Bossing the business

Stewart Hosford runs one of the biggest and most prominent IMOCA race teams through the 5 Degrees West company, which in this instance look after Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss and Neutrogena, the Farr design which took third in the Vendée Globe in the hands of Alex Thomson. Hosford joined Alex Thomson just before their slightly turbulent start to the last Barcelona World Race. As well as expanding and optimising their commercial interests, he was instrumental in the changes which massively improved reliability, ensuring that Alex brought an older, but well proven IMOCA 60 on to the Vendée Globe podium, thereby producing a much needed race result just on time. Hugo Boss have committed to Alex for the foreseeable future, ensuring that he now has a new Hugo Boss – a VPLP-Verdier design – in build. 

Articles DEC 23, 2014 15:43

The business model which supports this multi-million euro programme is unique in IMOCA in terms of its magnitude and its global reach. Hugo Boss IMOCA 60 race boats travel the world to be seen and used at the right strategic events to promote the brand. And from that standpoint Thomson works extremely hard to underpin the return for Hugo Boss. Part of that model has been their incredible viral initiatives, Hosford revealing that the global success of Alex Thomson’s mast walk returned £5m in PR value.

Stewart, two boats, two teams, four co-skippers, is that twice the work?

In ways it is twice the work. In ways not twice the work. In human terms it is twice the work because of course the skippers want to be treated as equals. They want to feel they are involved in their team and they want to feel special in their team and so you don’t in any way double up on the work there. They are equals. But technically you can share tools, techniques and technology and expertise across the programmes. It does allow us to learn from one boat and to see what is going on in the other boat. It does make it a little bit easier. But it is really important that both feel they are the kingpins of their boats and they are getting everything that they need.

And the two boats, who will win?

We are lucky because we know Neutrogena boat very well (it was Hugo Boss in the Vendée Globe) from the Vendée Globe. It is one of our strengths as 5 West that we have now been around now for quite a few years now and we have a decent amount of expertise on the team. We have learned so many lessons from the 11 years of operation. We know Neutrogena very well from the Vendée Globe and we are very comfortable with it. We know it is reliable. We went through it literally fibre by fibre before the Vendée Globe and subsequently and so it is very well prepared, in some ways perhaps better than the new Hugo Boss. It is a new boat from Jean-Pierre Dick and we have had to put a lot of work into it. We did a lot of ballast changes, a new keel. We did some work on the mast which is the original. We had the designers re-do the geometry. We made small changes to the structure to improve the strength, stiffness and shape. A lot of it is small stuff. When people talk about small changes a lot of them are tiny. We have slightly lowered the fences on the rudders for example, we have changed how the stacking systems work. We have slightly improved the hydraulic control systems, how the electronics work.

And give us an insight into the work processes which you feel have improved reliability? As Managing Director you still seem to know the small detail of the boats?

We run performance meetings. We run design meetings. We run Race meetings. I sit in on them and so I get to know what is going on. And that is something I have always been super insistent on since I joined in 2010, is having a proper process. I started just before the last Barcelona World Race. I understand the guts of it. But it really is the small stuff which makes a difference. I brought that culture to this business. For example no one is allowed to do anything on the boat unless it is on our share points system, our database sharepoints system. Jobs are allocated in the morning, people go and do the jobs and they are not finished until Ross (technical director) Alex or Pepe have signed that job off to their acceptance. And we probably reject 30 per cent of jobs (first time). In industry you are striving for 6 Sigma (the term Six Sigma originated from terminology associated with manufacturing, a six sigma process is one in which 99.99966% of the products manufactured are statistically expected to be free of defects). We are quite far away from that of course, but having that process really influences how we operate. Everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing. We try to get the quality into the system and we know what we have left to do and how much it is going to cost. That applies across both boats. And for sure Alex’s third in the Vendée Globe is a direct result of that level of process. We went through everything on that boat and as well as making a big difference to reliability and performance, it made a big difference to Alex’s confidence too. At the back of his mind he knows that there are two years of spreadsheets with every job done on the boat signed off to a high level of completion.

How has the marketing mix evolved and changed?

We have become a much more strategically important part of Hugo Boss marketing over the last two years. We have shown we can deliver more, and in turn then they have asked us to deliver more. That gives us more resource. That ups the ante and as we become strategically more important. Before we sat strategically below golf and F1, now we sit at the same level strategically, from a marketing perspective. The Vendée Globe result is partly a catalyst there. But also there is the confidence now we can deliver. The reality was three years ago that if we got a piece in The Times or a magazine we’d be whooping round the office, but now he has become better known, delivered race results then it has been a bit easier. So we are more confident in our ability to drive good quality PR and media. That makes the whole thing easier. The mix is still same though, we try to do everything. The virals – the stunts – are important.

The mast walk had 1 million hits in two weeks and now it is at 1.3million. You Tube gets harder all the time. You have to work harder to get the same number of hits now. But that delivered over £5m in PR. The beauty of what happens with our viral pieces is that you get the viral piece at a number but and that number equals a value because it is an athlete doing something quite crazy then the multiplier is higher. And there are the Metro newspapers, the airline magazine interviews and the spin off TV. That exceeded expectations, but in terms of the mix we are not doing anything materially different. We do the videos, press, hospitality, social media.

What has been the reach of the race boat Hugo Boss in that mix, the hospitality programme is vital?

Hugo Boss has been to the Baltic in the summer, in the Med at the start of the season, we did Sicily, the South of France, were here in Barcelona. We went to Newport and New York for the New York Barcelona. We did the Med again and then did Gdansk and Gdynia in Poland, Denmark, back to the UK for 10 days then out of the water for three months to be ready for here. Both boats were in Sant Feliu de Guixols sixty miles up the coast for the last six weeks preparing. We had a great facility there and did some two boat testing and made sure we are ready to go.

How important is the Barcelona World Race in that mix?

The result here is extremely important. In most people’s minds there is a hierarchy of races. That does not apply to us.  For us on Hugo Boss the Barcelona World Race is at the same level as the Vendée Globe, it is in a great city, it is a round the world race, it is a great race and it is important. I want our two boats to be first and second. That is my dream. Equal first would be great. Hugo Boss is the later generation boat and therefore you do expect it to be favourite. That is not a tag that Alex and Pepe are afraid of. Nerves won’t get to them in that sense. The whole Ocean Masters is important to us. We take this seriously and want to win. And for Pepe and Guillermo who are both very proud Barcelona guys they both want to get back here and win this race. And in the modern IMOCA I don’t think there has been a non-French team win a major IMOCA round the world race.

To be honest the timing is not absolutely ideal for corporate hospitality. We have a big group but not as big as if it, say, started in November. We have probably 150 guests on Race Day. They are from Hugo Boss, the licence partners and from Neutrogena. But Hospitality is largely done and dusted by now. We did four days of Media and Hospitality sailing out of here. And Neutrogena in Saint Feliu made a European full feature length advert using the boat. It has been great with 10 big trucks there, full crews and catering, makeup, the whole big production.