Niki Travers Tauss is the dictionary definition of a busy man. That said, the sheer speed of his lifestyle and his myriad responsibilities do share a common theme: boats.
Niki’s passion for boating was forged early, through a childhood spent in tandem with the family business as his father delivered boats, travelled to boat shows and visited big-named production plants in the US. The lessons learned through this decade-long apprenticeship in the boating sphere are still remembered by Niki today, as he steers the way through his many vital roles across Malta’s ever-growing yachting industry.
However, his career journey towards taking these positions within one of the island’s most up-and-coming sectors took a somewhat unusual detour, into marketing and new media. “I set up a new media company called NTT Creations in sixth form around 1999, that dealt with corporate identities and websites of various kinds, back when they were a big thing,”
Niki recalls with a grin. “Over the years, we built up a solid portfolio of clients, including many well-known hotels and several foreign hedge fund management companies that were based in Malta at that time.”
Despite this success, Malta’s rapidly changing business market, combined with the growing needs of the family business, conspired to propel Niki back into the world of yachting. “The new boom created by the arrival of the iGaming companies on the island was one of the chief causes of the demise of the company, particularly as they were snapping up all the talent. At the same time, the family business was moving in a new direction and my involvement was required,” he shares.
His transition back into the yachting industry saw Niki become Managing Director of Esprit Yachting in 2007, determined to better establish the Azimut Yachts brand in Malta by becoming its primary dealership. “We attracted our first sale of an Azimut yacht in 2006 and became official dealers in 2007,” he confirms. “At the time, we were the only company that had a specific focus on the support side of yachting. Today, we are known for our sales of new power yachts in Malta and most especially for our after-sales experience, which is second-to-none.”
Esprit Yachting also still corners the market for the extensive range of services it provides, Niki explains. “We have developed into one of the leading offerings on the island in terms of yacht management. We cover staffing, yacht maintenance, cleaning, chartering – we even stock client’s fridges with their favourite wines. It’s comprehensive; a one-stop-shop for our clients, so that they can focus on enjoying yachting as their hobby and we’ll do the rest.”
Meanwhile, to further boost the range of services offered, both Niki and the company have diversified extensively, with horizontal growth into the realms of finance, yachting events and superyachts, not to mention the establishment of a major yacht marina.
“We brought to Malta two very prestigious regattas in 2014 and 2016 and, most recently, have set up AB|Finance plc, which offers yacht finance to all European Azimut customers and the European Azimut Dealer network. This new financial arm of the company again strengthens Esprit’s 360-degree service offering,” Niki elaborates.
To add to this impressively diverse list of achievements, the Managing Director is also leading another major project for the local yachting industry. “The establishment of the Marina di Valletta was a huge win on our part. It has been a mammoth task since it was launched in August 2016, but we are now excitingly close to completion,” he continues, referring to the regeneration and development of the state-of-the-art, 270-plus berth yacht marina, following a €8.5 million investment by a consortium of foreign and local investors including the Azimut|Benetti Group that Esprit Yachting represents in Malta.
Niki also takes pride in consulting product development and product improvement at Azimut Yachts, and is also serving his third term as a Board member of the Yachting Services Business Section at the Malta Chamber of Commerce.
“I firmly believe in the power of networking with other professionals and sharing business experiences – the good, the bad and the unusual – to help shape, improve and offer direction in our industry,” he continues. “My work with the Chamber for the last six years has helped me to do exactly that, in collaboration and cooperation with other industry stalwarts, entrepreneurs and Governmental bodies. It is my chance to make a real difference to our industry, as well as to the larger business world.”
Charting a steady course through such a packed, albeit rewarding, working life requires a certain kind of mindset – and a certain kind of approach – to keep things moving. “My philosophy is that you need to know something about everything and everything about something. And although I do have many roles, the key to success here is that they all fall under one banner: yachts. That’s my ‘something’ – everything I do is about yachting, from services, sales and financing to products and docking,” Niki highlights.
“My role, across all the companies I work with, is simply to enable growth. And to do that, it’s a matter of finding the right people and delegating responsibilities to them in each company, while finding and monitoring company direction and maintaining the face and personal experience for our customers. Teamwork is vital to our success. We are a family business, in more ways than one!”
This team ethic proved particularly important as the country faced the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We had already moved to a digital communication platform, but the onset of the pandemic meant that online video conferencing became essential to keeping the business going across the board. Thankfully, the nature of our work meant that social distancing and precautions were simple to implement across all the teams. But, naturally, clients’ financial caution and the sudden lack of tourism impacted business overall. We all realised just how quickly and how drastically the status quo can change, but that time proved once again that there can still be opportunity in disruption.”
While the tone of Malta’s yachting industry throughout 2020 was generally subdued, the use and appreciation of yachts increased dramatically during the pandemic and 2021 promises to be poised for growth. “This year, we are consolidating our operations with an aggressive investment curve, while gearing up to be ready the minute the market has fully recovered. Then there’s the new Azimut offices under construction and the completion of the Marina di Valletta Capitanerie and Restaurant. All in all, 2021 is shaping up to be another landmark year,” he concludes.
This interview is part of a serialisation of 50 interviews carried out with Malta’s top CEOs, featured in the bumper edition of MaltaCEOs 2021 publication, which was recently released. Despite the many challenges of 2020, this is the largest edition to date.
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