Vendee Globe – After being compelled to put an end to the partnership with his sponsor, with just seven months to go before the Vendée Globe begins, Jean-Baptiste Dejeanty tells us more about his current situation.
Dejeanty parts with sponsor, still has Vendée Globe hopes
After he announced the termination of the contract he had signed with Swiss group LPG (Luxury Prestige Group), represented by its managing President Jean-Michel Le Norcy, the Lorient-based skipper looks back at what happened and points the reasons that forced him to make that inevitable decision.
For him and his entire team, the nice story eventually turned into a very bad movie in only a few months. Even though the sponsor had signed official contracts and promised funds, he did not bring a single euro in, making it impossible for Jean-Baptiste and Liz Wardley to purchase their respective yachts as initially planned.
The skipper and his Sensation Sailing Team therefore had no choice but to invest their own money to launch the project. After waiting for several months in vain, Jean-Baptiste Dejeanty and his team are feeling free again. Free to speak out and to tell their story. And they are seeking compensation in order to move on and focus on another project as soon as possible.
What made you terminate the contract between you and your sponsor?
Quite simply, the fact they didn’t honor any of their commitments. Despite signed contracts, the sponsor kept finding good excuses to explain the lack of promised funds Liz Wardley and I needed to pay for our boats and launch our projects for good. When the calendar tells you it’s already April and the Vendée Globe starts in several months but you still don’t have a boat or a team, you know you just can’t keep going like that.
Now that we are no longer contractually bound and the contracts have been legally terminated, my priority is to make sure that the company and the people representing it can’t act like that again in the future. And I’m also seeking compensation, especially when it comes to the money we’ve already spent.
How did you end up signing an agreement with this partner?
Liz Wardley faces new challenge
They approached us first. In October 2011, Jean-Michel Le Norcy directly contacted us on behalf of Swiss group LPG and he told us about his sailing sponsorship plans that would back the launch of a clothing line. What he told us and what he showed us was really solid and convincing.
And we felt even more confident when we signed a pre-agreement with him in November in order to give time to our lawyers to work on a bona fide partnership contract. Right after that, the sponsor even signed a promise to buy the first boat, for which the formal purchase was scheduled for December. That same sponsor eventually ruined the transaction.
Is that when you first started to doubt?
Well yes, it sure baffled us, but things like that happen. And in January, immediately after that incident, Jean-Michel Le Norcy signed the partnership contract drawn up by our lawyers, which made us confident about the project again. It was a 5-year bona fide sponsorship agreement and to crown it all, the partner also offered to sponsor a second boat.
And that’s how Liz Wardley came to be involved in the project too…
Yes. Jean-Michel Le Norcy told us how excited he was and what a perfect opportunity a race like the Vendée Globe was to promote his brands, VH TEC and Voile Heritage. He wanted to finance a second skipper on a second boat, and Liz totally matched the criteria he had in mind. That’s what led to a second contract being signed with Liz in the end of January, similar to the first one but for a 3-year period.
Meanwhile, Mr Le Norcy initiated talks with the Vendée Globe direction to possibly become an official partner and supply the clothing equipment. He also introduced us to Joseph Moreau, the President of the Vendée Chamber of Commerce and Industry and general manager of GETEX, the company that was supposed to manufacture the VHtec products.
That made the project look even more solid to us. And, just for the record, GETEX is in no way responsible for what eventually happened to the project, they were just supposed to manufacture clothes.
What about the boats?
In January and February, we started negotiating to buy two other boats that were available then. The sponsor even signed a purchase contract for the first one, which was supposed to be mine. As for the second one – Liz’s – we had an agreement. But in both cases, the sponsor once again failed to honor his commitments and left our and the boat owners’ questions and contacts unanswered.
