or a cinema are now outdated and need to be upgraded. In addition to providing the coolest and best solution to the owner, it also saves costs and enables us to virtually guarantee the end cost from the moment the contract is signed.

What would you put the company’s success down to?

Ian: Hard work, honesty, and a dedicated team with a genuine passion for technology. We expect everyone who comes to work for us to have these attributes. The ability to take a concept and / or a dream and turn it into reality for an owner is where we thrive. We get a lot of challenging projects, so employing people who are ready for a challenge, including the complexities that need to be delivered, keeps things exciting. An example is the 93-metre Feadship, Lady S, where we were asked to help create the first ever IMAX accredited cinema to be placed on a private superyacht. Tom worked closely with the owners, their own specialist and with Dolby and IMAX themselves to design the initial concept with pen and paper and turn it into reality.

Lady S yacht, Imax Cinema

In what ways do you work well together as a team at SMART?

Ian: There are two parts; as co-founders we are each from different backgrounds, but we have a lot of respect for each other and value our opinions. We have a lot of trust. We used our past experiences of working together in the yachting industry to forge a company that was innovative from the very beginning which promotes an engaging and ever growing culture.

Steve: As one owner succinctly put it, we have a great mix of “grey hairs” looking after the projects commercial and financial interests and a young hungry bunch of technology gurus that are driving the technology forward. It’s a great combination!

Our ethos is driven by the idea that within the broader team at SMART, we succeed and fail together. There is no blame culture or politics; just championing.

Lana yacht cruising in la Spezia
Photo: Carlo Demicheli / @boatfromtheworld

What are the plans for the future at SMART?

Steve: Overall, we want to innovate, and continuously improve. We want to remain the best choice for and continue to maintain standards and push boundaries in the interests of our owners; being trusted to deliver on their wishes is important to us.

With a team of 10 and a highly boutique outlook, SMART only works on a select number of projects at any one time, ensuring every owner receives the same, high levels of service they have come to expect.

Over the decade, the team have been responsible for some of the most impressive and iconic projects in the global superyacht fleet and have consistently delivered world-class technological solutions.

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