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Doyle Sails CCO Emma Hendy on navigating the path to excellence

by Ivor Wilkins for Doyle Sails 3 Apr 17:11 PDT 4 April 2024
Doyle Sails is primarily focused on the superyacht and grand prix market and was selected by SailGP to provide one-design, high-quality soft sails for the ten F50 catamarans competing in the high-performance SailGP circuit © Felix Diemer/SailGP

As a premium brand primarily focused on the superyacht and grand prix market, performance is the critical matrix in all facets of the Doyle Sails operation.

Every project relies on the best possible contribution of all its constituent parts – design, materials, manufacture, sailing skill – to produce winning performance on the water.

“As a company, we have always concentrated on being able to offer our customers the best people, the best service and the best solutions,” says Doyle Sails Chief Commercial Officer Emma Hendy. “We are first and foremost a custom brand, delivering a high-end product,”

Emma’s role involves overseeing the sales and marketing, management of the brand’s core values, and overseeing the crucial relationship between the New Zealand headquarters and the 55 Doyle Sails lofts strategically located around the world. As such, she occupies a place in the six-member senior leadership team alongside CEO Mike Sanderson, David Duff, Richard Bouzaid, Graham Clarke, Brad Marsh and Marko Kuunarpuu.

As the only woman occupying a senior executive position in the group, Emma is at the vanguard of a groundswell of opportunities opening up for women in the sport and the marine industry. But, while she is encouraged by that movement and hopes to see it flourish, she is very clear about how that should happen.

“Of the 600 people who work for Doyle Sails, we have 150 women,” she says. “I am not sure how that stacks up in terms of other companies or industries, but I am sure of one thing: all of those women in Doyle Sails are there because they are the right people for the job they are doing.”

In line with every other aspect of the group’s ethos, she believes performance above all else must rule its recruitment and employment criteria. “I very strongly believe that to be in a position of any description, you have to be the right person. For female sailors, or female employees, or leaders in the industry, they should be there on their own merit, rather than being given a role to fulfil some kind of quota or agenda.”

This strong sense of advancing through performance began early for Emma. Her father, George Hendy, is a professional sailor who has campaigned at international level. Her mother, Jackie, also grew up in a sailing family.

George and Jackie met while crewing for Don St Clair Brown on his iconic yellow yacht, Anticipation. Don was a prominent force in the early days of New Zealand sailing’s rise on the world stage, both in the Olympic arena and in major offshore campaigns. Known as a tough, straight-talking taskmaster, Don St Clair Brown ran a tight ship, where positions had to be earned and retained by fulfilling the highest standards.

“Don was like a surrogate grandfather in my life,” Emma recounts. “From the day I was born, he was part of our family relationship. He was a mentor, very generous with his knowledge and hugely influential in my life.”

As a teenager, Emma joined her father working on Chris Meade’s Full Metal Jacket campaign, based out of Hong Kong and competing on the Asian circuit. “We spent two years doing premier regattas in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines. It was some of the best yachting I have ever done.”

Along with racing, Emma was also on board for the offshore deliveries between regatta venues and helped with the logistics, team management, organising crew travel and so on. “I was super stoked to be there and have the opportunity to sail with people like Chris Dickson, Jeremy Lomas and others of that calibre.”

During this period, she also took up an opportunity to represent the Italian apparel range SLAM in New Zealand and successfully established the brand in the retail and wholesale market.

After running a successful business in New Zealand, Emma was ready for new opportunities when Mike Sanderson invited her to join him as he embarked with David Duff on their new venture into Doyle Sails.

“The project management role I took wasn’t clearly defined initially, but the opportunity to work alongside some of the best people in the industry was worth the risk. Once I joined Doyle Sails, it very quickly morphed into the role that I am in now. I’m privileged to have been given the trust to shape it into what it has become.

“As Mike, Duffy (David Duff) and Richard Bouzaid progressed through to full ownership of the company in 2017 and set it on its current growth path, my role became Chief of Operations. That, in turn, progressed to my current position as Chief Commercial Officer of Doyle Sails International.

“The growth of the company during that time has been amazing,” says Emma. “What we inherited was a group of loft owners who had built their own brands and operations in their respective regions and were very passionate about the legacy of founder Robbie Doyle. It was up to us to carefully navigate that transition in a respectful way, honouring the history and people involved, while pushing the brand further than it had ever gone before.

“The first step was to bring all the lofts together in some form of unified licensing arrangement and group structure. In that process, we lost some lofts and gained others, but what emerged was a group that could see the passion we had and the strength of our long-term strategy, which has proven to be very successful.

“My particular focus over the past several years has been on making sure that everything we promised them has been delivered. It is mostly about having strong, open lines of communication in both directions.

“Looking back, it has worked really well,” she says. “Initial conversations were tricky as we worked through the changes, but these have now progressed into very collaborative, regular discussions. We’re a strong network.”

Much of the communication is electronic, but the top leadership group also travels constantly to race with grand prix and superyacht programmes. They use those opportunities to connect with local lofts at the same time.

Every year, the Doyle Sails superyacht and grand prix group comes together at the Mets Trade Show in Amsterdam for highly focused strategic and technology based planning sessions. “Mike is very good at articulating the vision of where we are going over the next two or five years and we have really open and in-depth discussions around R&D, the next phase of technology, which major projects are coming up and so on.

“When you look at the people in that conversation, you realise the room is full of the world’s best sailors, designers, project managers all working towards common goals and objectives. The knowledge base they represent is incredible. Collectively, they represent the working embodiment of our ‘By Sailors, for Sailors’ credo.”

Reflecting on the pace of growth and development over the past five years, Emma notes: “We don’t want to slow down, but we need to consolidate everything we have learned and really build on delivering everything we do as efficiently as possible, while continuing to focus on our core markets and customer base.”

Looking forward, Emma says the company is very aware of challenges and opportunities ahead. With international conflicts spreading and inflation impacting world economies, the risks are real.

“We are very aware that sailing is a discretionary activity,” she says. “When Covid struck, sailing was one of the first things to go. However, since then, it seems people have come back with a reinvigorated passion for being on the water. We have seen more boats come back into racing and cruising than were there before.

“I believe we are in a position now where the brand and technology we are delivering is highly respected. So, we continue to proceed with caution.”

As with everything the company does, from hiring personnel to producing quality sails, it all comes back to performance. A belief that – while good times and bad may come and go – people and products that consistently perform at the highest level will endure.

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