A CONVERSATION WITH BENETEAU’S POINT-PERSON FOR TRAWLER DESIGN
Delphine André: It was my dream job since I was a young girl. My parents had this very old English boat, aft cabin, and we went to sea. My god! I was about to go to veterinary school, and I said, “No. I want to make boats.”
You were going to go to veterinary school?
André: Yeah, yeah. I was going to go but I discovered boats. I love the sea and to go cruising, so I said, “no!” I decided to go to business school instead of veterinary [school], and I made all my internships in yachts, sometimes big yachts. I needed to do something industrial after school, so I went to the automobile industry, so maybe I would have something to offer Beneteau, when I decided to go to Beneteau.
I went to Renault, the French automotive builder. I was in human resources, then I decided to go to the product department. I had five or six years in the product department, and then they were hiring at Beneteau, and I said, “Now I am quite ready.” I decided to apply, and they gave me the position.
PassageMaker: So they looked at this woman from the automotive industry, and they said, “She can build boats.” André: Yeah, she can. It was a totally different job, I know. But I think the automotive industry provided a good background. I learned a lot because I was young, in terms of processes and metallurgy. My background allowed me to be more objective when building a product.
PassageMaker: So when you are at work, what do you do? How does your day go from whenever you get to work until you get to the café?
André: There are many, many things to do, because unlike the automotive industry, there is often only one person to do a lot of things, whether it’s strategy, marketing or project management, or to give some support to the dealers, to help them sell boats to their prospects.
PassageMaker: So you have a sales role too? Are you dealing with actual customers then?
André: No, no, but it depends on the boat show. Sometimes a dealer says, “Hey, come with me, because you know the boat better than me. You can tell me where we can put the dishwasher” or whatever. That’s because there are so many boats to sell from Beneteau, the dealer cannot know everything by heart. And also when I go to the trawler rendezvous with the owners, it helps to take back what they say about their boats.
PassageMaker: When you are at work, do you spend all your time in the office or do you go to the factory.
André: It depends, especially when we are developing a new product. The first new model is a nightmare for the factory. But also because of my second hat as engineering manager, what happens is that when you give a project to an engineering department, because of industrial constraints or because they don’t know the market, they sometimes forget the customer we are targeting. We have to say, for instance, don’t do that, when they say it’s much easier to put a switch here at the foot of the bed rather than the head of the bed, so I’m the one that says, “No, do not do this.”
PassageMaker: So when you were taking us through the boats, you would say, “We did this or we did that,” but it came about as the result of a debate or at least a conversation.
Yeah for sure.
pilot these boats?
How long have you been doing this job?
Five years. I came to Beneteau in 2008.
André: Yes, yes. I am not a captain because in France that is just for commercial marine not leisure, but I have my “driving license.” There are two in France. The lesser one is only for coastal cruising and a second one that depends on boat size. I have had them both since I was 16. But I don’t have a boat. It is too expensive.
PassageMaker: How many people at Beneteau have the title of product manager? You’re not the only one?
André: No, no, no. We specialize. There are one or two product managers for sailboats. In the motorboat department, we have three. I have the trawler line and the Antares line.
PassageMaker: By the way the trawlers are very pretty boats, especially the smaller ones.
Yes the 50 is huge but very “liveable.”
PassageMaker: In Europe, there’s no word for “trawler” so you use our word.
André: Yeah. It’s really part of product development to define what is a trawler.
PassageMaker: I know. We have the same conversation. Is a powercat a trawler? Well I guess it is. I like to say that it’s in the owner’s mind. The boat may go fast, but the owner is going to want to go slow to get the range. I guess the European definition of “trawler” is anything that can go more than 300 miles. You call it “autonomy.”
PassageMaker: To us a trawler looks a bit like a fishing boat, but not in Europe, not at Beneteau. They look a little bit like military patrol craft.
André: That vertical orientation, yes. When you ask a designer to design a new boat, you present several drawings to the dealers. If you go too far, they’ll tell you: That’s not a trawler. There are exterior clues for a trawler.