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Q&A with Ralf Oortman, Project manager Heesen

At Heesen, Dutch quality and efficiency is at the heart of all we do. With the size of our projects, numerous teams and disciplines, that’s no small task. In our newest Q&A series, we’ll be speaking to Project Manager Ralf Oortman – the man who keeps things running smoothly and on time. He didn’t start in the yacht building industry, but we can testify he’s risen to the challenge and taken to it like a boat to water. We’ll be sharing insights on his life working for Heesen – and an insider’s view on developing a culture and environment that enables us to keep producing superior superyachts.

You’re not from the yacht building industry. What drew you to boats? And how did you end up at Heesen?
“It seems like fate brought me to the world of superyachts. While I didn’t initially have a background in boats, my career led me to work for a supplier that provided ship propellers, including for the superyacht industry. Even as a child, I was fascinated by the grandeur of shipbuilding. We often passed by a ‘propellor graveyard’ visible from the motorway and I was captivated by it. As I began working and supplying propellers for superyachts, my fascination grew. I made a promise to myself that if the opportunity ever arose to become a project manager and to work on building superyachts, I would seize it. And here I am today, fulfilling that promise and embracing the chance to be part of this incredible industry.”

What is it that fascinates you about the job?
“The superyacht industry truly epitomises a niche market in shipbuilding. This uniqueness stems from the extremes: unparalleled luxury and the often capricious nature of the clientele, which can also be incredibly rewarding. As a project manager, I thrive on challenges, and working in the superyacht industry provides the ultimate test of my skills. The dynamic nature of each project, driven by the diverse needs and desires of the clients, ensures that no two days are alike. And for me, that’s what keeps the excitement alive and makes every project a rewarding adventure.”

What was your first impression when you started working at Heesen?
“Being a native of Brabant, hailing from the capital no less, I feel a strong connection to the Brabant spirit here. It’s evident in the little things – like the tradition of serving ‘Bossche bollen’ when a yacht is sold, or the sausage rolls that colleagues enjoy for lunch. But beyond those culinary delights, it was the accessibility and openness of the people that really stood out. When I first started, I was welcomed with open arms, and everyone was ready to lend a helping hand. There’s a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose that makes working here not just enjoyable but also fulfilling.”

What exactly do you do as Project manager?
“As a key member of the project team, my role revolves around overseeing the planning, budget and scope of each project; ensuring that we uphold the esteemed standards of Heesen. I challenge my team members to meet the agreed timelines and financial parameters. This involves asking probing questions, facilitating collaboration, and ensuring cohesive teamwork. Rather than solely focusing on individual tasks, I emphasise the importance of collective effort towards our shared goal of delivering exceptional yachts.”

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
“The sheer magnitude of the projects and the multitude of disciplines involved in yacht construction present significant challenges. From engineering to shipbuilding, interior design, mechanical systems, and outfitting, each aspect requires coordination and collaboration among diverse teams. Ensuring seamless integration across these disciplines is crucial to avoid disruptions to the schedule and budget. So improving and intensifying collaboration is the biggest challenge for me, but also what makes this job fun, because you do it together.”

What aspects of your personality do you bring to your work?
“Well, in that respect I’m someone who tries to push people to take that extra step. By addressing tasks promptly and thoroughly today, we can alleviate the burden of looming deadlines and prevent unnecessary stress down the line. It’s about fostering a collective mindset where everyone understands the value of their contributions and the impact of their efforts on the overall project timeline. This approach not only enhances efficiency, but also cultivates a culture of excellence and accountability within the team.”

Where do you see room for improvement?
“Collaboration is the cornerstone of our success. While it might sound obvious, its significance cannot be overstated, especially in the context of working with diverse disciplines on board. Finding common ground and working together seamlessly is essential for achieving our goals effectively. By fostering a culture of ownership and instilling a sense of urgency in our team, we can elevate our success to new heights. Each team member plays a crucial role, and by embracing collaboration wholeheartedly, we can overcome challenges, capitalise on opportunities, and achieve excellence together.”

Do you think you need a strong character for this job?
“Finding the right balance between meeting the demands of both colleagues and customers is a delicate dance. As project managers, we’re constantly navigating this dynamic landscape, striving to ensure the satisfaction of both parties while also upholding the interests of the yard. It’s like a chess game, where each move must be carefully calculated to achieve the best possible outcome for all involved. While we aim to delight our customers and maintain profitability, we must also prioritise the long-term success and reputation of the yard. Balancing these competing interests can be challenging at times, but it’s a critical aspect of our role as project managers.”

And your favourite lunch – ‘Broodje kroket’ in the canteen, or sushi with the owner’s rep team?
“Usually, it’s just my lunch box filled with sandwiches that I eat at my desk. But, a typical Dutch ‘broodje kroket’ from the canteen or a sausage roll are also nice for a change. And when I get the chance to eat something a bit more fancy with the Owner’s team, I certainly won’t turn that down either. So really, when it comes to lunch I’m pretty flexible.”

What do clients and colleagues probably not know about you?
“That I have a very pretty 20-month-old daughter, Abbey Mae, our pride and joy! And perhaps also that I’m a fairly avid football fan of a club I won’t disclose. Even though it was a particularly painful season, haha!”

What does your dream yacht look like, who would you take with you and where?
“The previous question perhaps answers this a little bit already, but I would take my girlfriend, our little daughter, and also the dog, Nouri, a Welsh corgi like Queen Elizabeth had. And what would the yacht look like? I think a somewhat tighter-lined yacht, equipped with all modern conveniences. I do think a good cinema room is important, because we like to watch films, and with ample space to play for the little one and for the dog. And I would choose Patagonia as my dream destination. Then the yacht would have to be ice-class of course. It’s such a far-flung place, and a yacht would be the perfect way to see everything.”

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Mark Cavendish   Chief Commercial Officer

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Heesen Yachts North America

Thom Conboy   Agent North-America, Mexico, Bahama's & Caribbean