Renowned Australian boat builder Bill Barry Cotter has been inducted in the Gold Coast Business Hall of Fame. Bill created, grew and then sold the Mariner and Riviera boat companies.
Now in his 70s, the Southport-dwelling boating entrepreneur has now launched the expanding Maritimo luxury crusing yacht company. The Coomera-headquartered company now has more than 100 employees and exports around the world.
Born in 1944 in Adelong, a small town of less than 1,000 people at the foot of the Snowy Mountains district of New South Wales, Bill did not seem destined for greatness. His dad was a soldier-turned farmer while his mother was a school teacher. Bill attended Narrabeen Boys High School but Bill says he was far from being a good student and was often in trouble.He said that in his last term at school he turned up for class ‘two or three’ times.“The principal thought I was such a hopeless case that my younger brother turned up for his first day at high school, he was caned in front of the entire school assembly just to set an example,’’ said Bill.“These ones are for your brother,’ the principal supposedly said. I don’t know for sure because I was not there.”However, there must be something in the water at Narrabeen. The school has churned more than its fair share of Australian legends.These include the likes of Baz Luhrmann, yachtie Rob Mundle, surfer Simon Anderson, Olympic swimmer Scott Miller and rugby league stars Daniel Garner, Steve Menzies and Anthony Watmough. The school also turned out Bill. Bill had some early sporting dreams. He joined the juniors competing at the Bayview Yacht Racing Association club on Pittwater on the weekends. He started competing in the Moth and VJ classes but never won a race. “I would start getting close and some kid would get his dad to buy him a new set of sails and that would be the end of that” said Bill.He quit but it wasn’t long before he returned to the sport. Bill’s dad had wanted him to be a carpenter and after leaving school Bill got himself a job as an apprentice boat builder with Neville Steber, in a company called Clinker Craft. Bill soon grew tired of his new job. In fact, he changed jobs five times during his apprenticeship and he managed to make a five-year apprenticeship stretch out to six years. His big break was when one of New South Wales’ best wooden boat builders, Cedric Williams, decided to retire. When Williams retired, he generously gave his ambitious employee, our Bill, a lot of tools and equipment. Bill took a big risk and started a business in the boat maintenance industry. He was inspired by the success of Ford Motors founder Henry Ford and treated his book, “My Life, My Work” as his business bible. The business went well and he had some money. Now was time to chase that sailing title he dreamed about as a teenager. He built a yacht, he appointed his brother Kendall as the skipper and the pair set off to take on the best. They won the ¾ Ton Australian Sailing Championship and won Division C of the Sydney to Hobart. However, shortly after those victories, our hero had a major falling out with the Australian Yachting Federation over the design specifications for a new yacht he wanted to build. Bill has never raced a sail boat ever since. But power boats? That is a different matter. He embraced power boat racing and won seven Australian Championships in the Class 1 division (the boating equivalent of Formula 1) and twice finished 3rd in the World Championships. But this is no surprise. He is not scared of an argument and loves to win. When he started his business in 1966, Bill had only four employees. That company was named “Mariner Cruisers” which was the suggestion of his first customer. By 1976, when a multinational company came knocking with an offer to help his company expand further, it was the largest boat builder in Australia.Bill, who many will now know is Bill Barry-Cotter, agreed to sell the company and agreed to stay on, but says it was a disaster from the start. He quit and stormed out, stating to all and sundry that he was going to buy back the company for $10. Frustrated, Bill decided to set up a new boat business and looked around for a new location. Taree in New South Wales was a front runner because the NSW Government wanted to give him a grant and he also looked at New Zealand. But he decided to move to the Gold Coast, where previously he had a dealer selling his Mariner cruisers.He started his new business in 1980 in Labrador with five employees. They started building 38 foot motor cruisers and later built Hatteras and Grand Banks under licence.After the success of Mariner, Bill wanted a business name that was associated with the sea. He called it “Riviera”. Like his first, Riviera grew and grew under his leadership. A decade after Bill had stormed out of Mariner, the company he set up went into liquidation and Bill found himself trying to buy it back. When the negotiations got round to the value of the goodwill, Bill offered the liquidator $10. The liquidator refused. “I’ve heard the story and you are not going to buy back the company for $10,’’ said the liquidator. “How about $12?”Bill agreed.By the year 2002 Riviera had grown to 600 employees and Bill again received an offer to buy his business. Bill agreed and reportedly collected $180 million. But once again the sale left a bitter taste in his mouth. Bill says the new management decided to sack a few of the company’s key employees despite a commitment that they would be kept on board.So, Bill hired the employees and started a new business. It started with five employees at Hope Harbour. The company is now the internationally renowned boat builder, Maritimo.Based at Coomera the company has more than 100 employees and exports around the world. Bill, a father to five and grandfather to seven, says there are a couple of secrets to his success.Firstly, he says he is “stone motherless stubborn”.Second, he says he loves his work. “If you don’t like what you do, you won’t be any good at it.”