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The dream builders - Part 2: The Team Manager

by Vendee Globe 29 Jan 02:28 PST
Marcus Hutchinson - Vendée Globe © Pierre Bouras - TR Racing

Putting together all of the building blocks which form a successful Vendée Globe project is a seemingly endless task. Over the next few weeks we will look at some of the key people who perform vital roles behind the scenes and how they came to be the catalysts which made the projects work.

The role of the IMOCA/Vendée Globe Team Manager varies enormously depending on the size and scale of the team. On the smaller projects the Team Manager often does everything from running the office to driving the van, making sure the bills are paid to finding and working with sponsors. Now with the big 'super' teams - some of which will be operating two IMOCAs including one new boat - the Team Manager role has evolved to split between a Chief Executive Officer and, maybe a Chief Operating Officer who together run the multi-million Euro business.

Marcus Hutchinson has been Team Manager with many different programmes from working with Mike Golding on his first Vendée Globe to managing SMA and Paul Meilhat on the 2016-17 race working for Michel Desjoyeaux's project management structure Mer Agitée and on the most recent 2020-21 race was Team Manager for Thomas Ruyant. Hutchinson has been with Ruyant since the very conception of his project which has grown to such an extent that he has moved aside to focus more solely on the operations and communications side of TR Racing where Thomas Gavériaux Team Manager.

Hutchinson explains his change of role: "In fact after the Vendée Globe we expanded massively to take on the building of a new shed, take on the building of a new boat and continue to run this boat. We are no longer a start up which we were going into the last Vendée Globe when I was very much the Team Manager but it overwhelmed me. And now it is very much a different skillset to mine in the administrative stuff and all the rest. And so now the Team Manager is very much CEO and I am more of an Operations Manager. We are in the state of transition. Personally I did not want to get too involved with the construction of a building and be responsible for the building of the boat as well as managing a team of 17."

He reflects, "As Team Manager with SMA and Paul Meilhat and a smaller team, and there you step into all the roles. One minute you are doing the accounts, the next minute you are driving a van to collect foils. That is the job with a smaller 'start up' type team. Now I am mostly institutional investors, commercial stuff and spend a lot of time in IMOCA. The Team Manager role has changed and there is now too much for one person to do.

A Team Manager's Background

Marcus Hutchinson is a qualified naval architect and former Figaro racer. His first IMOCA experience was with Mike Golding on the 2000-2001 Vendée Globe. Golding broke his mast and had to restart seven days later going on to finish seventh. The British solo racer then asked Marcus to sail as co-skipper on the Transat Jacques Vabre and they finished second. After a long spell in Comms with the America's Cup he returned to working for the Artemis Offshore Academy on the Figaro circuit. During that period Michel Desjoyeaux asked him to project manager SMA where he was or three years. Also ran Enda O'Coineen's last minute project. He started working with Thomas Ruyant in January 2018 starting from ground zero.

How is first contact with a Team Manager made?

Marcus Hutchinson: "There is no set path. If it a small team or start up it is often by word of mouth, by reputation or through friends in the business, or contacts. There has been some 'musical chairs' in the industry in recent years but now are having to now look outside the immediate community. What is the role though? This is not like a football manager who stands at the side of the pitch and directs the team and deals with the boardroom. And not all Team Managers are directly involved in the sailing, the sport side of it. You are dealing with Human Resources, Accounts, Sponsors, making sure technical decisions are taken properly. When I started with Thomas we had no boat and no sponsors. We had a boat, some ideas and a lot of energy. We turned them into a boat, a program with sponsors and did the Vendée Globe. That is in itself quite an accomplishment. As a result of that it was a stepping stone to a second boat now and a lot of side projects as well."

What is the Team Manager's typical skillset?

"Wide and varied. We deal with real estate leases, human resources, major accounting operations. We are running a business which turns over maybe €3m a year. You have to have a broad skillset but that also depends on what your skipper's skills are and what his or her objectives are. In general you are surrounding yourself by a small group of good people you trust."

What must the team manager believe in most of all?

"He or she has to believe in the skipper 100 per cent. The thing is you don't spend that much time with the skipper now not least because of the amount and volume of sponsor work the skipper has to do now and other associated work, especially for those who have done the Vendée Globe and has some profile. That never ceases to amaze me how much the skipper has to do and consequently how little time he or she has. Our shore team now need to make appointments to see our skipper right now. You have to have full faith in the skipper not just as a sportsperson but as a fully rounded character, somebody that the rest of the team can believe in."

To what extent is the skipper led by the Team Manager?

