Sir Chay Blyth talks about the business challenges
With only four more days to go until the start of the Global Challenge round the world race, the pace of preparations is increasing – as are the bouts of nerves. Yet safety checks are complete, crews are loading food, final jobs are being done. The 12 skippers and crews are rolling down the runway to their start on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the last of the sponsors’ names are being applied to yachts. A flurry of last-minute deals have marked out this Challenge race from others in the past. With no title sponsor for the event and five boats sponsored in the last weeks before the start, Sir Chay Blyth admits that business has been more difficult than at any previous time.
“We’re not alone,” he notes. “The industry as a whole has not been in good shape at all for the last three years. So it’s been very tough for us and the worst thing about it was not having a title holder.”
The effect of that is two-fold, he explains. “A title holder also tends to help us because companies may have a relationship with that particular company and that helps towards attracting yacht sponsors. On the back of sponsorship there can be business deals.”
Sir Chay admits that the eleventh-hour deals have not been so lucrative for his company, but is still upbeat. “I’m immune from gloom,” he asserts, “and I see it as an opportunity. We have a four-year separation zone from the BT Global Challenge.”
But the lack of practical support from a title holder in terms of people and resources has also been keenly felt: four years ago BT provided a big cast of staff and played a part in providing everything from flags and banners to on board communications. All of that has had to be shouldered this time by Challenge Business staff.
“In a way, again you’ve got to look on the positive side,” says Sir Chay. “So we can show that we can do the schools programme, the race village and so on. It’s been a good learning curve and we now have got a much better handle on the costs, where before with BT we weren’t quite clear. But yes, absolutely there is increased cost for us, so the whole thing is compounded.”
He also faces a return to a more hands-on role following the departure of managing director Simon Walker next month. “We’ll be very sorry to see Simon go. He has been with us for 15 years and he was one of the first crew volunteers I ever interviewed, but we understand and I would not stand in the way of anyone progressing their future,” he comments.
In the short-term he says will take over the reins, “but what happens in the long term will really be dictated by our financial picture, I guess.” Sir Chay is reluctant to elaborate, but adds: “At 64, whether I stay in charge will depend on how well or how badly I’m doing.”
He is, however, upbeat about the future of the Global Challenge race. “We’re always asked if it’s run its course and I don’t think it has. We’re going to launch the 2008 race at the London Boat Show. There will always be a demand for it. And we got lots of business club sponsors. We’ve over 100 sponsorships in contract with companies from Sony to BP.
“But the big thing about this race is the passion and excitement. And not one of the races have been the same.”