Coming Ashore Podcast Episode 7 - Wilson Haligan

Posted on 23 April 2020 by Andrew Cowderoy


On Episode 7 of the Coming Ashore podcast, Andrew Cowderoy is joined by Wilson Haligan’s director Liam Dobbin, and editor director Nicola Morgan. They discuss Yacht recruitment and the parallel skills those in the yacht industry bring to roles ashore.

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Andrew Cowderoy:

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to another episode of the Coming Ashore Podcast by the Marine Society. My name is Andrew Cowderoy, the project manager, and on today's episode we have Liam Dobbin and Nicola Morgan from Wilson Haligan, the yacht recruitment company joining us to share their expertise, their knowledge, and experiences from life at sea, to life on land and just a general chat. So thank you very much for joining us. The pair of you. If Liam you would wouldn't mind just briefly introducing yourself and then Nicola and then we'll jump into the podcast.

Liam Dobbin:

Sure. Liam Dobbin, I'm one of the directors of Wilson Haligan Yacht Recruitments. I joined Wilson Haligan May 2010. I Joined P&O Containers as a deck cadet back in 2002, 2003. Qualified by 2005. Stayed with them until Maersk took them over. Having to fall into leaving shore, but it was a plan not long after I met somebody and thought that's probably going to be the one. It's my background. So being ashore 10 years this year and been with Wilson Haligan 10 years this year and with the Royal Navy for five years, I can go further into my background later.

Andrew Cowderoy:

And Nicola.

Nicola Morgan:

Yeah. So Nicola Morgan, I am the editor director at Wilson Haligan. I worked at Wilson Haligan, for the old owners years ago, back in 2010/2011. Prior to that I was on super yachts between 50 and 70 meters. Fell into that as a lot of people would do after university. And then worked there for a year, year and a half. And then as a lot of yachties do, got sucked back into boats and spent another couple of years working on board up in Erie and then was still in touch with Liam and was looking at moving home and the opportunity came about for us to take over from the old owners when they retired. And that was... I moved ashore in 2014, so it'll be six years this year. It's just gone super-fast.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Wow, no time at all. And two very different sets of experience. One from the more commercial deep sea sector and one from the yachting industry. Before we jump in, why was it that you both actually decided to go to sea in the first place? What was it that attracted you to it? One in the yachting side and one on the deep sea commercial side? Nicola maybe you kick off.

Nicola Morgan:

Yeah, so I did a degree in psychology and it wasn't really on the radar to be honest, working on yachts. And looking around at things after university, I'd planned to go traveling with some friends, and a friend of mine actually came across the secret yachting industry as it was then, not many people knew about it. And the more I read into it and researched into it, the more it just sounded like something I knew that I'd love to do. I've always enjoyed living with lots of people and be around lots of people. I had worked in high end hospitality during university and before that.

Nicola Morgan:

So it seemed like a bit of a natural step for me. I had a bit of a strange start out into the industry, I was part of an internship program which only ran once. So we applied for it, I think there was about a thousand people or so that applied, and then there was 24 of us that got into the scheme. So I was taken on by one of the Burgess yachts which was my first boat. Through that, it was supposed to just be a six month internship. And yeah, as soon as I got on board, I knew I was going to be there a lot longer than the six months.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Cool. And Liam.

Liam Dobbin:

I knew I was always destined to join something with a uniform. I was a cadet all the way through school, through college. And then when it came to it, my mother was with the MCA, still is with the MCA. My father studied five years in the Navy. He suggested I don't join the Navy, because it was getting to the point where it was downsizing a lot, a lot of cutbacks. Unless you had a degree, you weren't going to survive very long and I didn't want just to a degree after my A levels. Spent about a year out, deciding on what to do. Spoke to a friend of mine that was in the Merchant Navy and then just applied for that.

I applied for several cadetships. I got the first one and I applied for, it was at the time, a very exclusive one. Only four or five entries a year and then never looked back. Just had an absolute fantastic time at sea. It was nice, the fact that I was very similar to my father, my grandfather was Navy as well. So I stayed in their, not services but a uniformed operation. And yeah, with my dad's in the Navy he said, "If you are ever going to have a kid, do you consider leaving and being at home." And I watched him leave the Navy and go into a business background and then decided that would be for me as well.

Andrew Cowderoy:

So when you did come to make that decision, Liam, of, "It's time to come ashore", was it a very instantaneous decision? You alluded to follow falling into that coming shore, you've met somebody, did you go through a planning process to come ashore?