"Well thar depends a lot on the size of the team and the skipper, but usually you won't be making technical decisions for example or who he or she might train with for example, but you have to be pretty much the skipper's soulmate. Every time there is a crisis from baby sitters, to getting the car fixed to organising their lives, where they are staying. And the team manager will usually have a very close relationship with the communications or press team to make sure we are projecting the right image. There is a lot of work goes on there and usually the skipper will not have the bandwidth to know what is happening there other than appointments. The team manager is there to advise on choices and to anticipate problems and what the priorities are and to then brief the skipper accordingly. The skippers don't do as much sailing as we would all like, probably 60 or 70 days a year but all of the PR sailing we have to programme and switch the mindset of the skipper and the shore-team into that different mode, for corporate sailing weeks for example. An awful lot is planning, scheduling and keeping the skipper and the team informed."

How does the role evolve over the four year build up to the Vendée Globe?

"In our case I have had a 'bilan' - Madeleine Marchand - someone who is almost interchangeable, who knows all the files and work intimately so that if one of us is not there or not available, we can handle it. We are like one person. There is such a huge amount of commercial stuff to do. Every case is slightly different. Some projects are sponsor driven where the sponsors buys in everything as services and the other one is skipper driven where the skipper and the team have found the partners and manage the identity and run the programme in house. That side of it is an all day, every day project. It is not just about buying the team uniforms. There is a huge amount of time spent working with sponsors, that is probably a quarter of my time."

What are the first steps at the start of a Vendée Globe project?

"A lot of people think it is about getting the boat. It is not. It is about having the promise of all the money to have the boat and operate. There is often a separate financial structure which makes the capital purchase or leases the boat. And then there is another structure which is sponsored and employs everyone which rents the boat from that other structure and rents the building and pays everyone and owns the vehicles and tools. So the first thing at the very outset is having an idea of how the whole project will be funded. There are no two projects the same, though, you have to emphasize that each is different. And there is no instruction manuals how to manage the team. Look at Initiatives Coeur which started from nothing and is two cycles ahead of us, even if we are heading in different directions. We have one ownership structure which I believe is different to theirs. Look at Charal where Jérémie Beyou's company are the operating company but Charal own the moving parts. So to start a project the first five decisions you make are by far and away the most important you will make. For the most part these are human resources - the first two or three people you hire - they are hiring other people and helping shape the project. If you are building new the choice of Technical Director is key, your Team Manager is key, you have to be sure you are making the right choices of design group and the orientation of the boat for example. In my opinion they all have to be sailors. And it is super important to have a proper financial structure, a financial director, on board early in the piece as a lot of money goes out to start. If you are building a new boat it is €7 million and you also need to manage the cash flow. You need to make those strategic decisions as to how you proceed if you don't have the full budget. Do you press on anyway or wait? Do you divert some more of the money on to the commercial side to find the extra budget? These are the tough decision and there are teams who will press on and find themselves short of money and unable to proceed."

How important are performance and results?

"Well the Vendée Globe is unique in that there is something for everyone out there. It is really important to decide what the skipper's ambitions are. What I said to many hopefuls during the last race who want to do this race when they came to me saying 'how do I do this?'. I said 'look at all of the boats on the tracker right now and try and imagine which one really is you' 'Are you Jérémie Beyou or Charlie Dalin, are you Alex Thomson, are you Alan Roura or Pip Hare? Where do you see yourself? Go away and think about it and then these are the things you have to do. It is budget and time related. The Vendée Globe has involved now in terms of popularity so the preparation time is so much longer as you need to be selected. Now everybody has to get their qualifying miles. Before there was no issue. You need a team which works with IMOCA and the Vendée Globe to make sure the qualification process is realistic. There is now a huge amount of institutional work. We have a situation were there are 40 places, 40 boats can do the next race but today there are 47 projects. Decision making is a big deal."

With the smaller team, SMA, what was the range or spectrum of your work as Team Manager?

"The sponsor bought the boat which had won the previous race and was well sorted. And so the biggest job that winter was to change the branding on the boat. And we had to 'convert' Paul Meilhat who was a good Figaro sailor into an IMOCA sailor. We had Michel Desjoyeaux at Mer Agitée who did all that side of it, sailing with Paul all the time. Those were fundamental decisions. But at that time for example we had to make the decision whether to put foils on or not and I argued then not to as it was more important to go sailing and learn the boat. And if you remember Paul was third when he had to retire."

The big teams now are employing how many people and what would be their turnover?

"The bigger teams now have about 12 people on the payroll and perhaps turnover €2m to €3m per year. And, like I say, the new boat is around €7m and you have to amortise that over the period depending on what your financial structure is."

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