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For this edition of Leadership Insights, we take to the azure waters of the Mediterranean to meet one of the leading figures in international yachting: Bernard d’Alessandri, General Secretary and Managing Director of the Yacht Club de Monaco.

Think ‘Monaco’ and ‘yachts’ and many of us might instantly picture the awesome array of boats crammed into the principality’s harbor during the Monaco F1 Grand Prix. While that once-a-year spectacle is certainly eye-catching, this jewel of the Cote d’Azur is also a magnet for sailors of a more active and sporting persuasion.

A sensational setting. Credit Studiophenix

A select few among these become accepted into the Yacht Club de Monaco (Y.C.M.), an institution that was founded back in 1953 by Prince Rainier III with a promise to “fulfil its mission as a link between people who love the sea, that it serves the interests of tourism and promotion of Monte-Carlo, and that at home and abroad fosters only affection and friends”.

The man at the helm today – as he has been for the past five decades – is General Secretary and Managing Director, Bernard d’Alessandri. A naturalized Monégasque who was born in France, he first arrived in the principality in 1976, joining a club that was then staffed by just four people. This number has since grown to more than 180.

Few people get to shape an organization over such a prolonged period, so we were delighted to sit down with M. d’Alessandri to talk about all things nautical, while also getting the inside story of one of the world’s premier yacht clubs in one of the world’s most famous luxury destinations…

The Insider: To begin our interview, please introduce us to the Yacht Club de Monaco and its main areas of activity.
Bernard d’Alessandri (BA): The club has two main missions. Firstly, it is a private club for its 2,500 members, representing 81 nationalities. For them, the club is a place where they can come with family or friends for lunch or dinner, or to take part in tailor-made events.

We are also a sporting club, and as such we organize some of the finest international regattas, for example the Primo Cup-Trophée UBS, which has just celebrated its 40th anniversary. This event continues to attract the best one-design crews and has seen the participation of some of the biggest names in sailing, from Olympic sailors to ocean racers. I’m also thinking of the Monaco Sportsboat Winter Series, a monthly regatta circuit for J/70 crews, which is celebrating its 11th anniversary this year.

In addition, we are very attached to our maritime heritage with the Monaco Classic Week-La Belle Classe. Launched in 1994, this unique biennial event aims to showcase the last remaining examples of yachting from the past, including both small and large yachts. The club is also working to build a sustainable yachting industry, notably through the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge, the next edition of which takes place in July this year.

Last but not least, through its numerous events and the quality of its members, the Yacht Club de Monaco also contributes to the international promotion of the Principality and thus has a public service mission.

TI: Why do you think so many sailors strive to fly your Y.C.M. burgee (flag)?
BA: Joining the Yacht Club de Monaco is an honor. Many apply, but only a few are accepted. Once you become a member, you become part of the Y.C.M. family. It’s a source of pride for them to represent the colors of their club. It is often a combination of the club’s reputation, the benefits of membership, including the services and activities offered throughout the year, and the feeling of belonging to an exclusive community.

TI: From a wider perspective, how important is sailing to the Principality – in terms of both global prestige and as a sporting/leisure pursuit for its residents?
BA: Prince Rainier III, founder of the Yacht Club de Monaco in 1953, said “Monaco’s future lies at sea”. Today, more than ever, this is confirmed on a daily basis. We are first and foremost a club where sailing plays a key role. Our members sail and share a common passion, following in the footsteps of our President, Prince Albert II, who himself sails, as do Pierre and Andrea Casiraghi, our Vice-Presidents. Pierre founded Team Malizia, which is now represented by Malizia-Seaexplorer, an IMOCA monohull boat skippered by club member Boris Herrmann, who represents our colors in the most prestigious ocean racing events.

TI: I understand there is a strong commercial community here also, in terms of brokers, shipyards, charter companies, etc. Can you tell us a little about this and its importance to the commercial life of Monaco?
BA: The yachting sector is significant in the Principality, representing a turnover of €753 million, employing more than 1,500 people and with 252 yachting companies active here. Yachting professionals are brought together in the ‘Yachting Monaco’ cluster, which was launched in 2014 and which I chair. With more than 70 companies now involved, the cluster has proved to be a unifying force; in accordance with all its members’ wishes, it provides a communication platform between professionals in the Principality while also promoting the sector abroad with one voice.

TI: What is your own background as a sailor, and do you still get out on the water?
BA: I’ve always sailed a lot. I have some extraordinary memories, such as the transatlantic race from Monaco to New York on Biotonus-Monaco, which I skippered. That was in 1985. Soon after her arrival, I had the pleasure of being at the helm of Tuiga, our flagship. Built in 1909, she’s one of the last four 15m JIs still sailing in the world.

Whenever the opportunity arises, I get out on the water. Paradoxically, going to sea is a good way to keep your feet on the ground and to remind you that you’re pretty much nothing in the face of the elements.

TI: How would you describe your leadership style?
BA: “One Spirit, One Team, One Club” – that’s our motto. I consider this club a second family, as do the staff. As a leader, I listen to them and take an interest in their lives. For some of them, I’ve seen them grow up in this club, from their first attendance as youngsters at the Ecole de Voile (sailing school).