Liam Dobbin:

There was an element of planning. I had planned to do it two years after I actually did it. I was forced out of Maersk by redundancy. They made 114 Brits redundant in one fare sweep, but it worked at a good time for me because I was doing my Chief Officer's ticket and if I had stayed in Maersk, I'd have had to give the two years back, which I was planning to do because they paid for my courses. So I was going to leave in 2012 anyway. Yeah, as I had the redundancy, so I worked out the finances. I had some time ashore. Whilst thinking about going into yachts, which a lot of my friends are already on. I sat down and spoke to Terry Ross and one day he had got a lot of my friends jobs. I said, "Well, if you've got a redundancy package behind you, do you fancy helping me for a couple of weeks?"

At the time they had been with a couple hundred metre boats, so they wanted commercial officers. And I said, "Yeah, sure." And here we are 10 years later, still doing the same job. I was very lucky to meet someone like Terry who said, "Let's give it a go. You've got no sales background." But all I saw it was just placing nice people and it worked very well for me and the numbers stacked up when of worked the calculations of what it means and shore-based compared to seagoing, the factoring the taxes and that, the numbers did work in my favour.

Andrew Cowderoy:

And how was that... Obviously it was a redundancy and it wasn't necessarily your first choice to come ashore at that time. How was it actually the process of having worked deep sea, having worked on vessels in an operating position to now sitting behind the desk and working in an office? How was that change?

Liam Dobbin:

I really struggled the first six months. I couldn't get my head around the fact there's only five days in a week and we have two days off. I couldn't get around my head for the fact that you're only doing eight hours before you finish for the day. I did struggle. So I was lucky in a job where I could throw myself into work extra evenings, Saturday, Sundays as I saw it fit. But to come from such a structure of just working whenever is needed, 10 ports in China and 12 days sort of thing, two to eight to five, five days a week. The structure takes you awhile to get used to and then not having the freedom of walking around the ship, doing other little projects.

Your project is, you're working at your desk doing that only. It does take a little while to adjust the mindset. The sleep is nice, I'm not going to lie. Getting more than six, seven hours at once is an actual winner. But really, it took me about six months and those six months I always had my foot out the door thinking the next job would be the one I would take myself. But then when you realize you're actually seeing friends, you're going to weddings, seeing your niece and nephews, it then compensates the fact that you might want to pop back to sea as soon as it comes along.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Cool. And Nicola, same question really, when you decided to step back onto dry land and that entire process was there a plan? And you said you got back in touch with Liam. Just run through the same, if you wouldn't mind.

Nicola Morgan:

Yeah, of course. Yeah, I was open to considering various options. I knew that it was time for me to move ashore. I was starting to find that each time I was home leave, I was wanting to say back less and less. And same with my now husband, both of us together, decided it was the right time to just get a bit of normality and move back. Like Liam said, you just start to look forward to being able to go to weddings and see family when we want and all that kind of thing. So yeah, knew that we wanted to move back. We bought a house a few years earlier, so that was ready to go really. And then job wise, yes, Liam and I have been talking the option of that being discussed.

I was still open to all sorts of things when I first moved ashore. I think on the interior side, I think there's quite a lot of things that you can look to do and I didn't really realize that until I was in the position where I was looking at things myself. And so I was looking at event management jobs, private household positions, hotel jobs. So I think there was actually quite a few things that were open. Ultimately, none of those really appealed because I knew that I wanted to stay somehow connected to the yacht industries and it all worked out perfect. But certainly, the private household side of it would have been the next best thing I guess, because you're working for the same people just in a different environment.

But yeah, I found it quite tough. I think a lot of people find, you have the initial novelty of being home and everything's super exciting and you are seeing your family and you have weekends and things and then you do have to adjust quite a lot in terms of you even like you said, being sat behind a desk when you're so used to running here, there and everywhere, all over a boat. It is very, very different and the weekends is amazing but it does definitely take some time to get your head around the adjustment, to the lifestyle. But I think if you can get through past that, sometimes it's too difficult and people go back to boats, but if you can stick past that initial adjustment, the benefits of looking to move home is just so worth it once you've got over that.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Sure. No, absolutely. Alluding to now, where we are today at Wilson Haligan. Can one of you, I'll let you choose, explain what you're actually doing at Wilson Haligan with the recruitment side and then we'll jump more into the coming ashore bit after that.

Nicola Morgan:

Yeah, sure. So like I say, we took over in 2015. It's just five years this week actually from the old owners, which has been a really nice when they retired and we had a really nice friendly hand over from them and we said that we wanted to follow their ethos in the way that the company had been set up. We just wants to grow it. And so a lot of that potential with the two of us. So we've grown the team quite a lot. Each department has now got a specialist recruiter in it and we look to continue to growing further, we're trying to do more on the shore side of things.

So people that are looking to move ashore, whether this is in the private household's sector or recently come a lot more involved in the general Marine shore-based positions working for other yacht companies in a whole variety of different positions. So we've gone in three areas. The yacht side for us is obviously still the biggest and 90% of what we do, but our plans are to continue with growing it further, both in that area and in the other areas as I mentioned.

