Oyster Yachts CEO and owner Richard Hadida is literally ‘living the dream’. When he acquired the business in early 2018, he knew it would be a challenge, but such was his passion for the iconic brand and its luxury bluewater sailing yachts, it was one he was keen to take on.
Richard describes himself as a sailing ‘late starter’. Growing up in London, his first experiences on water were family holidays and sailing lessons on the Norfolk Broads. His epiphany was around aged 30, when after completing a day skipper course, he chartered a boat from the Greek port of Piraeus to sail to a family wedding in Lesbos.
“It was the most magical night’s sail and at that point, I realised it would be a life-long passion of mine.
Richard went onto charter Oyster yachts yearly and then shared an Oyster 885 with his close friend and former motorsport team boss, Eddie Jordan, before buying one for himself. “Oyster is the pinnacle; the number one luxury yacht brand and impossible to emulate. When I read Oyster had gone into administration, I was 100%, heart and mind, ready to acquire it.”
So what career gave Richard the funds to invest some £25m in a stricken business?
“Halfway through A Levels, I decided to leave college to become an ‘entrepreneur’. My father and his friends were talking about how they’d made successes of themselves, despite not having an O Level between them and it made me realise I wanted to get out into the world and do the same. My mum went mad.”
First stop was the job centre where he secured a role at London Zoo, at the Centre for Life Studies, looking after animals including boa constrictors, cobras and giant African bullfrogs. Richard then joined the computer firm ICL and self-taught, learnt about multi-media programmes and explored software systems. By the time he left, he was running the company’s internal systems.
“My vision was to launch a paperless office concept but it didn’t take off. Undaunted, I developed internet-based software.” His business, Evolution Gaming, provided software for bookmakers and what started as a company in Latvia with ten people, 12 years later had over 10,000 employees.
In 2015, the company floated on the Stockholm stock exchange and Richard decided to take a back seat in the business. In early 2018, he was set to acquire Oyster and return the business to its former glory.
First priority was to buy Oyster’s assets out of administration, finish boats in the building stages, invest in the infrastructure (including buying the hull-building plant) and upgrade every business element, such as IT, communications, design and manufacturing. “Oyster now owns everything, which is a great position to be in.”
Richard also asked Oyster founder, Richard Matthews, to join the Board. “Richard was the brand’s inspiration but the previous owners didn’t appreciate this. The business lost its way from a financial, not a boat building perspective and with his input, the boats will continue to be magnificent.”
Three new yachts - the 1225,595 and 565 - have been added to Oyster’s portfolio and Richard says ‘things are looking very positive’ with a full order book for the next 18 months. In response to increased demand, the firm is also looking to recruit around 100 people across its Southampton, Wroxham and Ashmanhaugh sites.“
There’s nothing more exciting than watching a new yacht come out of the yard and into the water in front of its owner, and it’s great to see that people who were perhaps cautious about what was happening at Oyster, but loved the brand, realise it’s in safe hands and are taking the plunge. Yachting is after all, the oldest and purest form of transport; you cannot find a more ethically correct way to travel.”
Onboard Richard’s yacht ‘Lush’, there’s no disposable plastic and he makes his own water.
Could his skills as a software entrepreneur, coupled with a genuine love of Oyster yachts, be the perfect combination? “Yes, I think it is. I always fight for what I believe in and I’m proud to be involved in such a noble industry, with a great British brand. We’re building adventure machines that can go anywhere in the world.”
Richard’s motto is ‘Carpe Diem’ – an ethos he says that has got him to where he is today. He also believes every person should have a plan A and a plan B. “Although I’ve never needed it, my plan B was always to open a beach bar in the Caribbean. Thankfully the Caribbean’s loss is Oyster’s gain.