You must have started to feel less confident then…
Yes, but the person we were in contact with was very good at blowing hot and cold especially since, in the meantime, Jean-Michel Le Norcy had started introducing us to his network and explaining his plans. We visited production sites, we became part of his sale and technical development effort and he organized meetings for us to get to know some of his industrial partners. Some of them are actually in the same difficult situation as ours now. We also met with other people working for LPG. We’re not the only ones they have fooled, far from it. We hear new similar stories every day.
When exactly did your doubts overcome your confidence?
In mid-February, when the whole plan started to look inconsistent to us. But once again, when you’ve signed such a contract, you just don’t see why a sponsor would want to go through all that only to stop before the end, there’s just no point. In the end of February, we started to chase him up even more to get the promised funds. The situation was getting unbearable and we still hadn’t received a single euro, even though we had launched the project with our limited financial means, which is what they had asked us to do, as many people can confirm.
At that point, you just couldn’t take it anymore…
…Especially since the daily contacts were just exhausting. He would call us every day to put our minds at rest and tell us to wait just a little bit longer. But we still didn’t see anything coming. We insisted, we were patient but he kept telling us everything was just fine.
Yet on March 30, we gave him formal notice to honor his commitment regarding the purchase of the boats and the financial support in the next 10 days. He didn’t respond to the notice so, as stated in the clauses of the contract, we legally terminated the contract on April 13. We are no longer contractually bound and we can speak out now.
What's next now?
First of all, what we want is for Luxury Prestige Group to have the decency to pay back the money we had to spend to launch the project. Brice Lavirotte – the Sensation Sailing Team manager – and myself have spent some of our company’s money and even our personal money on the project because the sponsor didn’t bring any fund.
We reserved office and warehouse space in Lorient, we hired technical and logistical subcontractors. He had contractors work on the boat’s visual design, communication plans and brand communication as well. The least we are entitled to get is compensation for these investments. Beyond that, we are also seeking compensation for our prejudice and we’re currently in the process of determining how we’ll proceed.
What is your current state of mind?
On a personal point of view, the past few months have been very complicated. I’m relieved we finally made a decision and acted on it but on the other hand, I’m feeling extremely angry. There’s been moral wrong in that case and also prejudice in terms of image. The skippers of our sailing team have missed opportunities because of all that. Since I raced on the 2008 Vendée Globe, I have worked hard to develop a healthy project. Since I met with Jean-Michel Le Norcy, all that work had been ruined. Sponsorship is all about finding the right person at the right time but we clearly met the wrong person here. I’m feeling betrayed and hurt. I need to move on but it’s such a waste. Call me a humanist, but I just don’t understand how people can do such things. And why? I hope I get the answers to those questions one day.
What are your plans for the next few months?
As a team, we have been put in a difficult financial situation. Now all we want is to move on to another project soon. The support messages we’ve been receiving since we announced we had to give up are very motivating. I sincerely hope Liz Wardley and I can be on the next Vendée Globe start line and hopefully we can cross the finish line too. That would be a happy end to a sad story and the best way to move on to something else.
So you are still considering competing in the 2012-2013 Vendée Globe?
We’ve spent so much energy to make it possible, we’ve thought about the race so much that we have to believe we can still make it, even though I’m aware it’s going to be extremely difficult now, especially when it comes to the timing. But I just can’t give up now. I’m currently working on a smaller-scale project that still make sense in terms of preparation and performance. I’ve been in touch with new partners, decisions need to be made soon. I still believe in the human factor, though.
And I want to thank the owners of the three boats we considered purchasing and the people representing them, Bernard Gallay, GETEX, PWC, our lawyers at Landwell, the SAEM Vendée, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the General Council of Vendée for their help and their support…
And all the people who had been willing to help us launch the project, which ended up costing them a lot, like the Absolute Dreamer team for the warehouse, Jean-Baptiste Epron for the design projects, Aprim for press relations, Landwell …
I also wish Liz Wardley the best and we truly hope she can get involved in another interesting project soon. She deserves it so much because she’s a great skipper and a great person. As far as our future is concerned, good will is more than welcome!
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