Andrew Cowderoy:

So really helping anyone who is either interested in working on the boats, the yachts. Finding help, finding positions at sea and then when the time comes they're saying, "Hey guys, I need a bit of help. I need to know where to go." And helping that career change to come ashore.

Nicola Morgan:

Yeah, definitely. Definitely. I certainly found that it's really daunting even though it's really exciting to be thinking about coming home. It is really daunting and you aren't quite sure what things are out there, what jobs you could do. And I found that particularly on the private household side of things, when I was speaking to agencies that specialized in that, they didn't really understand what I've been doing on boats. I think there's a bit more of an understanding about it genuinely now, but at the time I was quite regularly told I didn't have the right experience or the right background, which I just found incredibly frustrating.

And so I've really made it my mission to make sure that no one else feels like that. Because yeah, it was a bit frustrating and I just really want to be able to say to people, "There's so many jobs out there, there is in private households or other things." So I'm regularly having conversations with crew members looking to move ashore now just to say, "It's okay and it's fine to be scared." And, "Have you thought about looking at this?" And try to help them and guide them along the way even if we're not able to place them directly ourselves.

Andrew Cowderoy:

So on those career positions that are available on shore, if you've got some of the yachties listening to the podcast or in fact anybody from perhaps the cruise line sector interested in some of those positions that you did discuss or you have shared. Can you explain perhaps what they are? You've mentioned private household. What are some of the other options that somebody could be looking at within the more private household, private family or yachting industry? Just elaborate on that if you may.

Nicola Morgan:

Yeah, so depending on their background, obviously myself, coming from an interior background, I've looked more into interior roles, ashore and these can vary. Purser or chief stewards move into either a PA or house manager type role where they're looking after, very often the very people that own these lovely yachts have got lovely big houses and they often need some people to run these houses and estates. And to me, a chief stewards is a perfect candidate for that really. Yes, it's a different environment, but the main thing is they know how to work with these people and how to look after them. So whether you're doing that on a boat or in a house, I think it's very transferable. So yeah, certainly that or at a lower level.

Even housekeepers, we've had a few positions and I think we've been approached from more families and house managers looking for people with a yacht background. The service that they experience in the boat is the kind of service that they want within the house as well. So housekeepers, chefs as well. Chefs regularly can transition between both the house and they'd go on the boat, maybe they'll become there the owners traveling chefs or they go wherever the owner is really. So a whole host of things on that side of things. I don't know whether Liam wants to give a bit of an insight onto the deck or engineering side.

Liam Dobbin:

Yeah, sure. The deck and engineering side. It's everything that you have on a shore based operation, technical superintendents, yacht managers, project managers. Even to the point of we've had sales managers jobs, so there's no one better to sell bridge system or engineering system than actually somebody that's used it and they generally relate very well and it's definitely one avenue that people should think of, as not just being a manager but also the sales elements or the technical supply. We see a lot of people set up on their own. We'd happily give advice on how to be a shore based contractor. One of the key things is just getting the CV transitioning from whether it be seagoing to shore based and you realize your yacht captain, you're also the CEO of a small business, you're a finance manager, strategy planner but these things don't get put on to a seagoing CV but they are really crucial when you come ashore.

And we will happily do all these things for free. We haven't yet got any shore-based templates, but we will have them on our website in the future. And it's one of the mistakes people make when they come ashore, they're trying to field their seagoing CVs, but they haven't adapted it to what people are looking for when you're handing it to an HR manager for a company rather than an HR manager for cruise company. As Nicola mentioned, they sometimes just don't get it. They don't understand. Just a simple rescript can do wonders.

Andrew Cowderoy:

And on some of the roles of Liam, would it be fair to say that also those who are and in any position in fact, there's a brokerage side of the industry as well and the chartering is that perhaps an opportunity?

Liam Dobbin:

Yes. Yeah, 100%. we also recommend certain courses. There's a couple of companies around that transition people across. We've had charter brokers, sales brokers, you name it, we've pretty much had it on the shore based side. Junior managers, people coming out as boson level or officer of the watch. It's not just the seniors, as Nicole mentioned, it's just been relieving at my level. You can come in as a junior manager or an office assistant. Limitless options that come up. A client might be looking for a seasoned manager but will take somebody with the right experience or the right attitude, so we would obviously manage that through.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Now obviously we've been talking and discussing about coming from a yacht into the maritime sector ashore within the yachting sector, if there was a seafarer or a professional at sea who is perhaps on the more commercial side on the deep sea, the offshore, or even the cruise, is it possible for someone to move into a position within the yachting sector, whether it's in the brokerage or the management or indeed if you're perhaps coming from a cruise line position into some more of the household roles?

