Matthew Johnson, managing director at Muir and, shares his rise through the ranks and Muir’s evolution in response to challenges and changes in the superyacht industry .
What was your first memory of boating?
Ever since I can recall as a young kid, I have been around boats. My father was an active dragon sailor in Hobart when I was growing up so I used to go down to the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania every Saturday in Summer to watch him come in after sailing and to help them pack the boat away, though I’m not sure how much help us kids were!
Every summer holidays were spent cruising on a motor sailor, either down the D’Entrecasteaux Channel or up the East Coast of Tasmania. We used to swim, fish, sail, dive and windsurf. They were great times.
When did your love of the ocean begin?
I think it began in those early days of cruising the Tasmanian waterways as a kid. From there I got into active sailing from about 10 years old. I sailed International Cadets for a year, got into the old 12’ Cadet Dinghies and from there I progressed through various dinghy and one design keel boats. I have also done quite a lot of offshore sailing, having completed two Sydney Hobart races, two Melbourne to Hobart races, an Admirals cup campaign in the late 80s and various other events along the way.
Most recently I have just returned from Italy after competing in the 2015 SB20 World Championships where we came 10th in the worlds.
You started with Muir Engineering in 2005. What was your career path through the company ranks?
I started with Muir 10 years ago after a successful career in senior management with the local port company in Hobart. I commenced as the sales and business development manager at Muir and then moved into the role of general manager after a couple of years. In 2011 I took over as managing director from the founder, John Muir, a position I still hold today.
Can you tell us a little of Muir’s history?
Muir Engineering Group trading as Muir Winches Australia is a world-leading manufacturer of marine anchor winches and windlasses, anchoring and docking systems and deck equipment for vessels from five to 140 metres in length.
Muir design and manufacture the most extensive range of anchor windlasses and equipment available on the world market.How important is it for you to be promoting Australian Made?
Australian Made is certainly an important factor when selling in the Australian market. We have a strong customer base in this country and we pride ourselves on being an Australian manufacturer. Just as important is to provide a quality, reliable product at a competitive price and to back this up with excellent service throughout. It is also important in our export markets but probably to a lesser extent to quality and service. However, in the superyacht market it is definitely an advantage to promote our capability to this market as Australians are considered very highly in this industry for their work ethic and ‘can do’ attitude, whether it be as captains, crews, manufacturers or service providers.
In the time you have been working at MUIR, what have been some of the main changes you have you experienced within our industry of building large yachts?
I’ve noticed that these yacht builders continue to get better at what they do, particularly in the project management of these large yacht builds. As we know, these big projects, some worth $100s of millions, are massive undertakings and these are generally built to tight time frames. These good yards particularly in Holland and Germany continue to deliver on time and on budget. I have also noticed that a lot of customers are looking at alternative offerings to the traditional ‘white boat’ look and are looking for innovative and eco-friendly solutions, which is refreshing.
What is your flagship product?
I guess our flag ship products (in a superyacht sense) are our bigger custom built vertical winch systems for yachts from 70 to 140 metres. These are built specifically to meet the customer’s requirements and we customise certain aspects to suit their particular needs.
Are you supplying much product throughout the Asian region?
We are supplying some product in this region but we feel we can be doing more. That is one of the reasons that we recently appointed Stephen Vincent (ex-Austral and VEEM Propellers) as our global superyacht sales manager as he will focus his efforts on Asia and the US, whilst I will still work very closely with customers in Europe, Australia and other regions of the globe not covered by Steve.
Australian and New Zealand yards did it tough following the GFC. How are they now progressing for you?
Yes it has been a tough time for those yards. It is encouraging that our dollar has weakened to the level that allows the strong Australian manufacturers to compete again on the global market, particularly into the US. We have been long term suppliers to the likes of Riviera, Maritimo, Palm Beach, Steber and Caribbean and their growth in general is very encouraging. It is also fantastic that we now have two genuine players in the global superyacht market building quality products in Silver Yachts and Echo Yachts, which can only be good for the industry.
New Zealand are doing a great job at attracting the superyacht market to their regions for refit and maintenance work, and as such we are also picking up some work this way. Australia are also doing a lot of work in this regard and is trying to make it easier for superyachts to visit the region, which will see benefit to the well-establish refit facilities, as well as the tourism spin-off that is associated.
Are there any new markets showing signs of growth?
There are always markets that are showing signs of growth (whether new or existing) and this is the case today.
Areas if interest are places such as the United Arab Emirates, Asia (particularly China, Singapore and Taiwan), and the US, which is showing strong signs of recovery, though this will take some time.
Are you producing products for any yards in China? How is that going?
We have been supplying to a few yards in this region in recent years. It appears that it is acknowledged by these builders that if they want their products sold into the global market then these vessels need to have ‘known’ major components on them. This is important when it comes to motors, propulsion, galley appliances, electronics, stabilisation and also anchoring systems.
So in this regard, we see this region as a very important and growing market that Muir need to continue to work hard in.
With yachts getting larger, does this make it more difficult for you to produce the right product? How technical this become?
At Muir, we see ourselves as a supplier that will work closely with our customers regardless of the size, working on the best outcome for them, whether that be the shipyard or the end user.
Obviously for the bigger equipment we have different methods for the manufacturing process and we need to continually ‘gear up’ for this type of equipment. However, we feel that the bigger the yacht and the more customisation, means more opportunity for us, so we welcome it.