I’ve had a maverick kind of career. I’m the son of a farmer, raised north of France’s Champagne region. My first job when I was younger was checking cargo at night in Orly Airport for Pan American. There were no computers at that time; it was all manual.
I was at Hertz International for 21 years. When I was in the States with Hertz as international president, I used a private jet for business. Today, it might be the back of a van! I don’t stay at the Four Seasons anymore and that’s fine. I still try to go to good restaurants, though. It’s important to learn to reassess the ego a little.
It’s exciting to start something from zero. I became CEO of ResidenSea, the first luxury residential ship concept, after investors in Norway – all entrepreneurs in different businesses – came to me and said: “Fredy, we’re starting this thing, it’s from zero. We still have to secure the concept; could you join us and start this business and make it a success?”
I was 53 when I embraced entrepreneurship. Age is no particular barrier, it’s just about how you feel, how you are in terms of your body, and if you’re ready to take on that kind of commitment. It represents many hours, of course, so you have to take into account your family’s needs. In hindsight, it would have been better to make the move a few years before. I can say it was a bit late – I delayed it – but I don’t think there is any expiration date for embarking on a new venture.
Experience will aid you in unfamiliar sectors. Five years ago, I decided to invest with a late friend of mine in a Welsh tech business called TheGenieLab. Two young graduates built that business from zero. I’d never been involved with a tech business in my life, but these 27-year-olds needed help to move it to the next step. I got involved and had to learn a lot, fast. I re-engineered the structure of the company, because the founders weren’t experienced in building a business. They were very good at tech and coming up with ideas and building applications, but they needed help growing. It’s very successful now – it just takes some time.
You don’t need to be where your business is based. I moved TheGenieLab to Miami, and now, because of the changes, it’s self-sufficient. I used to come to Miami once a month; I come once a quarter now, and everything else we do online.
Be fascinated by concepts. I’ve always loved ships and the water. When this tremendous idea came up [from Blue World Voyages chairman and co-founder Gene Meehan] to combine a couple of already profitable areas of industry – wellness and speciality cruises – I jumped on it.
Always look at your target market, and the industry. We’ve identified up to 50 million people aged 35-65 who are very concerned about wellness, exercising and eating well. They’re also very curious about discovering the world, so that’s our target market. The cruise industry has been extremely profitable, but we focused on the speciality market, like river cruises and exploration, which has exploded, growing at 21% a year. It’s amazing. This isn’t the stuff of package holidays or your average (albeit profitable) cruise. High-net-worth individuals are prepared to pay. The wellness industry isn’t doing too badly, either; it’s worth around $4.2tn globally.
Our business model is disruptive. Cruise vessels accommodate around 1,000 passengers on average, but we wanted to refit them. To shrink the number of passengers on board and give them much more cabin and suite space. We’re talking about 265 square feet for a large cabin suite; 150 apartments; and 24 to 26 residences. The one-bedroom residence will be about 850 square feet, and the two-bedroom over two decks will be 1,200 square feet.
The first Blue World Voyages five-star, all-inclusive ship will set sail in 2020. It will carry 350 passengers who, over seven days, can take advantage of everything from onboard golf and soccer simulators to batting cages, yoga and spinning studios, and spas. As opposed to lying around on a sun-lounger, calorific cocktail in hand, this is really about taking care of yourself. It’s wellness on water.
I exercise seven days a week. I keep fit by rising at 5.30am, five times a week, to exercise – and I cycle at weekends. I’ve been cycling for about 60 years, and it keeps me in shape. I’m also trying to be careful with food, which isn’t always easy when you travel.
The real challenge for business leaders is to become organised. And that’s not always easy – even more so today when you’re pinged with so many useless things. You have to learn how to focus on what’s important. On what makes a difference in your life – personal and business.
If you’re moving from the corporate sphere to a start-up, be aware that it’s going to be very difficult. It’s going to take a lot of your time, and you have to expect failures and successes when developing new businesses. My advice is to never give up. If you believe in it, don’t give up. Get organised and focus, focus, focus. Work on your established priorities, and push everything else aside.