Liam Dobbin:

Nicola, do you want to go? I can talk on the technical side for the engineering and the tech side. We've had a number of clients down the South of France or in London, they've asked for technical superintendents from cruise ships where the yachts are going to be able to pass into yacht coves, they want people who know crews and who better? We'll just take somebody straight from the cruise world. It means that people aren't trying to upskill, they're moving their skills sideways and companies are realizing that they are getting absolutely a fountain of knowledge without having to worry about the yacht side of it, which somebody can learn, but the passenger is coming into yachts, the only people that know that is passenger ships. We've even had people successfully come from oil and gas across to yachts because they put a different aptitude to spending. So it is possible, it has happened. And it just needs to be the right approach and flexibility to what you're looking for.

Nicola Morgan:

I think it's the right person as well, isn't it? Same with any job. We've had, even on the interiors side, we'd have had someone more HR side, almost like a PA on a cruise ship that moved into an HR role within a yacht company. Like with anything, it takes the right person and the right skills, the right soft skills and everything to make sure that's successful. On the household side, a bit of a tricky one, it depends on the role that they've had on board. For sure, housekeeping, if they've been doing it for a high end cruise ship, then yeah, I don't see why, again, the skills are the same thing. So yeah, absolutely. Certainly something that might be considered.

Andrew Cowderoy:

And would you be able to share perhaps some of the top tips that you've seen that you've experienced both from your own careers and again, now helping people make that move ashore of somebody who is looking to step ashore. And if you were to do it again or indeed recommend somebody to do it, what would be some of the advice that you'd give today to those listening?

Nicola Morgan:

I think it's about planning. If you are really serious about wanting to move home is really having to think about what role you see yourself in or talking to people like us to think about what roles are out there and then yes, put in some plans into place. So if you know that you're going to have to put some more training in or say for instance, my other half has gone into maritime law that he's not going to go straight in as a lawyer, so he knew he was going to have to come home and study for a while and that was going to be a few years ahead and to do that we had to make sure that we were financially able to do that. So I think definitely for me, the top tip would be just to really have a bit of a plan in place and do as much research as possible before making the actual step ashore.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Sure. Anything from Liam?

Liam Dobbin:

Yeah. My side, plan you're networking very well. You'll know people that you've been at sea with who've already moved ashore, they're the first person to speak to for how is it really, and then from there, what did they know? Would they recommend any businesses they know, is the easiest place to start. Call someone like us and say, "Okay, I want to go into yachting. Where should I go?" We will tell you the best shows to go to, the best networking associations to join, how to manage your LinkedIn or who to speak to on LinkedIn. But yeah, as Nicola said, it's the planning, planning where to network. You can spread yourself really thin, spend hundreds and hundreds of pounds going to the wrong events or just placing it incorrectly. As long as there's a plan, you'll be fine.

Andrew Cowderoy:

They basically planned that to work and ask for help, not too dissimilar to what we've heard from everybody else.

Nicola Morgan:

Yeah, and not to panic. I think, like I said, it is really daunting even though it's a real mixture of emotions. I remember myself feeling really excited to get home, excited to start planning the next chapter of my life, but also incredibly daunting to thinking of, "Gosh, what if no one wants me? What if I don't get a job anywhere?" And it's easy if you do get home and nothing comes up straight away to automatically think, "Right, that's it. I've got to get back onto a boat." But just really taking some time to take it all in and just enjoy it because there are so many opportunities out there and we don't realize it sometimes until we stop putting ourselves out there to have a look at what those opportunities might be.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Awesome. Thank you very much. And if people want to connect with you both, with the company, find out more information. What is the best way that somebody can do that?

Nicola Morgan:

The website is www.wilsonhaligan.com all of our contact details are on there and both of us are on LinkedIn. We're locked down at the moment, so we're not going anywhere, so we're happy to have a chat to anyone at any time. Pick up the phone, have a chat any to anytime.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Awesome. Thank you very much and I presume the standard social media channels as well?

Nicola Morgan:

Of course. Yeah. Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn. Liam is the only one in the world I think still uses Twitter.

Liam Dobbin:

I am still on Twitter, it's about the newsfeed.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Absolutely. Amongst, with everything else. Well, I would like thank you both very much for being part of the Coming Ashore podcast, sharing your knowledge, your insight, your experience with the seafarers both in yachting and the deep sea sector around the world currently locked down and isolated even more so than normal. So a big thank you. And if you want to find out more information on Wilson Haligan, the yachting industry, you know where to find them now.

This podcast was presented by the Marine Society. If you want to find out more about the coming ashore project, be sure to subscribe to the channels podcast on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes. Visit us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or visit the Marine Society website.

For more information on the Marine Society's Coming Ashore program, including information on mentorship, please visit our Coming Ashore page.


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