Colin Dawson: Founding Member & Past Chairman (2010 - 2016)
APSA: When did you join APSA and why did you join?
Colin: In 2009 YP Loke, Gareth Twist and I came together to create the Asia-Pacific Superyacht Association (APSA). Soon after we enlisted Simon Turner and Jean Jacques Levigne onto the working group forming the association. Hill Dickinson in the form of Alex Teji joined us to help with the technical side of things and we designed APSA to be a non-profit vehicle to promote the Asia-Pacific region to the world as a third cruising destination for superyachts; the other two being, of course, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. As well as introducing the Asia Pacific to the global superyacht family the aim was to help build the superyacht industry in the region, promote local economies, and connect countries to each other through a rapidly expanding industry. By the time I stood down in September 2016 we had 60 paying members, 20 superyacht members and various Associations from around the world as members. We had worked closely with governments around the region to help them understand superyachts and welcome them to their shores, demonstrating the social and economic benefits these vessels bring to the countries they visit.
APSA: What led you to work in the Superyacht industry, and how has your business grown?
Colin: “My first career job was with Cooper Gay and Co in 1990, and my role was placing commercial shipping business into the Lloyd’s insurance market, developing relationships with clients and underwriters alike. A majority of my time was spent negotiating placements with various underwriters in the London insurance market.
I arrived in Hong Kong in 1994 with 2 suitcases, no job, knowing only 2 people and having £100 to my name. My host (the daughter of a friend) had forgotten I was coming and having spent 30% of my worldly wealth on buying her a drink quickly realised the expense of being in Hong Kong. While I knew precious few people I did, however, have various friends of friends to contact and the following day I secured a job within the insurance broking arm of HSBC, looking after local and foreign clients within the commercial shipping field. I joined a very well-established marine broking team to enhance an existing client base and to further establish overseas relationships with ship owners and foreign insurance companies. A significant portion of the business I was involved with was foreign ship owners’ business being placed into the Hong Kong insurance market. During my three years with HSBC, I dealt extensively with client relationships, ensuring their interests were fully catered for.
After a 6-month stint fundraising with the amazing Sally Lo and her Hong Kong Cancer Fund I joined the Heath Lambert Group as an insurance broker to look after their yacht and cargo divisions. Primary aim was to build on an established book of small boat business which mainly served as an ‘add on’ service to existing corporate clients. At that time Heath Lambert arranged cover for 280 yachts, producing an income to the firm of about US$90,000. All yachts were Hong Kong based, and were mainly of lower value. Due to the growth of the yacht book, it was decided in 2000 to separate the yacht and cargo business, leaving us to concentrate fully on the yacht side of things.
By 2006 the number of yacht clients had grown to about 600 producing an income of USD500,000 with half of this coming from non-Hong Kong clients. Development of the account meant a fair amount of travel, particularly to Singapore, Thailand, Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand during the two America’s Cup regattas held there in 2000 and 2003. This helped me expand my horizons to understand more about the wider region and how the region working together can be so much more valuable than individual parts working for their own aims.
In 2006 my team and I moved to Aon, based in Hong Kong with the remit to establish an Asia-Pacific insurance and risk management book of yacht and yacht industry related business. Joining a group with little or no yacht business in the region, the book quickly established itself and three years at Aon resulted in 500 renewable and 70 non-renewable clients from 21 countries (13 in Asia-Pacific and eight outside). By the time I left Aon turnover had built to approximately USD600,000
Since 2009 I have had my own company, The George Group and started to work in conjunction with the long established and well-respected niche insurance broking house Expat Services. In 2011 we created Expat Marine Ltd, reflecting the importance of yachts to the business. Today we continue to enjoy this partnership and look after clients from over 25 countries, working directly with owners and various insurance broking partners to look after the needs of yacht owners. Our services go beyond pure insurance broking to full risk management and loss prevention advice. With huge losses to the yacht insurance market coming home to roost and the resulting change in approach of all insurers we believe that the yacht insurance world has to adapt to giving more than pure cover and we believe that helping owners not have a loss in the first place will provide value to them that they have not received before. Hopefully this will give them reason to want to buy insurance rather than the feeling that they reluctantly have to have it.
APSA: What is the focus of your work and experience in the Superyacht industry?
