A profile of Rupert Nelson - 'The One Guy'

The Senior Sales Broker, Senior Partner and Director at Burgess tells us about his early days on the water, racing against Espen Oeino and why you have to walk the docks relentlessly to be 'The One Guy'

Obvious question first: are you any relation to Horatio?

I wish I was, but sadly no. I can make a claim to Florence Nightingale, though not quite as glamorous she probably did more for health and good than he did. I do have a naval background though. My father was in the Royal Navy in the Second World War and my brother and I joined too. We made the front cover of Navy News once - Two Nelsons at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth was deemed newsworthy, so they featured a photo of us standing under a portrait of Nelson on the front page!

When did your life on water begin and where did it lead?

My father was Naval Attaché in Madrid, but our holidays were always spent in Wales or Scotland. The cliché about my life on the water starting with a Mirror dinghy at the age of six is actually true, but it wasn't because of a passion for the water, we were on a beach, the water was very cold but the dinghy was dry.

When I was with Peter Insulls in '89, '90, a friend of mine and I shared a Soling, a 28ft Olympic class keelboat, and one of the yachts we used to race against was owned by Espen Oeino. One day I was racing for the Monaco Yacht Club on a J/24, but it wasn’t all that fun as I needed the head all day and there wasn’t one onboard. The next day someone asked if I wanted to go sailing on a brand new 86ft Swan and I instantly realised that's my kind of sailing: lunch and a dayhead. I enjoy sailing very much, but I think I prefer the wider creature comforts; a nice G&T, canapés and shelter. I can happily leave the actual sailing to the crew, they're the experts.

What do you love about yachting?

We get to meet wonderful people from every corner of the globe, all walks of life and every level in society from school dropouts to Harvard graduates. It's a huge melting pot. We're all about communication and relationships, I really enjoy that aspect. I love meeting people.

Meeting clients, we get to dine with them on their yachts, fly with them on their jets, we get to sit in their homes and boardrooms. We get to glimpse that wonderful world that we don't inhabit, we get to draw back the curtain and see these guys and girls in their down time. That's a privilege.

It's an exclusive club and there's a level of spend in line with the level of luxury you expect to get out of it. It hasn’t always been plain sailing, life in yachting has to start at the bottom rung for everyone and I speak as a broker who started on less than GBP 300 a month working hard all week every week from 07.30 to 20.30, Saturdays and Sundays included.

When and why did you join Burgess?

In the late '80s, early '90s, it was a much more social industry. If you wanted to go and look at a yacht you had cocktail parties, went on board, met the captain and crew, had a drink and toured the yacht, that's how you got to know your colleagues from the other companies. Occasionally Nigel, Joff or Daniel would host a party and I would go on board as the young baby broker on the block.

Burgess was looking for a broker because Nigel was preparing for the Vendée Globe, Joff was in London and Daniel was on his own in Monaco. Someone said to me 'You should apply for that because it's your kind of company, suit and tie, heritage, you could go somewhere.' I dusted off my CV, sent it in and within a day Daniel called me. We met in the Holiday Inn outside Nice airport at 09.00 on a Saturday morning, I passed the test and he asked 'Would you like to join us?' I said I would, and I did.

Then Nigel called. He was in Plymouth preparing for a transatlantic race prior to the Vendée itself and he said 'I feel bad that you're joining us and I haven't welcomed you.' I knew Nigel was a stickler for pin stripes and ties so I flew to Plymouth in my pin stripe suit to meet him at the yacht club - and there he was in a tracksuit! Anyway, I'm in that elite club at Burgess of those who were actually interviewed by Nigel: that’s Joff, Mark Binnie and myself.

What was your first sale/purchase?

