YACHT BROKER STEVE DOYLE OF CAMBRIDGE YACHT GROUP MOVED INTO THE FAST LANE ON I-95, SWITCHING LANES AS DEFTLY AS HE SWITCHED BETWEEN INCOMING AND OUTGOING CALLS ON HIS RARELY SILENT CELL PHONE. WE WERE ON OUR WAY TO MEET THE OWNER OF THE SWEDISH-BUILT 141’ MOTOR YACHT INDULGENCE, WHO WAS LANDING MOMENTARILY IN HIS SABERLINER PRIVATE JET AT THE PALM BEACH EXECUTIVE AIRPORT. STEVE DOYLE HAD HANDLED THE SALE OF THE BOAT IN 2003 AND THE TWO MEN HAD BECOME GOOD FRIENDS.

The sleek white and blue Saberliner pulled up to the Palm Beach executive lounge shortly after our arrival and Indulgence’s owner deplaned with his wife and their two children, a six-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son. It soon became clear that Steve Doyles’ client, a high profile Detroit businessman in the medical service business, with offices in 10 states, has his priorities well ordered. And some of his views may come as a surprise to those predisposed to think that the kind of man who owns a private jet and a luxury yacht must by definition be self-centered and oblivious to the well-being of others. His comments about ownership suggest otherwise, as will be seen in this interview:

Indulgence is an active charter yacht on both sides of the Atlantic.

“We live in a suburb of Detroit, but because our business is spread across a wide area in and outside Michigan I usually spend one day a week in one of the other offices, and when that’s necessary we take the Saberliner and my wife and children come with me. I’m a father first and foremost, a husband, and a business leader with responsibilities to 3,000 employees and their families. So in my everyday life, while I must take care of many, there are very few people that look to take care of me. Stress is one of the inevitable by- products of this kind of high profile existence, because you usually find there are not enough hours to accomplish everything you set out to accomplish, at least, not without work impacting on week- end time with my family. Family time is my number one priority, next to my business philosophy, which is to meet and exceed customers’ expectations.

I have found that the beauty of yacht ownership is not so much about the boat itself but about putting together a world class crew that has the same philosophy that we have in business—to exceed the customer’s expectations. Aboard Indulgence, the crew makes all decisions. They shoulder all the responsibilities—they take care of my family and myself, they help with incoming business calls by knowing which ones I will want to take and when is the right time to put the call through. On the boat I don’t have to take care of the people at work, I’m not rushing in and out of meetings or having to make decisions minute by minute. So my time on the yacht is the only stress free environment I have where my family and I are completely taken care of by others and where the people around us—the crew—have only one job and that is to exceed my expectations.

One result of this is that when I know we’re going to join the boat I sense a huge wave of relief. It starts when I get on the plane, after the pilots have talked to the captain to find out the location of the yacht. There are many family trips when I have no idea where exactly the boat is or what country we’re flying to, but I can be confident that everything is planned thoroughly. 

When I first got into yachting I thought the yacht was 90 percent of the experience and the crew maybe 10 percent. Our previous boat was a 102’ Broward, also called Indulgence, and it was while we had her that I realized the percentages were the other way around, that in fact the crew accounted for something between 75 to 80 percent of the enjoyment of the experience while the boat itself was maybe 20 to 30 percent. But a boat’s a boat; it’s the crew that makes all the difference to the experience, and our crew on Indulgence is simply—and for many reasons—the best. Five of them have been with the boat since it was built; one of our engineers helped in the design. So this nucleus of our crew of 10 have a pure love for the boat because they’ve known it from the beginning; it’s part of their lives—it’s their home, and they treat it with enormous respect and affection. And that feeling transmits itself to us and to our charter guests during the Med and Caribbean seasons. Nobody can fake that kind of pride—it has to come from within, by instinct and after long experience with the boat. Our crew have taken Indulgence around the world, and no doubt by sharing this experience together they have grown to know, love and respect her even more. And of course this enriches their attitude about the boat, which shows very clearly in the way they take care of it, just as they care for my family and for all our guests, whether family, friends or charter guests.

Cruising in the Virgin Islands (upper left) with plenty of sundeck room for guests (above)

The Broward was a nice enough boat but I wanted something larger because when I learned that the yachting experience was more about the crew than it is about the boat, I also realized that the crew needed more living room if they were to have the kind of lifestyle they deserved and needed. So we can give them a lot of space and in return they give the family our space and privacy. It was also important to my wife and I that the crew understood how our family works and plays together—the personal interaction between us as individuals and between parents and children. So, when we bought the boat we took our captain on family vacations, which gave him insights into how we raise our children, and he was able to pass this first hand observation along to the crew, which made their jobs easier. There are families with children who do not have good relationships with their crew, and perhaps in some high profile families the children are in charge. That’s not the case with us. We don’t use our crew as baby sitters and our kids are not in charge, they’re not spoiled brats; they understand very clearly their responsibility to treat others with respect and dignity. So there is no entitlement program for my son and daughter when we’re on the boat. Sure, they’re privileged, but that’s not what it’s about—it’s about saying please and thank you, simply because when you show respect to those who try to make your life better, they’ll respect you in return. For us, part of the beauty of owning Indulgence is that it’s also a learning experience for our kids. Our son is mechanically inclined and I wanted to encourage that. The captain made a commitment at the outset that he would teach him whatever he wanted to know about all aspects of the operation, and now this nine-year-old boy helps plot charts and is learning what the engine room systems do and how they work.

Guests and crew launch the tender for a wakeboarding session

We have a regular crew of 10 but our full crew is around 18, because we rotate members on a regular basis, which gives everyone a chance to go home to see their families in Sweden for three months while a replacement stands in for them. It can be a lonely life for professional yacht crew when they’re far from home for extended periods. Everyone reacts differently to this, of course, but we found that the longer our crew stayed on the boat, without a break, they tended to become more reclusive and less social, and after a while this impacted on the standard of service on charters. So we began our rotation system: we wanted our crew to know they could look forward to time at home, with their families, and could return refreshed and happy to be back aboard again. It’s worked pretty well, too. It costs more in terms of wire transfers, airline tickets and so on but the results justify the expense and, equally important, the system acts as an incentive in attracting and keeping the top professionals in the business.

Another beauty of yacht ownership, it seems to me, is that no five-star hotel or resort is remotely comparable in terms of quality of service and amenities. You can stay in the best hotel in the world and maybe there’s a concierge 20 floors below yours, but on the boat the concierge and his staff are just a few feet way—they’re always there when you need them, and because their job is to exceed expectations and anticipate our needs, there is no delay in getting the job done, 24-7. Anyone leading a high profile, minutely scheduled business life will find that when looking for the ideal “escape and relaxation” environment for their families and themselves, nothing comes close to the yachting experience.”

STORY REG POTTERTON PHOTOGRAPHY BILLY BLACK