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Investor exits after pumping millions into Match Racing Tour

by Justin Chisholm, 9 Nov 2018 16:15 PST 10 November 2018
World Match Racing Tour Shenzhen Match Cup day 3 © Ian Roman / WMRT

Swedish businessman and passionate sailor Håkan Svensson had a long pedigree of supporting professional sailing when he bought the World Match Racing Tour in 2015.

Now after spending three years and tens of millions of dollars transforming the event almost beyond recognition he is in the process of selling it. Justin Chisholm of YachtRacing.Life sat down with Svensson to find out why.

Tell us about your background in sailing and in business.

I started sailing in the early 70’s in a small town in Sweden called Kristinehamn. I started in Optimists but over the years I also sailed Europe, Laser and Snipe dinghies. I windsurfed a fair bit in the 80’s and my first keelboat was a mini-tonner. More recently my sailing has been on larger boats – had an International 11 Meter One Design before I bought an X43 and later a X50.

I have always sailed because it is fun and I have enjoyed myself very much in this sport.

On the professional side, I studied to become an engineer and in the early 90s went into technical sales for a propeller company where I stayed for seven years. After that I worked in Singapore at a shipyard before I bought the propeller company Berg Propulsion with my father. We had a fantastic growth with Berg and we started businesses around the world.

We decided to sponsor Ian Walker’s Green Dragon campaign in the 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race and found the VOR to be an excellent platform bring customers to customers to tell them our ideas about propulsive efficiency and how important (as well as good hydrodynamics) smart use of routing, wind, and currents were for optimisation of global shipping.

Around the same time I was also sponsoring my long-time friend Freddy Lööf in his 2012 Olympic campaign in the Star class.

We were very happy about the results of our sponsorships in sailing and decided to go for the 2011-2012 Volvo Ocean Race together with sportswear company PUMA.

Ian Walker helped me do that deal with PUMA because at the time he didn’t have a campaign we could get involved with. The 2011-12 VOR campaign worked extremely well for us and we sold many propellers to the ship owners that visited us at the stopovers around the world to hear what we had to say about efficiency, fatigue, seamanship, routing and plenty of other topics.

We sold Berg Propulsion to Caterpillar in 2013.

What was your motivation when you bought the World Match Racing Tour? What were the circumstances that led up to you making that purchase?

In 2013 and 2014 we started the Aston Harald Composite business and we had bought the rights to build the M32 catamaran from Marström Composite.

We ran the M32 Cup – that later turned into the current M32 Series – in Scandinavia. We thought this was a good way of getting our newly started company known to the world.

We decided we needed a better platform to market the business so in 2015 we agreed to buy the World Match Racing Tour.

We believed the event could benefit from some new energy and a bit of flair in the way that it was presented. The America’s Cup had just moved to catamarans and we felt that match racing could be more interesting to watch at 20 knot speeds rather than the previous slow speed racing.

We started off with a bang and set up events in many parts of the world with an ambition to make the action more exciting while at the same time keeping safe.

We had many older gentlemen against us who claimed that we had done the wrong thing and that things should have remained the same as always.

At the time that opposition did not matter too much given that our objective was to market a carbon fibre manufacturing company.

However, over the years I have realised that many people want match racing to be much so that they can understand the moves and the tactics of the competing crews. For those people our version of the World Match Racing Tour is probably not the best alternative.

That said, I have not had the same response from the competing sailors.

One thing to add is that when it came to the boats themselves we have seen very fair competition in close to identical boats. That shows we can build products to very precise tolerances – a big objective from our side and an area that we see many boat and dinghy manufacturers have a hard time with.

For the rest of this story click here

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