Joe Foggia, president of Vancouver’s Christensen Shipyards, deals with some of the world’s toughest customers — people who expect the company to deliver the most beautiful, luxurious, and technically advanced yachts for the open seas. He takes pride, then, that Christensen’s customers keep coming back.
“We have 18 repeat customers,” he says, pointing to a photo near his desk of him standing with six of those customers. “That’s unheard of in this industry.”
Once confident his industry was recession proof, Foggia learned a hard lesson in global economics in recent years, as the company laid off 80 percent of workers and halted construction on a second shipyard in Tennessee after spending $16 million there. A low point came last summer, when the shipyard told its suppliers it would be late in its payments because of a short-term cash flow problem.
The company weathered the storm by embracing rapid change — not an easy task for a manufacturer of products that take 28 months to build. In 2009, it launched a sister company, Renewable Energy Composite Solutions LLC, to manufacture components for the wind and wave industries. That same year, Christensen forged a business alliance with Ocean Alexander, a Taiwan yacht builder in need of an American partner to bolster its stature.
It helped during the lean years to have support from deep-pocketed Tennessee investor Henry Luken. The cable entertainment network owner had dropped by the shipyard during a cruise to Alaska in the late 1990s and had purchased a half-finished yacht on the spot. Foggia and his stepfather, shipyard founder Dave Christensen, took on Luken as half-owner in 2003.