Colin: Throughout my career any part of my work has been client focussed, whether it be securing new clients or further assisting existing ones. My work has involved extensive travel within the yacht industry to secure contracts and build new business partnerships with insurers, clients and the wider yacht industry. This has included assisting yacht insurers develop their programmes to suit the regional client base. Arranging bespoke insurance covers for owners that react properly when needed has been an important focus for me though I do admit this often involves the need to discuss sensitive areas of the running of a yacht many providers find simpler not to bring up. However, we feel its important to have owners realise that insurers can only work on what they are given and the need to know all angles of a yacht’s operation is vital to ensuring the right cover is in place, that therefore reacts as desired in the event of a problem. If facts remain hidden problems will arise if insurance is called upon and we feel its important to remove as many grey areas as possible before a problem arises rather than try to deal with them after an event.
APSA: What area of the Superyacht industry has been your speciality?
Colin: Being a specialist yacht insurance broker I am very aware of the intricacies of a yacht insurance policy and that it’s a complex legal contract designed to protect owners and their guests as well as assets, often worth tens of millions of dollars. I am also aware that most insurance cover is bought based on price with those procuring it on behalf of owners do not necessarily understand the differences between covers offered and those providing them. While the actual cover is important, often of greater importance is the relationship enjoyed between the broker and underwriter as this is what creates flexibility when its required. Being aware that those who arrange cover for and provide advice to owners come from a wide range of roles and objectives, from managers to secretaries and yacht dealers / brokers to lawyers the importance of the ultimate buyer understanding the structure of his insurance is vital. I spend a lot of time trying to achieve an understanding that all yacht insurance is not all the same and there will often be a reason as to why one is cheaper than another. To demonstrate value to an owner in terms of imparting my experience is a key element of giving a good all round insurance programme. This may be more expensive when put side by side with another quote but in the bigger picture will be a tiny fraction of the operating cost of the yacht and will very likely save the owner a significant amount more when he comes to actually use his insurance cover that has been bought.
APSA: What interests to you have outside of the Insurance industry ?
Colin: I am the Director of the San Fernando Race Foundation. This is not-for-profit, and was set up in 1987 to help look after underprivileged children in San Fernando, La Union – the destination of the RHKYC’s San Fernando yacht race until recently. The yachting community here wanted to put something back into the local community that welcomed us so warmly every other year, and the Home, which had been looked after previously by the US military, was a good starting point. My involvement began in 1997 and I became Chairman of the Foundation in 2013. We became a Hong Kong registered charity in 2002 and with my two fellow Directors we look after the welfare of 32 youths throughout their school career, providing a roof over their heads, clothing, equipment and school funding. We also act as mentors during their formative years.
I am also the Director of The Elephant Foundation. This is a Hong Kong registered charity and we educate youth, community and corporates on the ravages of poaching and the role Hong Kong plays in the decimation of wildlife in Africa, especially elephants and rhinos. Believing that the demand must stop before the killing can, we bring the realities of the wildlife trade to the core of its market – Hong Kong. Education is the key to success, and though our annual Elephant Weeks we bring rangers from the front line to Hong Kong to visit schools and communities to raise awareness about the importance of keeping wildlife alive, the problems of human/wildlife conflict, and the absolute necessity of ensuring that local communities, benefit from the wildlife with which they share their land.
I have just started a partnership with Cyclops Marine from the UK where I represent them in this part of the world. Cyclops Marine produce load censors for yachts that measure the stresses and strains on rigging, thus allowing for improved performance with finer tuning of the rig and also greater safety as readings will show when a rig is being over stressed
APSA: Where are you based now and what do you enjoy about HK?
Colin: Having been based in Hong Kong for nearly 30 years I love its vibrant lifestyle, ‘open for business’ attitude and international approach to nearly everything from being a major global business centre to the wide spread of good restaurants and entertainment available and the ability to sail into quiet bays with not a soul in sight. Outside of the yacht industry I love good food and wine, live music, particularly classical and jazz and have a strong interest in current affairs. When time permits, I like to sail with friends, being a member of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, the Imperial Poona Yacht Club, and the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. I am also a member of the Hong Kong Club, Foreign Correspondent’s Club, Royal Society of St George, and the Royal Geographical Society. In the past, when I could escape from the office, I indulged in a game of tennis and a round of golf, but these days good jazz, food and wine and the occasional Hong Kong Club long Friday lunch are a source of enjoyment!