In '93, when Joff and Daniel were in Paris for their annual meeting, I got a call from Switzerland about buying MY GAIL, a 57m Amels belonging to a UK businessman. We ended up selling it but Daniel flew back and took over because he said the client was far too big for me to fly solo. The next client, also from Switzerland, bought a 26m yacht called GEMINI in '93. That was my first real sale at Burgess and the start of a great relationship with that family. I met the son and daughter and we have sold them several yachts since.

What are your biggest deals for Burgess?

I haven't counted all my sales but it's north of 50 I'd guess - I've been here 28 years so I ought to have a few sales under my belt. The largest is JUBILEE, a 110m new build. That's my biggest deal and you could probably count on two hands the number of brokers worldwide who have been fortunate enough to have done 100m-plus sales. We sold the yacht too, so you could argue that's two 110m sales.

I've sold INDIAN EMPRESS twice, she's 95m, ECSTASEA is 86m, FLYING FOX 74m, EMINENCE 78m, MARTHA ANN 70m. The latest this year was AURORA BOREALIS, a brand new 67m Amels. I've done half a dozen new constructions from 42m, WILLOW with Benetti, 58m ZENOBIA with Abeking & Rasmussen, 62m BATON ROUGE at Icon Yachts, 55m VEGA at Amels and JUBILEE, 110m Oceanco.

JUBILEE, 110m Oceanco, sold in 2019
JUBILEE, 110m Oceanco, sold in 2019

You're a Senior Partner. What does that mean for you and for Burgess?

The partnership is a great thing for Burgess. It allows a degree of accountability and adds checks and balances to the decision making process. I'm very proud to be a part of it. It's not our company but it's a brave, bold thing that the shareholders have done. It shows good business savvy to do it because in the next 5-10 years, which is not long in business terms, there are some big shifts coming as the client base evolves and we need to call them right.

We need to have that structure in place so that the change is smooth, seamless and painless and maintains the Burgess legacy going forwards. The partners come from various departments and all are stakeholders in the future of the business, they have a voice that can and will be heard. So it is about continuity but it's also about making sure we make the right decisions.

What advice would you give to a young Rupert, or any aspiring young broker?

You've got to get out and do the hard yards. Spend as much time as you can walking the dock, standing at gangplanks, pressing the flesh. Build bridges and relationships on all sides of the spectrum: owners, captains, crew, even the junior deckhand.

I genuinely don't think it's because I'm a brilliant broker that I've got all the business I have had through captains. It's probably because I'm one of the only brokers they know. The owner is looking to do business and asks them 'Who do you recommend?' They might say 'The one guy I know is Rupert, I met him when I was a second mate.' I'm The One Guy. Half of my last five or six deals have been purely captain driven, that's your proof.

How do you spend your spare time?

I work hard but there is down time. I'm a big fan of the Maldives and we go there every year as a family. I love entertaining too, barely a day goes by where I don't throw things on the BBQ and have guests round. I love photography and safaris, sleeping in a tent in the middle of nowhere. I can't go there yet because the kids would be on the menu. Probably in the next couple of years I'll go back because I love Africa, it's an amazing place. Such a shame about the disappearing wildlife.

I have a small motor boat and my two young boys and I immensely enjoy our time on it. The kids are extremely energetic and they like to play all sorts of sports, so as a father of young kids I have to put in the time there. This lockdown has been a tough period but a great one for me because I got to spend almost every day with my children for four months. My wife and I are still talking too, so that's a plus.

Tell us a secret about yourself.

I like to be a little different from the rest of the pack. I’d like to have long hair again. I'm short back and sides today, but I used to have quite long hair down to my shoulders, and it was one of my most successful periods. It was a bit of a statement, a bit rebellious, I came back from a vacation in New York in the early 2000’s and decided not to cut my hair and I wasn't unsuccessful with it. It was something different.

I like to wear suits at boat shows, that's another trademark. The room is getting quite crowded now and if you're going to get noticed, you need to give it the 'eyes and teeth' as my ex-dancer wife likes to say. Suits and hair are perhaps my 'eyes and teeth'.

Editorial

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