TI: Do you have any influences as a leader, or have you always sought to do things ‘your way’?
BA: I think it is first and foremost a question of passion. But if I must be specific, I really learned a lot when I was sailing and being part of a crew. When you’re on board, everyone has a very specific job and if everyone does what they’re supposed to do, the boat moves forward. It’s the same when you’re running a business.

TI: You’ve lived in Monaco for many decades. What makes this place special for you?
BA: Certainly the wealth of encounters. Monaco may be a small country, but it’s home to some incredible people whose experience, know-how and talent give the Principality an edge you won’t find anywhere else. And because we’re a ‘small village’, everyone knows everyone else, which means we can get things done more quickly.

Beauty on the water. Credit: Francesco Ferri

TI: Let’s talk more about the club, and in particular how it has evolved since you arrived in the 1970s. What would you say have been the most important and exciting developments to have occurred in this time?
BA: The club has grown and evolved with the times, both in terms of our membership, the events we put on and the sporting side, in particular through the organization of international events and the results of our members. They are our best ambassadors, performing exceptionally well, as shown by the world championship titles won this year in various series by five of our members.

I also think that our club has taken on a new dimension internationally. We are trying to pave the way for sustainable yachting. Today, the perfect illustration of this evolution is undoubtedly our main building. In 2024 it will be 10 years old. Its boat-like lines are the work of Lord Norman Foster, and its construction reflects our environmental awareness. The building meets the challenges of our time: as a showcase for the yachting world, it reflects our determination to take concrete action.

In addition, with the creation of the “La Belle Classe Destinations” label, we have become an international benchmark in the field of luxury yachting. Initiated in 2011, this certification sets a standard of excellence in terms of quality of the facilities, services and events offered. The ambition is to establish an exclusive network of yacht clubs and marinas which fully respects the unique character of each destination, while fostering development of sustainable yachting on an international scale.

Sailing is for everybody. Credit: Mesi

TI: That ‘Belle Classe’ name is also seen on your yachting academy – can you tell us more about the academy and the work it does to bring on future generations of sailors?
BA: We created the Belle Classe Academy in 2015 and it is dedicated to anyone involved in yachting – captains, managers, crew members and other professionals, as well as future owners. Our training center alternates navigation and pleasure boat courses, with the primary aim being to support the young generations. It’s our commitment to building the future!

TI: We can see that sustainability – and protecting the oceans – is very close to your heart. Can you tell us a little more about the club’s initiatives in this area?
BA: Through our own policies, and as part of the collective ‘Monaco, Capital of Advanced Yachting’ approach, Yacht Club de Monaco is ramping up initiatives that underpin our commitment to the environment.

I mentioned before our new building, which was built to Haute Qualité Environnementale HQE® standards and has met ISO 14001 criteria every year since 2016. Eco-features include photovoltaic cells, low-energy LED lighting, effective energy, heating, waste and water management systems, a hydrocooling system recycling water from the harbor, charging points for electric vehicles and boats, and photovoltaic and thermal solar panels throughout. Just recently, a plant was installed to treat the club’s swimming pool water and feed it back into the system to wash boats in the Sports Section.

We aim to raise environmental awareness among yacht owners through the SEA Index®, the first carbon footprint calculator to allow quick comparisons between superyachts over 25m, with an incentive system to spur reductions in CO2 emissions in yachting. We also organize events to underline technological progress and innovations, and to encourage the construction and development of virtuous marinas. These include the Monaco Smart Marina Rendezvous on 22-23 September 2024, while earlier this year we hosted the Monaco Smart Yacht event.

Action from the 2023 Monaco Energy Boat Challenge. Credit: Stefano Gattini

Last but not least, we support the development of the energy transition to build the yachting of tomorrow through the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge, with our 11th edition running from 1 to 6 July 2024. This event is all about the future of engineering around the theme of alternative propulsion and sustainability. It brings together the key players in the industry with the aim of giving them a forum to exchange ideas and to test their research and innovations in nautical events. The challenge itself attracts participants from all over the world, as evidenced by the participation of 46 teams from 31 universities and 25 nations in 2023. The event has become a benchmark in the yachting world, with the participation of shipyards such as Oceanco, Ferretti, Sanlorenzo, Lürssen, Monaco Marine, and Palumbo SY Refit.

Celebrating 70 great years! Credit: mesi

TI: Let’s finish by focusing on the future. What are your principal ambitions for the club in the coming years?
BA: My wish is that the club will continue its momentum and remain a major player in the yachting world and especially the environmental transition. I hope the industry will continue its eco-responsible evolution and become a model to follow. I also hope that at my level and with my means, I will have contributed to this change.

Above all, I want to share my passion for yachting with the new generation, which is the key to everything. It is for the new generation that we are working to accompany the sector’s evolution, to encourage it to become more eco-responsible in order to protect the environment and allow our children to continue to enjoy the sea. In line with the wishes of Y.C.M. President HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, who believes “Faced with the climate emergency, it is imperative that living proof of progress replaces the promises”, we want to demonstrate that the technology exists and is efficient.

TI: And for yourself, when eventually you relinquish the helm of this amazing institution, what do you think you’ll look back on with most pride from your time as General Secretary and Managing Director?
BA: There are so many points to make. But I think the most important thing to remember is how this small club, founded in 1953 with a handful of passionate members, has grown into the institution it is today. It’s an incredible source of pride to have been part of that journey and to have seen it grow. I hope also to have contributed to the transformation of yachting, to the realization that it must become sustainable.

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