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Mike Sanderson on expanding the Doyle Sails game

by Justin Chisholm/YachtRacing.Life 24 Nov 2018 03:11 PST
Alex Thomson and Hugo Boss powered by Doyle Sails led the Route du Rhum © Mark Lloyd / Lloyd Images

Justin Chisholm of www.yachtracing.life caught up with former Volvo Ocean race champion and now major shareholder and CEO of Doyle Sails International.

Sanderson has recently been sail testing in the UK with Alex Thomson on the current Hugo Boss; as part of these tests they have been trialling the latest cable-free Doyle Code Zero, flying it in winds from around nine to 30 knots. ‘The ability of these sails to perform with less sag and lower luff tension is going to be a game changer’, he predicts, adding that ‘performance benefits may actually prove greatest in a class like the Imoca’s where the use of a one design mast means there are precise limits on the amount of rig compression which the sailmaker must design around if the maximum potential of each boat is to be extracted’.

Thomson went on to lead the Route du Rhum, until an unfortunate terrain closure with the island of Guadeloupe, 60nm from the finish line, and was penalised 24hrs for using his motor to extract his IMOCA60. However the point was made about the pace of Hugo Boss, which also holds the world sailing record for the longest distance sailed by a singlehanded monohull in 24 hours of 539.7nm, set in the 2016/17 Vendee Globe.

As CEO of the powerhouse sailmaking brand Doyle Sails Kiwi sailor Mike Sanderson gets involved in just about every area of the fast-evolving professional yacht racing world. From the 52 Super Series and Maxi 72s, through the new generation IMOCA 60s, and up to the heady heights of the America’s Cup, Sanderson has a seat at the table.

The back end of a busy northern hemisphere summer has seen Sanderson, test-sailing in the Solent aboard Alex Thompson’s IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss, competing at Porto Cervo in the Rolex Maxi 72 Worlds and jetting to Newport, Rhode Island for the commissioning of John ‘Hap’ Fauth’s Maxi 72, Bella Mente.

As CEO of Doyle Sails International, Sanderson is revelling in the variety and challenge of working with major sailing programmes of this type. Also in the mix are America’s Cup and round the world campaigns, as the successor to the Volvo Ocean Race continues to take shape.

Sanderson’s CV includes two-time Volvo Ocean Race winner, four-time America’s Cup competitor, bronze medallist in the solo transatlantic Open 60 class and ISAF World Sailor of the Year, enabling him to bring a wealth of expertise and knowledge to these programmes.

After his successes in the Volvo Ocean Race, Sanderson took to the corporate speaking circuit, talking about his campaign experiences and how they might apply to business. It was about setting clear goals, getting the best possible people, using their collective expertise to find pathways to success and then working within timeframe and budget to achieve it.

Now he finds himself following his own advice and applying all of those lessons as a model for Doyle Sails International, which was established as a new company last year. ‘We are treating the business in exactly the same way we would put together a major sailing campaign.’

He is often asked if he misses the intensity and single-minded competitive focus of total immersion in an America’s Cup, or ocean race team. ‘I have a wonderful challenge on my hands with Doyle,’ he responds. ‘I am working with a great bunch of people. I enjoy dealing with our customers and the management side and I still get to go racing.’

Exciting, is a word that comes up frequently in his conversation, in references to both yacht racing and managing a business with 54 sail lofts worldwide serving a demanding market of grand prix racers, high-performance cruisers and superyachts. ‘The business challenge can be complex and the goal posts can shift. It is never dull.’

Part of the mission in this summer’s northern hemisphere tour has been for Sanderson to visit key lofts in the group. ‘I really needed to spend some time with the overseas lofts and entrench myself in Europe and the East Coast of the US.’

Since taking over as CEO, Sanderson has stepped up the recruitment of top sailors into the Doyle team at the New Zealand HQ and in lofts spread around the world. Recent signings include Max Sirena and Francesco Bruni (Doyle Italy), Chris Sherlock and Luke Molloy (Doyle Palma), Chris Nicholson (Doyle Lake Macquarie), Tony Rey (Doyle Salem), joining the likes of Stu Bannatyne, Justin Ferris, Jez Fanstone and Sanderson in New Zealand.

Add in director Richard Bouzaid, who was a founding partner in the New Zealand loft with Chris MacMaster, and the core group represents an extraordinary repository of campaign experience at the highest level: 20 America’s Cups, 31 Whitbread/Volvo Ocean Races, 11 Olympic campaigns, along with assorted world and national championships, Fastnets, Sydney- Hobarts, Transpacs and the like.

With similar talent in the group’s other lofts around the world, this pool of experience is a powerful asset. ‘It is a big deal,’ Sanderson concurs. ‘We are hiring good people in the same way we would recruit the best people for a sailing campaign. I have always believed fast people make fast boats. The good ideas come from good guys.

‘When some of these people came on board, they cautioned me that they were not salesmen. That is exactly why I was talking to them. Much more important than sales experience, they had hands-on experience. They know what you need to win campaigns, about managing budgets, about building sails that will last the course and be race-fast for a long time. I don’t want them to be salesmen. I want them to be experts.

‘They are able to give advice across the whole campaign programme and in some cases mentor less experienced people who want to get into offshore racing. They have been there at the highest level and can give really good advice.

‘Lewis Hamilton is not a salesman, he is a Formula One champion, but if I was to go and buy a Mercedes Benz and he was there to give me advice on how to get the best out of it, I would definitely be listening. There would be nothing more comforting.’

For the full interview www.yachtracing.life/interview-doyle-sails-ceo-mike-sanderson

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