MACIF have a refined, ongoing selection programme which runs from ‘espoir’ – or grass roots hopeful level right up through the Figaro class to the elite, pinnacle events where they are main partners to Gabart. PRB have a more ad hoc succession policy while Maître Coq made an open call for programmes to evaluate.
"We are fortunate to be able to rely on a selection process which has proven to be successful and reliable. That allows us to make our key decisions with a certain level of confidence.” Says Jean-Bernard Le Boucher who is the director of marine activities for the MACIF group. The insurance giant and its subsidiaries’ MACIF skipper program has now been running for ten years.
"By setting up this initiative the way have, we have allowed young athletes to prove their talent and then move up to the next level successively. Thereafter the decision to go on more ambitious projects really depends on opportunities."
When MACIF selected François Gabart to become their skipper on the Figaro circuit there was no big future plan even if everyone knew Gabart had a wealth of talent and ambitions.
"In that case, the project was built in two parts. We felt the need to step up the scale and reach of our communication strategy and François quickly convinced us that he was the right person to make that happen. Embarking on the Vendée Globe is no easy matter, there must be a very strong match between the sailor and his project and the objectives and outlook of the company. For us having seen François work on the Figaro circuit we had certain guarantees. We knew who we were working with, we new each other and how we both operated.”
Neither is it a solution to just write a cheque to the sailor’s programme and stand back. In many cases there is a fund of knowledge and experience which is builds up and is brought into play as decisions are made. Maître CoQ supported Jérémie Beyou for eight years, learning from mistakes and disappointments to go on and profit from their shared success in his third place in the last race. By mutual agreement, they parted company after the last race as Beyou sought to build a new boat and raise his game – and budgets – to a new, higher level. But as Maître CoQ celebrate their 50th anniversary the Vendée Globe remains a relevant and rewarding means of strengthening their brand image and loyalty. They solicited new Vendée Globe projects and settled with Yannick Bestaven. "For this new campaign, the company decided to proceed a kind of call for applications. This included the skipper’s curriculum vitae, the feasibility and the ambitions of the project, as well as the financial aspects.
Askde what made the difference, Bestaven replies,
"Several things: already, owning a boat which can be operational almost immediately is one big thing. And then I think that my entrepreneurial profile (Ed Note: Bestaven created the company Watt & Sea which manufactures the hydrogenerators of most Vendée Globe boats) – tipped the balance. My experience as a working businessman also allowed me to propose a very tight, controllled budget with deadlines until 2021, which was reassuring. Finally there must be a kind of strong relationship between the sailor and his partners to build a project that really lasts. In this case the managers from Maitre CoQ came to La Rochelle several times. They were able to visit the boat, to see how it was all evolving, ties were formed, bonds strengthened. "
Local Vendéen company PRB have been in the Vendée Globe since 1992 when they partnered Jean Yves Hasselin. They are the only sponsor who can claim to have twice won the race with two different skippers. In terms of succession they have always trusted the sailors themselves. In 1996, when Isabelle Autissier decides to hand over, Jean-Jacques Laurent, the CEO, simply asked her to select the solo skipper she thought best suited to PRB’s colours. By naming Michel Desjoyeaux she recommended a formidable competitor who gave PRB their first win in 2000-2001. Then in 2004, when Desjoyeaux was racing multihulls, it was he who proposed Vincent Riou, who was preparateur for Mich’ Desj’ on the previous edition.
The MACIF group meanwhile are renewing a winning quest which proved so successful with François Gabart. Jean-Bernard Le Boucher gives an insight into their decision to support Charlie Dalin through Apivia, one of their subsidiaries:
"Apivia is one of our subsidiaries that needs to significantly increase its share capital. After a study they chose to invest in sailing. We were able to measure the return, the gains with François Gabart, and how important the Vendée Globe was. This is the most famous solo race in the world, it lasts a long time, it reaches an audience that goes well beyond a core of enthusiasts. From the moment we decided to go again it was obvious that it would be a skipper from within our sailing programme. Charlie Dalin was there at the right time, he has the desired profile. Then it's a mutual process between the sailor and the company. In this case, everyone was quickly on the same wavelength. Sponsoring is also for the sailors as it is for the company, knowing how to take advantage of the opportunities. The partnership between Apivia and Charlie Dalin starts on a solid foundation: we had the opportunity to test Charlie's reliability in the Macif skipper program and the group already has the experience of a Vendée Globe. These are important assets. "