Entrepreneur Spotlight: Derrick Levy, CEO of Boating World

13 May 2016

Article by Anna Guy of Africa Business Journal
13 May 2016

A prominent South African leader in the boating and marine industry, Derrick Levy, CEO of Boating World, specializes in everything from luxury motor yachts to prestigious brands.

When Derrick Levy, known as “the guru of the waterways”, speaks about boating, his passion is contagious—and it’s that enthusiasm that has led Boating World to the top of South Africa’s luxury boating industry. Now celebrating its 11th year, Boating World has two offices in Durban, and has recently expanded to nearby Cape Town.

A fourth generation family business, boating runs in Levy’s genes. Levy’s son, Dean, who operates Boating International in Johannesburg, specializing in smaller boats, inherited the same knowledge and passion. Caryne Levy, Derrick’s daughter, runs Club Marine Insurance, one of South Africa’s biggest specialist boating insurance organizations.

Making a conscious decision to pursue the best in boating, Levy invests in the ‘Bentleys’ of the boating world, rather than the specializing in the ‘Volkswagens’.

Anna Guy: What is the origin, and ambition, of Boating World?

Derrick Levy: My late father Arne loved boating. He was actually in the British Navy during the war and he loved boats. He bought a boat club in Johannesburg and started up a boats service—60 boats that would stay in the water and pull them out. That’s how my two sisters and I grew up. That got us into boating so you can see we’ve been in boating our whole lives. Part of my ambition was from my dad, he had a lot of drive in his own right. The other part is competition. We entered a lot of competitive boating sports. My dad represented South Africa in power boat racing and hydroplanes. He used to race boats, then I became a boat racer through him and I raced for South Africa. I did bare foot water skiing internationally in the European Championships. We did a lot of training for that. We did water ski racing, which I did all over the world—in America, Europe, Australia, all over. So I met a lot of people in the boating world.

AG: How did you transition that early experience and exposure into such a successful company?

DL: Having competed in boat racing, having that in you, you learn how to deal with adversity. It makes you competitive. When the economy goes down, it’s the same as having to come back in rough water and holding on no matter how rough it is. There is very much a correlation between the sports and business practice. The economy goes up, you have your good times, your bad times; there is all sorts of adversity in business. The economy changes, the exchange rate may move in or out of your favour, and it can affect things drastically.  A company that you are dealing with may have liquidity problems. It may be difficult to get finance for certain clients. All those adversities help you because it gives you the tenacity and drive to continue.

AG: What is your philosophy on risk taking?

DL: I take calculated risks. I’m a careful risk taker; I’m not a gambler. I do not believe in gambling at all. I weigh the situation as best I can. For example, every time you buy a stock boat, that is a huge outlay of finance and you have to weigh up what that finance could be earning in the bank versus how it sits on the water where you are, available to demonstrate to clients. And at the same time, you have a much better chance of selling something that exists rather than something that you still have to get, so that’s a risk. But you have to take some risks—that’s part of being in business.

AG: Looking at the history of Boating World, what would you say was its first measure of success? What is its proudest achievement? Who has been influential to Boating World?

DL: The most important thing to us is our name. It’s important to be recognized as a company that will do what it says it will do. I think the sports and competition, taking part in them you meet lots and lots of people and that has influenced who and what we know and our knowledge on boating.

What would you like to see for your company in the next five years?

DL: As soon as we had the World Cup of Soccer, we found that there are a lot of positive thoughts [about Africa]. We are finding that more clients are positive about South Africa and I think the World Cup can very much be attributed to that. I feel pumped up coming into work. Each day, whenever there is a client looking at a boat, from small to large, it’s a great feeling, like an adrenaline rush.

For more information, Boating World can be reached via telephone at (086) 132-4754 and online at www.boatingworld.co.za.