My buddy Richard Lofthouse lives in Bali and runs Asia’s #1 superyacht company, which he and his partner founded only seven years ago. The company has doubled in size every year for five years, even though he didn’t know if it would survive its first year. He is now living the dream of a tropical paradise lifestyle while running a successful company and surfing everyday. We met on my second trip to Bali in 2010 and have gotten together during each of my annual visits. He is an inspiration to talk to and he agreed to take time from his day to share how the dream started for him just a few years ago.
JD: Please tell us what you do for a living.
RL: As many things as I can! We do everything related with boats here in Indonesia which is a fairly good line of work in a country made up of 15,000 islands.
Our main company is Asia Pacific Superyachts which is a logistics and management company for visiting private yachts. We are like ‘fixers’ – we deal with every aspect of their trip to Indonesia – permits, visas, fuel, spare parts, trip planning, guiding, you name it. We also deal with helicopter permits for the boats that have their own helis.
Basically we have to be on the ground to organize everything for them ahead of time to ensure all goes smoothly. I used to fly around Indonesia into remote places like Timor and Papua to organize fuel, supplies, transport and deal with the locals who were normally concocting ways to derail everything! After years of doing that I have a team who tap into the networks we have built up and do most of the flying around.
We have grown a lot from the early days where it was just me and an accountant. We now have a team of 20 or so with a big supporting cast scattered around the country. On some days we may have work going on in 5 different islands over 3 different time zones. So while I do a bit less flying around these days for work, the adventure is as big as ever.
JD: How did you get into this line of business?
RL: By mistake as with most of the best things in life!
I lost a job and was at a loose end. One day out of the blue I said to the girl who is now my wife, “I don’t know what I want to do but I want to work with boats.” She laughed and pointed out that I didn’t know anything about boats.
All I knew was that I loved the ocean and boats and for some reason within a few months of saying that, I was in Indonesia working on a boat! The rest I figured out as I went. Nobody had done exactly what we were doing here so I was really able to shape things as they came rather than fit into some framework which always helps.
I started the company on behalf of Jimmy who is now my partner in all our ventures. We started small but the one simple rule of business applied: do the right thing, in the right place, at the right time, and do it first. We ticked all those boxes and the company doubled in size every year for 5 years which was as exhausting as it was phenomenal.
The business is so private and insular that our only real marketing is from Captain to Captain. Get a good name and you are set. We were the first guys who really made bringing this kind of boat to Indonesia possible. Once word got around that the biggest archipelago in the world was more accessible, demand blew up and our biggest challenge has been building the structures to deal with that.
JD: Are you often out at sea on the yachts?
RL: Not really. My role is to be a step ahead of them so they need me to be where the yachts are not, doing what they can’t do, so I spend remarkably little time on board.
JD: Where do you live?
RL: In Bali. An amazing place to visit, a great place to live, a hard place to work. But I am blessed. I work hard and surf hard. Everything I love is close at hand. What can be better than that?
JD: What do you love most about your work?
RL: Challenge. Things that are unlikely are what attract me. When we started the company, I told my wife I would be surprised if we made a year. It all sounded too far fetched and too complex to ever work out. But here we are, 7 years later and doing better than ever. The challenge never ends. It has never gotten easier. We have just gotten better at dealing with the challenges. A recent challenge we had was landing a heli in a jungle on a landing pad we made from logs. We had to spend days in the long house with the elders awaiting their decision to let us fly in there.
JD: Who are some of your clients?
RL: It is a pretty diverse bunch. People think it is all glamour and big names. In fact, these boats are often an escape from that and particularly for those who come to explore the natural wonders of Indonesia. But, we have dealt with some guys who started a fairly big computer company in Seattle, a Russian that owns some football team or other in London, and a few Sheikhs who own a bit of oil between them!
JD: What are some of the features and amenities offered on the superyachts?
RL: Where to start? We recently had a boat that was 140m and had 55 crew. There were 3 guests.
We have a client that, as well as a heli, also has a 2 man floatplane. It is like a car with wings. They drop it over the side with the crane and off it goes. Absolutely crazy.
Another has a vehicle that can go 40mph on sea as well as land. Then there is the one with the 8 man submarine that we recently used to search for a WW2 wreck in the Philippines They found it, too!
JD: Your company is spread out widely across Asia Pacific. What are your favorite locations?
RL: Indonesia. The others are all awesome in their way but where else on earth do you have the diversity of Indonesia? I was recently on a surf trip in Sumatra and was blown away by the landscape. It was almost the last corner of Indonesia that I have not been to and yet it was so different to anywhere else that it took my breath away.
We have and office in Tahiti and that is one place that I have not been that I am deeply inspired to visit.
JD: What is the capacity for the superyachts and how long are the charters?
RL: They are big. A few years ago, 60m was considered big. Now that size is pretty normal. Once they get into the 80 to 100+m size it is a serious job to support them. One of my other companies, Compass Provisioning, supplies food and they had to charter a plane last year just to fly food to Papua as there was too much to fit on a commercial flight.
They normally come in for a week or two before the owner arrives and get set up, then the trip lasts anything from a week to a month. Some of them only see the owner for a few weeks in a year and yet are on permanent standby all the time. They just continually move around the world to cool spots on the chance the boss will wake up and think “I wouldn’t mind seeing a Komodo dragon this week.” Boom! Game on. It’s nuts but I love it.
JD: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.