We sat down with Kevin Hunt, Managing Director at Scorpion RIBS, to reflect on his 28 years in the boat-building industry. Whilst some of the processes and technology adopted by workers may have changed over this time, Kevin's mentality and work ethic is still as important today as it was then. His mindset has always be clear: enjoy what you do and do it well! Kevin is well versed in wooden boat restoration and manufacturing new GRP boats of various types, including yachts / power boats and Ribs.
In this Q&A, Kevin reveals what has inspired him to succeed throughout this time, as well as offering invaluable advice to anyone starting off in the industry.
What first attracted you to boat building?
Growing up as 1 of 9 children, I recall my father always working incredibly hard to support our family. When I used to visit him at the Southampton Docks, I was fascinated at how a stone would stink when thrown into water but a giant vessels would float so meticulously. This fascination clearly runs in our family’s blood, as three of my brothers’ work in the industry and my youngest son has just started another firm on the south coast.
How did your initial apprenticeship shape your career?
Massively! After being nominated for the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights Queen's Silver medal in 1994, I was one of three students put forward for an apprenticeship. This was fantastic recognition and a great opportunity, so I grabbed it with both hands and never looked back. The full-time role was in Gosport at the Maritime Workshop and it was there I was able to develop my craft in wooden boat construction. It was a struggle at first – my parents paid for a car so I was able to make the commute up the M27 every day, I also had to work weekends to afford the petrol to run the vehicle. Though, I approached every day with the same positive outlook, never knowing what opportunities might present themselves. It was also during my apprenticeship that I first experienced boatyard fiberglass – blue water GRP yachts being manufactured.
You recently just hit the 10 year anniversary at Scorpion Ribs. What’s the secret to longevity and success in the industry?
I’m very fortunate to have a great owner [of Scorpion Ribs] who I speak to on a day-to-day basis. In addition, we have an incredibly talented in-house team of workers that each bring their own unique skillsets and personalities each day. I’m a firm believer if you treat your staff well and with respect, they will become like family. Good staff are hard to find, so by looking after them you are more likely to keep them in the long run. I’m also a strong advocate of providing staff training opportunities to broaden skills across multiple disciplines.
What are your immediate goals/plans for the next 5...even 10 years?
My immediate plans are to stay and continue to develop the business, driving new products to the next level. At present, BREXIT seems to be working in our favour with the exchange rate of Euro vs Pound. However, this has been outweighed by rising costs in raw materials annually for the last 5 years. It’s imperative that we all become smarter with our usage of GRP materials.
What do you hope to see change in the industry in the coming years?
I am extremely passionate about more young people getting into the industry with fresh ideas. I’d even go a step further and say it would be fantastic if we could see more females, particularly from a manufacturing point-of-view. Lastly, with new technology being embraced and driving the industry forward, I want to see truly environmentally friendly materials being used, which extend beyond the shelf life of a boat. Again, contributing to less wastage of GRP materials.
Are there things you still get excited by?
By having less involvement in the day-to-day production, my main enjoyment comes from seeing members of the team develop. Eight years ago I sat down with our cleaner to see if there was any ambition to train in something new. Now, 7 years later, he is one of our top GRP laminators. Development & training is crucial, particularly as we lose many of the “older” generation of boat-builders. We have a limited time to avoid an unnecessary skills shortage in the industry, whereby youngsters can learn from these professionals before they retire.
Is there a specific boat/rib that you are most proud of working on?
In recent times, I’d say the Silurian 1080. We’ve sold 20 in the last 3 years, with buyers in the US, UK and across Europe. The rib typifies the high quality/low volume approach we take to satisfying each of our valued clients. In my earlier days, I was fortunate enough to work on the Cutty Sark and Gypsy Moth among many, many others.
Are there things that the industry is behind on or could improve?
It does frustrate me that there is a clear lack of investment, particularly when you compare to the amount the car manufacturing industry receives. To have a significant shake, this needs to be millions rather than thousands!
What advice would you give youngsters looking to follow a similar career path to yourself?
The best piece of advice I could give is work hard, no matter what task you’re given. Not everything will glamorous or exciting, but get it done because the next one will be better. Likewise, and this is something I didn’t have when I was younger, understand the ramifications of your actions on a daily basis. The cost to employ someone for a business is significant. It’s important to have an appreciation for the business economics and not just the hands on experience you gain in a workshop.
What should our readers be looking out for over the coming months with Scorpion Ribs?
Our aim is to make styling changes which will reduce price on some models but not lower quality. Due to logistics, we are unable to attend the Southampton boat show at the end of September, but will have presence in the Monaco alternative on the 25th – 28th September. Spectators at the show will be treated to a Dry, Safe & Comfortable ride – our company motto, with every RIB designed around these three principals. We are proud to be a British boat manufacturer with a world class reputation, so look forward to more semi-custom requests from our UK & overseas clients in the near future.