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Q&A with James Ludden, Fleet Operations Director at Dean & Waters

In the vibrant industry of superyacht management, James Ludden works with precision and dedication. As Fleet Operations Director at Dean & Waters, he has a wide range of responsibilities that encompass everything from client liaison to cutting-edge technological integrations. We took the opportunity to delve into the intricacies of his role, experiences and insights into the evolving landscape of superyacht management.

A Day in the Life

At the heart of James Ludden's role lies a dual responsibility—managing external client relations and steering internal team development. His days are a broad mix, a string of client communication, financial management, crew coordination and regulatory compliance. Yet, the role extends beyond the traditional; it's about instilling innovation and efficiency.

James reflects, "There was often a mentality of ‘this is how we have always done it so no need to change’. Over the last few years, remote working and digital technologies have transformed a lot of how we work, and I see people more open to new working solutions." His commitment lies not just in maintaining the status quo but in exploring and embracing modern, creative solutions to enhance day-to-day operations, saving time, allowing total transparency and making cost efficiencies, all to the Owner’s benefit.

From Sea to Shore

James's journey as a Chief Officer onboard reputable charter yachts forms the basis of his approach to yacht management. He appreciates the lesson of anticipating the owner's needs without them having to ask, delivering an incomparable experience. He remarks, "I feel if they have to actively ask for a report, itinerary, budget, new toys, refit options then we are behind the game."

This hands-on experience informs his understanding of Owner demands and encourages a mindset of possibility and innovation. James further emphasises the importance of hiring passionate, creative crew members, setting the scene for an ongoing culture of excellence.

Innovation for Optimal Performance

In the rapidly evolving technological landscape, James highlights the significance of integrating cutting-edge advancements into the fabric of Dean & Waters. The bespoke yacht management software, LIGHTHOUSE, (ISM / ISPS / SMS), developed solely for D&W is proof of this commitment. In addition to LIGHTHOUSE, D&W are also the first company in the world to be fully certified by VOLY, the leading marine financial  software provider. James details, "We ensure that all relevant crew are trained and accredited for VOLY, at our cost, to ensure an effective and robust financial solution for our Owners."

Predictive analytics, safety enhancements, and performance monitoring through digital platforms and data analytics, mark Dean & Waters’ proactive stance towards optimising efficiency and safety. The aim is clear - to provide clients with a seamless, technologically advanced superyacht experience.

A Test of Expertise

Managing superyachts in the 55m to 90m+ range presents unique challenges, and James's strategy centres on transparent communication and proactive problem-solving. 

He refers in detail to a scenario on board a 70m, where generator alarms rendered the yacht unable to operate without shore power and prevented it from setting sail. The proposed solution from the manufacturer, yard, and chief engineer involved installing two new DPF filters, each priced at 70,000 euros. However, this recommendation was contested and James suggested an alternative company offering DPF Filter regeneration services. The filters were disassembled, sent for regeneration in the UK, and returned within 10 days, costing only £500 each plus shipping. While this procedure has a limited number of repetitions, it now allows the vessel to comply with guidelines until the next survey in two years, when the owner can prepare for the expense.

Another incident he recalls involved a vessel facing major mechanical failure. With seemingly no hope of a resolution, thanks to global supply shortages, James found the last cylinder block (in AUSTRALIA!) resulting in the yacht being fully operational in time for the season. Insurance surveyors had estimated a minimum of 9 months to resolve with the loss of a whole summer season - James managed it in 2 and a half! To conclude this shows the team's resilience and contingency plans ensuring the yacht's quick return to full operational status, highlighting the importance of adaptability in the face of unexpected challenges.

These situations highlight the need for interrogating recommendations and seeking cost-effective solutions, whilst emphasising the critical role of bold management in negotiating challenges and therefore safeguarding client interests.

Tailoring Strategies

With a nod to the widespread superyacht cruising regions, James emphasises the importance of thorough planning and coordination with clients. The ability to source local experts, coupled with a careful technical review of spares and adherence to maintenance schedules, ensures readiness for cruising off the beaten track.

Comprehensive Planning

James unravels the intricacies of successful refits and new build warranty periods, prioritising comprehensive planning, sometimes up to 2 years ahead, clear communication and rigorous budget control. He stresses the importance of understanding the scope of work, selecting the right team, managing shipyards and contractors whilst maintaining a strict budget to deliver exceptional results.

The True North of Success

For James, measuring success in superyacht management operations points to a blend of financial management, technical assistance and crew longevity. Clear budget templates, preventative maintenance measures, and building relationships with key suppliers ensure that Dean & Waters consistently meets or exceeds these benchmarks. Additionally, the introduction of CrewPal, another unique D&W initiative covering crew welfare and wellbeing, reflects a forward-thinking approach to crew development and retention.

Service is an Artform

Creating a team that consistently delivers the highest levels of service begins with strategic team selection. James emphasises the importance of experienced managers and a client-centric approach. He explains, "At Dean and Waters, we aspire to higher service levels for our clients, therefore we only hire experienced managers who support a sensible amount of yachts, so that the client is not just a number but has real time access to the manager."

Trends and Developments 

In the ever-evolving environment of superyacht management, James anticipates trends in sustainability, technology integration, digital transformation, personalisation and global expansion. Dean & Waters plans to adapt by incorporating eco-friendly technologies in new construction and refits, embracing digital platforms and expanding its global reach, while ensuring a seamless blend of tradition and innovation continues.

The Mission

James was drawn to Dean & Waters by a singular agenda—yacht management with integrity and transparency. The company's commitment to doing the right thing resonated with him. He envisions his contribution as a continuation of the company's ethos, promoting a culture of open communication, empowerment and exceptional service.

As Dean & Waters lead their way in superyacht management, James Ludden emerges as a true expert, guiding the company toward new heights of excellence. His dedication to innovation, sustainability and client satisfaction sets the course for an exciting journey ahead. As Dean & Waters continues to evolve, the future holds great promise for continued success and growth.

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