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A Chat with the General Manager of Simpson Marine on Yachting in Malaysia

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A love of the sea has been the lifeblood of native Australian Paul Whelan, whose seafaring career has taken him around the world. Editor Chad Merchant catches up with the shipshape GM of Asia’s premier yacht dealership and brokerage and talks about the growing appeal of yachting in Malaysia.

It’s true that life often leads us down unexpected paths and occasionally hands us some unforeseen opportunities. For Aussie-born Paul Whelan, adding to an already impressive résumé a fulfilling stint as the regional General Manager for one of Asia’s largest and most-respected yacht brokerages might not have been a complete surprise – after all, Paul is well-acquainted with the marine business – but it’s safe to say it probably wasn’t on his radar. Having run a successful business of his own in Australia, and amassing over two decades of marine industry experience in the process, a providential referral brought him to Southeast Asia to head up one of Simpson Marine’s country offices. After the sale of his own business, and less than four years later, Paul is at the helm for not just one, but four countries: Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Paul’s love of the sea comes through in his personality, and though he clearly possesses the quiet discipline you’d expect of a Master Class IV Captain, it’s not difficult to discern his enthusiasm for the yachting industry, and for its future in the region.

I talked at some length with Paul about his background, about the company for whom he works, and about the outlook for yachting in Malaysia. “It was a fresh challenge,” he said of making the move to Simpson Marine. “They were looking for someone with marine industry experience, and after a few phone calls and meetings, and a bit of good timing, I came on board.” And in his time with Simpson Marine, Paul has witnessed (or perhaps stimulated) a steady growth in Malaysians’ interest in yachting. Noting a rise in demand in recent years, I asked him what the defining factors were that motivated his clients into one of the two primary categories of yachts: motor or sailing. He smiled knowingly, “Well it’s really just down to whether it’s about the journey or the destination.” Perhaps recalling some of his own experiences at sea, Paul explained further: “A sailing yacht is really a great experience for someone who wants to be at sea. For these owners, yachting is about the journey, the feeling of the waves and the salt spray. Just being at sea. For owners of motor yachts, it becomes more about the destination. The yacht is the ideal way to reach that favoured island or port of call, and to do so in a shorter time.”

Paul then chuckled and slipped into a bit of a sales mode, saying, “You know, in many ways, the Lagoon series of catamarans, which have proven to be extremely popular in Malaysia, effectively bridge the gap between those two categories. Their stability and spaciousness is unmatched, you can get a true nautical sailing experience when the mood (and the wind) is right, and when you prefer, you can do your travelling under power, too. It’s the best of both worlds.”

I asked Paul what made Malaysia special from a boating perspective. This was a fair question to ask him, because, with a lifetime of maritime experience ranging from the seas of Australia to those off the South of France to both the east and west coasts of the U.S., including a number of Atlantic and Indian Ocean crossings, this seafaring businessman is certainly an authority on the subject. “Oh, Malaysia has incredible cruising,” he effused. “During the northeast monsoon season, you can cruise the west coast, and then do the same off the east coast when the weather changes to the southwest monsoon.” He noted that owners of sailing yachts find favour in the steady monsoon winds and stick to the east coast waters during the northeast monsoon, taking the occasional choppy seas as a fair trade for the reliable winds. Continuing, Paul noted, “The islands and other ports around Malaysia are stunning, and not just from a picture-postcard angle, either. A sailing journey up the west coast takes you into some really fascinating places, not least of which is George Town, up in Penang. They’ve got a great marina at Straits Quay and there’s so much heritage and history there. Then from there, you can continue on to Langkawi and even up to Phuket.” And he didn’t leave out the east coast islands, either. “Tioman, of course, is very popular with Singaporean cruisers, as is Tinggi. Further north, of course, you’ve got Terengganu and the Perhentian Islands. Redang Island is also just beautiful.”

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Paul noted that, after Simpson Marine was founded in 1984 up in Hong Kong, it was Malaysia that was the company’s next market, and Simpson began operations here in 1995. Today, the brokerage spans much of Asia, with a dozen brokerages and dealerships from Taipei to Bali. I asked Paul to tell me a little about why Simpson had earned such a degree of success and respect. “Quite fundamentally,” he began, “Asia is in our DNA. We recognise that there are other prime yachting markets in the world, but for us, this is where we want to focus. We are the best full-service brokerage and dealership in Asia, and part of that stems from the commitment we have to Asia. This is where we want to succeed.” He named some of the company’s strengths, citing Simpson’s extensive network in the industry, its well-established tenure in Asia, and the fact that nearly of Simpson Marine’s staff bring with them a background in the marine industry.

“It’s safe to say we have saltwater in our veins,” he said wryly.

As for his outlook on the future of yachting in Malaysia? Paul feels that there will be steady growth, but not meteoric. After all, this isn’t a mainstream market by any means. “I look at the infrastructure and development going on in Malaysia, and look at all the great places here to go cruising, and definitely see this as a growth market, yes. Yachting is on the rise in Malaysia.”

And it’s clear that Paul and his team at Simpson Marine – both here in Malaysia at their Port Dickson brokerage and throughout the region – will be key players in that rise. They are, after all, the experts. “For us, it’s about listening to our clients,” he explained. “Like any significant purchase, if it’s not a good fit, they won’t use it as much, they won’t enjoy it like they could. So we ask questions about their wants and needs, and then we listen to the answers so we can put them in the right yacht.”And it doesn’t end there, of course. Apart from outstanding service after the sale, Simpson Marine also arranges and hosts a number of enjoyable activities for its owner-clients, such as cruising trips, sailing parties, and BBQs.“We want to get these owners out on the water, to help them increase their confidence in using their yacht and being at sea, and lead them to really discover the joys of yacht ownership and how much pleasure the lifestyle can bring them.”

Wise words indeed from a man who’s logged enough sea miles to know first-hand the pleasures and rewards of a seafaring life.

Source: Senses of Malaysia January/February 2014

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