Celebrating a Decade of Yachting Excellence

Written by: Sam Fortescue

There’s a deep, throaty roar in the background as I speak to the founders of Worth Avenue Yachts. Sounding like the meaty exhaust on a vintage Harley, it immediately brings Sons of Anarchy to mind. But Michael Mahan is no hardened biker. This successful yacht broker is touring through the Rocky Mountains with some motorhead colleagues, heading for a rendezvous in Park City, Utah with Brian Tansey, his co-founder at Worth. A business trip, it is not.

“I’m doing 300 miles a day with our business partners Ray from Seattle and Jonathan from Newport,” Michael tells me with a quick grin. “It’s all mountains; we must have done about 700 turns today.” I ask him what he rides, and he hesitates. “It’s a Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX.” I must look blank, because he continues: “You know those bikes you see going past at 150mph? It’s one of those.” Then he quickly adds. “We’re super safe, though. I have to say that with Brian on the line.”

Brian has a reply for that, and they indulge in a bit of joshing before we finally settle down to discuss Worth Avenue. They’re like that, these two: complementary. When I ask them to pinpoint each other’s strong points, there’s no hesitation. “Michael has an amazing ability to defuse sticky situations,” says Brian. “When you’re in the quagmire, generally when you have a buyer and seller at odds with each other – he has a way of keeping everybody calm.”

Brian is the organized one who takes care of the numbers and keeps the business ticking over in the background. But he’s also something of an alternative thinker. “He thinks out of the box when the rest of us hit the wall,” says Michael. “He has great ideas.”

Leader in Yacht Sales

The chemistry between the two is perhaps one of the keys to the runaway success that they’ve made of Worth Avenue Yachts. Now in only its tenth year, the brokerage business has gone from start up to industry leader and now houses 46 people, with locations in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Monaco, plus Seattle, San Diego and Newport.

Palm Beach International Boat Show

The Beginnings

It all began in 2011 when Michael walked into then-boss Brian’s office to give his notice. He had been working for the brokerage Brian managed for 18 months, and the adversarial office culture wasn’t working for him. Far from trying to dissuade him, Brian agreed with his sentiments and they both quit. Appreciating each other’s working styles, they initially set about trying to find a brokerage they could both move to.

“The plan soon morphed into ‘let’s set up our own store’ with our own business model – more ethical, more professional.,” explains Brian. “Worth was born over several lunch meetings. We thought, let’s not stay in Fort Lauderdale, where everyone else is; let’s head to Palm Beach. After all, it’s one of the wealthiest zip codes in America.”

Palm Beach Worth Avenue

But just because you’re in the superyacht business doesn’t mean you have a superyacht budget. Brian and Michael borrowed as much as they could, then put their own belongings on the line as a guarantee. “It was a lot of money,” remembers Brian. “But we figured, if it gets down to the personal guarantee, then the proverbial has already hit the fan.”

Despite the gamble, they remained cool-headed. “Even though it was a really bad time in our industry, we always had the confidence in ourselves,” says Michael.

The model behind Worth was to build a team that shares leads and information to benefit each client. There’s no silo mentality here, where each broker tries to protect their commission. “We wanted to be really careful about who we brought in; that everybody gelled and grasped our unique team-based approach,” Michael explains. “To this day, no one in our firm has titles. Our sales meetings are just a huge wealth of sharing knowledge. It’s the best thing we’ve done operationally.”

Despite the gamble, they remained cool-headed. “Even though it was a really bad time in our industry, we always had the confidence in ourselves,” says Michael.

The model behind Worth was to build a team that shares leads and information to benefit each client. There’s no silo mentality here, where each broker tries to protect their commission. “We wanted to be really careful about who we brought in; that everybody gelled and grasped our unique team-based approach,” Michael explains. “To this day, no one in our firm has titles. Our sales meetings are just a huge wealth of sharing knowledge. It’s the best thing we’ve done operationally.”

They believe that brokers should focus on the client, not the commission. “We knew that if we serviced the client in the most professional, best way, the commission would come,” says Brian. “A happy client will pay. If there’s a messy dealer, we’d rather walk away from it.”

