Marianne Richards: 18 years with Hill Robinson
Where do you originate, and how did you first get into (or end up) working with yachts in the South of France?
Basically, I’m a city girl but I came to the South of France over 20 years ago due to personal circumstances and I “fell” into yachting when I joined Hill Robinson in 2002 (they were just one year old and had 6 employees then). My background is varied, but always in the retail sector – from selling to buying to admin to systems manager and then onto fashion design work and business consultancy! It was a world of high standards and top customer service, but needing processes as streamlined and efficient as possible to ensure financial viability in a tough market. Yacht management was a new profession back in 2002 – everyone was learning. Most in the industry have a passion for yachting; I have a passion for developing the best people and providing the best service to our clients.
As Operations Manager based in the Antibes office, I know when we met, you were rushing from one telephone call to another, in between a planning meeting, but what constitutes a normal day in the office, is there one?
I’m not sure there is such a thing as a “normal day” and that is part of the joy of the job! I’ve been with Hill Robinson almost 18 years and the world of yachting has changed dramatically during that time and I’ve learnt a lot. From MLC to French Commercial Exemption, it’s a mine field now! My brain is constantly picked by the team, crew and clients alike! There are no two days the same!
You’ve been part of the Hill Robinson team for a number of years, any milestone moments?
It’s been amazing but for me it’s mostly about the people. I’ve met some great people and even though I’m not a yachtie I now have some wonderful friends from the crew I have worked with. I can’t not single out the amazing crew of the fabulous S.Y. Felicita West – from our time in the Caribbean right back at the beginning, through the Perini Cup in Sardinia to a crew member’s wedding in a beautiful Italian hill top village. It’s really special to have become part of the on-board team in that way.
Since you started in the industry, yachts have grown and their needs have grown. How have things changed from your Operations perspective?
It’s funny to look back now at how fast the yacht world has evolved. Hill Robinson was one of the first companies offering comprehensive yacht management and was at the forefront of ISM, holding one of the first Documents of Compliance issued. Everything was in paper form – we had files with photocopies of all yacht and crew certificates! We didn’t even scan then. Now it’s all electronic. There was no VSAT or 4g – communications on transit was Sat phone only. Not all crew had STCWs and many didn’t bother about contracts (although all crew on Hill Robinson managed yachts have always had contracts), but now they won’t join a yacht until they’ve seen the small print! There were stories of crew not paid for months, abandoned in far off places and so on but now in all honesty most crew are extremely well employed (most through a regulated employment company) and protected. The world of 2020 is a very long way from that of 2002.
On a more personal note, you established the fundraising charity Water of Hope, to help Cambodians get clean water. Are you still involved with that? Have things improved?
I’ve been involved with Water of Hope, a well project in Cambodia, for a number of years now and I have to confess that my work commitments have got somewhat in the way of my fundraising efforts recently. However, the need remains as far too many just don’t have access to clean water. Not only is this a very dangerous health issue with the current COVID-19 situation, but it’sa lso a real dilemma intoday’s environment as they are forced to buy bottled water (if they can afford it)with all those single use plastic bottles! There is recycling and, somewhat sadly, sifting through the rubbish pulling out these bottles to sell to the recyclers is how many very poor families live. I’ve not been without my tough times, but I’m a huge believer that we have a responsibility to make the world a better place and we have to give back. This is my real passion and I strive daily to achieve that, in every aspect of my life from working to the highest standard so our clients enjoy their yachts to making life just a little better for the poor of Cambodia. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said “ To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to leave the world a better place, to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded”. I’d like to think that as a Yacht/Operations Manager and as a human being, I have succeeded.