Sailing into uncharted waters

Why pack in the security of a high-flying career in the international hydropower sector to set up your own sailing school from scratch? This is the watery course taken by RSM alumnus Christof Marti, a journey that has enabled him to pursue his greatest passion and find the job satisfaction sought by so many.

Story by Kevin Titman

From the classroom studying engineering and finance to the boardroom devising business development plans for hydropower firms and on to circumnavigating the coastal islands of Vancouver. This might sound like a retirement dream with a happy ending in which a student gets to indulge in their favourite pastime on a full-time basis.

Not so for alumnus Christof Marti (MBA in Finance, 2006), who took the life-changing career move of swapping the comfort of full-time employment for the more fraught venture of going solo and founding his own sailing school in Canada, a country he has called home for most of the past 15 years. Retirement is a long way off for this brave individual who, through his own efforts and sheer audacity, now finds himself satisfying his love for sailing – for a living.

The international bug

‘Maybe subconsciously I caught the bug to work in different countries and with different cultures during my RSM days,’ says Christof. ‘Not only was my time at Rotterdam memorable for how interactive it was in the classroom, with students all feeding off and learning from one another, but above all it was the ultimate international melting pot.’

After studying engineering in his native Switzerland, Christof had already been on the move before coming to Rotterdam, working and studying in his future home country of Canada and also operating as an engineering consultant in the Philippines. Duly equipped with his MBA, his next stop was Chile to advance his career in the hydropower business.

Start small, think big

After starting out as a consultant, a career in large international engineering firms beckoned. However, the seeds for Christof’s subsequent career switch were already sown, as he began to realise where his business heart lay. ‘It became obvious to me that I didn’t want to be a small cog in a giant company, plus I wanted to branch out from engineering in order to get into the more strategic, marketing and commercial aspects of business. Each time I changed company I sought out firms that were starting out small but had international expansion plans.’

Rocking the boat

In 2010 Simply Sailing came into being, initially just as a weekend project while Christof continued working full-time. After a brief hiatus in 2011 that Christof calls his “baby and boating period”, he decided to take the plunge and pursue more seriously the business idea that had been germinating.

With a three-year plan in place (including the requisite exit strategy, just in case) and enough financial backing to get started without the pressure of having to immediately bring in clients and an income, Christof was now running Simply Sailing on a full-time basis.

However idyllic it may sound to turn your favourite pastime into your job, for Christof sailing was no longer just a question of hitting the waters. ‘Although still today I manage to spend around 100 days on the water, from the moment I set up the company sailing became just one of the many aspects of my new working life. From one day to the next I could be handling the various instructors I subcontract to, devising an IT system, working on a commercial plan to rival with the more than 30 competitor schools we have here in Vancouver or just doing day-to-day maintenance on our fleet of boats. No two days at work resemble one another, but one thing’s a constant – sailing is now serious business as well as a pleasure.’

The three “Fs”

No entrepreneur can truly dip their toe into business creation without a certain amount of apprehension, which is why Christof insists so much on “the three Fs”. Based upon his own experience they are: fear, family, and finance. ‘I didn’t rush headlong into the decision I took. It was part of a long-running thought process. Part of the challenge is to go in without fear of failure. To do this, though, you’ll need some financial backup to begin with, as well as family to call upon if ever times get hard.’

So, is it really possible to go solo and be successful? ‘I learned very soon not to try to do everything by myself in a kind of cocoon. Sound out other people for their opinion, learn to delegate and hire early so you can spend your time and energy on what you do best! To be frank, depending upon your business venture, you’ve got to be prepared to earn next to nothing for up to three years, so make sure you create the best possible conditions for future success at the very start.’

RSM Outlook , 2015 Winter RSM Outlook