This philosophy must be working, because Worth gets an enormous amount of repeat business – both for charter and sales. “The majority of my deals on an annual basis are ones we’ve done with existing clients,” says Michael. And they’re not small deals, either. Among the scores of sales, the 257ft Abeking & Rasmussen Eminence (asking price $80M) stands out. Then there’s the build of the stunning 223ft Benetti Seasense and a 180ft Newcastle to name just two. Both charter management and charter retail are booming as well.

SOVEREIGN Yacht For Sale

There’s another feature of Worth that stands out during our interview. From the beginning, Brian and Michael were determined to offer a physical shopfront to potential clients, not just a swanky office somewhere. “It’s a softer sell – it’s easier when people come to you and ask the questions,” says Michael. With the bright orange branding and an enticing display of superyachtery in the window, they have managed to pick up passing trade.

Being headquartered on the most exclusive retail street in Palm Beach (Worth Avenue – hence the name), they are based right next door to some of the fashion world’s most prestigious brands. “We had a walk-in for whom we built a 68m Benetti,” says Michael. “His wife was one door down in Gucci and he came to look at something for himself.”

The Breakers Palm Beach Worth Avenue Yachts
The Breakers, Palm Beach

Not that it was a simple deal to get over the line. “The 68m was one-and-a-half years from meeting to construction,” chips in Brian. “We made 25 trips to meet the client, no matter where he was. We flew all over the US, to London, each time for a 30-minute meeting. But it’s worth every penny for the right client.”

Not all clients are right for Worth, though. Every broker has tales of the client who toured numerous yachts with them, but ended up buying one through a competitor. “Certain clients we have no interest in doing business with,” says Brian. “They’re not up to our caliber.” Can you spot them when they walk in through the door, I want to know? “Yes,” they both chime in unison.

Benetti Yacht

This is when experience speaks loudest. Brian and Michael grew up around boats and have worked all their lives in the marine industry. Michael’s first job was in Camden, Maine and he in fact spent his first years sailing widely – from ocean racing to local cruising. “I’m over that,” he says firmly. “I don’t miss my ass getting wet.”

Brian is Florida born and bred and used to commute to his father’s shipyard in a Chris Craft Scorpion 31. That’s like having a Mustang as your first car, I say. He nods happily. These days he’s traded up to a Fairline Squadron 65 and loves to spend weekends and holidays nosing around the Keys or chilling out in the Exumas.

Michael’s passion these days is ‘restoring things’, as he puts it. Freshly out of his workshop in Jupiter is an old John Deere tractor. But if he could choose any boat he liked, it would be a 45m Alloy Yachts cruiser. “Brian’s could be my chase boat,” he jokes.

“You could tow me,” Brian replies.

Intriguingly, they both seem to agree on one thing. When I ask them what famous person they’d like to have aboard, they both name George W. Bush. Now, it doesn’t matter what you think of his politics, there’s no doubt he would have a story or two to tell. “He’s a solid guy – a fun guy,” says Michael. “I see him as a genuine individual that I could truly spend time with.”

Worth Avenue Office
Palm Beach Office

Well, if the 43rd President of the US is reading this, and he feels like a break from ranching in Texas, it sounds like there’s a warm welcome waiting on the east coast.

And in fact, a particularly warm welcome for anyone interested in yachting. At the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show from October 27 to 31, the team will be there with a selection of the show’s biggest yachts, ready to service all your boating needs. Find them on the face dock by the Hall of Fame and Bahia Mar.

2020 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show FLIBS
FLIBS

In the meantime, the brokerage list is bulging with exceptional boats for sale, ranging up to 300ft. And there’s a selection of the finest yachts available to charter as well. Backing it all is the experience of one of the broadest and most collaborative teams in the business. If they can’t find your dream boat, then she probably hasn’t been built yet – something they can also help you with.

Read more about the humble beginnings of Worth Avenue Yachts alongside an enjoyable selection of yachts to peruse in the latest edition of our Worth A Look magazine

 

Contact us for more information: Inquiries@WorthAvenueYachts.com

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