SABBEX boss – and now IMCI chairperson – Vanessa Davidson explains how she manages to work three jobs and still finish a good book from time to time   

SABBEX: Congrats on the appointment. Was it unexpected?

Vanessa: I have been a Board member of IMCI for about 6 years now, representing South Africa; there are 16 countries represented on the Board. It was unexpected to be asked to volunteer for the role of Chair. I have always looked up to the gentlemen who have filled this role, with great respect – they are all boating legends. And of course, Uli Heinemann, the CEO, who puts in the most phenomenal amount of work and commitment to the marine industry and IMCI clients.

SABBEX: What does it mean in effect? Will it help deepen our connection with developments in Europe and the wider world in general?

VANESSA: The work of IMCI is done by the 53 inspectors in 24 countries around the world. This is the power house of IMCI, backed by 11 staff at the Head Office in Europe and the Board and Chair provide strategic oversight of the work of IMCI. We work in a global industry and IMCI as a non profit company plays a key role in providing cost effective, fast and high calibre certification for clients worldwide.

SABBEX: IMCI is all about high standards — something you are rather good at. Would you say SA is lagging behind when it comes to the kind of certification seen abroad, particularly with reference to boats and marinas?  Or are we ahead of the curve?

VANESSA: Not at all. This is what certification and standards are about – ensuring that everyone complies with the RCD and standards. IMCI inspector, Peter Jacops, does the inspection work for South African CE IMCI certification and we would not get our certifications if we were lagging. Export boats for countries that do not have legislated build standards are a grey area, but in the interest of safer boating globally, standards compliance is preferable and recommended.  IMCI is audited out in the field and at its head office every 15 months by BELAC so there is a rigorous quality assurance framework in place. Where we need to stay ahead of the curve is to follow technical and legal changes. In South Africa we adopt ISO standards for boat building as voluntary South African National Standards and SABBEX has a small committee of designers and naval architects, including Anton du Toit, Shawn de Villiers and others who provide this technical oversight for South Africa.

SABBEX: Would you say your IMCI appointment is testimony to SA’s growing presence in the global maritime sector? We do tend to punch above our weight..

VANESSA: South Africa does have a global footprint. Of course, we would all like it to be bigger and to grow faster and to not be so order book driven, but it is the nature of the game. IMCI would like to expand their footprint in Africa and Asia and this will happen with time as more manufacturers establish themselves on these continents and embrace compliance with international build and safety standards.

SABBEX: You also attended some other meetings while away. Icomia? Do you ever sleep?

VANESSA: love my sleep and I get plenty of it funnily enough.  It is wonderful to plug into the international scene at METS and to connect with ICOMIA colleagues from all over the world. Sharing experiences and knowledge of the industry is always invigorating and reminds me that whilst we are global in our work, we are also a relatively small and well connected industry in the world. Even with over 17000 visitors to METS you still pass familiar faces on the escalators! I attended ICOMIA Committee meetings on Grow Boating, Market Intelligence, Superyachts, Exporters and the concluding Combined meeting, as well as attending talks and of course, the exhibitor happy hour.

SABBEX: What came out of the Icomia meetings that has relevance to us in SA?

VANESSA: I have an opportunity to share with international colleagues what we are doing in SA and the state of the industry, as well as various projects we work on. It is useful to see where we have commonalities such as shortages of suitably skilled staff, the need for country market intelligence and the challenges of big data collection and processing. Some of this year’s take homes included the growth of the Superyacht industry and its regulation, as well as a trends around “the path to purchase” of a boat in the context of “sharing economy” citizens, as well as issues around peer to peer boat rental – the Airbnb of boating.

SABBEX: Did you manage to get some time off in between to travel in Europe / visit family?  You have family in France..?

VANESSA: Yes, I am fortunate to have family in the South of France and I visited them over the weekend before METS and the IMCI Board meeting. French countryside and good French wines are always a tonic.

SABBEX: As executive head of SABBEX and now chair of IMCI, you’re looking at an even busier schedule for 2020.  How do you intend juggling it all?

VANESSA: My role at IMCI will not take up huge amounts of my time and I guess I will keep all the balls in the air, as I have done in 2019. I appear to enjoy juggling it seems!

SABBEX: Another difficult year for SA in 2019, with sluggish economic growth. Were there any particular highlights for you? Disappointments?

VANESSA: I always admire the resilience of boat builders even during slow economic times. They are a tenacious bunch. I think the growth and expansion of equipment manufacturers is an ongoing highlight and something we can build on with the engineering and design expertise we have. Doing exploratory research into the value of the Ocean Sports Economy with Invest Cape Town was ground breaking and we can build on this… pathways into boating from ocean sports – there are cool job opportunities with the right specialist training and low barriers to entry in many instances. My one disappointment is that we were not able to run our first recognition of prior learning assessments against the relatively newly registered Yacht and Boat Builder/Repairer trade with QCTO. Our education and training processes are slow and as industry we need responsive provision. This is particularly relevant for large employers like Robertson and Caine who have 1700 staff many of whom need formal recognition for their years of on-the-job learning.

SABBEX: What are you most looking forward to in 2020?

VANESSA: I am looking forward to our second industry awards dinner and an inaugural industry conference on the morning of the dinner. This year’s theme is “Masters and Makers… of Magic”. We want to honour the master artisans and production staff who make the magic happen in our boat building yards and equipment factories. For anyone who has read this far, please put your thinking caps on for nominations – we will be inviting nominations in the new year and the date is the 29th of May for your diaries.

Another thing I am super excited about is Thina Qutywa joining the SABBEX team as my understudy. Thina has just qualified as a marine engineer; she has done over a year in the engine room of ships around the world and she is looking forward to a new journey with SABBEX…. And I am really looking forward to having her on board in 2020.

SABBEX: Do you ever wish you’d stayed on that yacht in the Caribbean?  Or are you happier shuttling between meetings?

VANESSA: I think we all have days when swinging on anchor or having an open horizon ahead of you and wind in your hair are preferable, but I am passionate about the industry, I love working with the people, the dynamics, the issues and the challenges. Sometimes lack of progress can be frustrating, but there are always ten ways to skin a cat, so I try and find another route around things.

SABBEX: Favourite pastime when not promoting Brand SA?

VANESSA: Being on the water kayaking or boating, gardening, hiking or reading, when I get a chance, are probably my favourites. A plane trip up and back to Joburg or Durban is the perfect timeframe to finish a book… I have given up working on flights!

SABBEX:  I happen to know you’re also a brilliant poet. Do you still manage to find your muse from time to time?

VANESSA: Ahh, the muse is an interesting creature, it visits when you least expect it … and then you must find the time!

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