AN INTERVIEW WITH ERICA LAY
Interview by Sarah Drane – December 2014
Purple Cake Factory - firstname.lastname@example.org
You left managing a large crew agency to go solo. What was your motivation?
I wanted to be back at the coal face of crew recruitment, to be the one doing the interviews and placing the crew, giving clients my full attention. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed training people and improving a business, but I much prefer crew placement. It’s far more challenging and I get a kick out of it.
Do you have any aspirations to grow, recruit staff and become the next large crew agency?
In short - no. EL CREW CO was created to be personal and boutique. I enjoy getting to know my clients and crew and, the more people I employ, the more the brand is diluted. As a rule clients hate being passed around different personnel in a big office, staff who don’t necessarily know them or indeed their yacht’s needs. My regulars can drop me a message saying “Erica, need a deckhand to join us in Tahiti on the 15th, John’s broken his ankle!” safe in the knowledge that I know them well enough to send them the right person. Recruitment is all about relationships - I don’t want to be the biggest, I’d rather be the best.
You're known as much for your dry sarcastic humour and borderline shoe fetish as you are for your crew recruitment. How do you earn respect within the industry?
In addition to my sparkling personality (coughs), I’m also quite smart. I have plenty of informed opinions, particularly on subjects I’m passionate about, such as yachting. And shoes. But mostly yachting. People come to me for advice on industry hot topics and ask for my views, I am proud of this. I love a good discussion and I know my subject matter very well. Having an engineering background (true story) gives me confidence, while my previous career as a project manager directing teams allows me to empathise with senior crew. And of course, I’ve worked on boats, starting at the bottom of the food chain. A few years back, during a career break, I was also the smallest and only female shark feeder in the Bahamas, this tends to earn respect and a few “ooohs”.
Tell us about your talent for work-life balance and how much it means to you to get away from your desk.
What’s that? Work life what now?! As anyone running a small business will testify, it’s a tricky balance.
When I am busy I work every hour around the clock; however, when I set up EL CREW CO, I intentionally focussed on long-term crew placements, only doing the odd short-term position for regular clients, and this means I have quiet times. When all the yachts are out mid season, in August and January for example, I can set up an ‘out of office’ and get as far away from my desk as possible to tick off a ‘bucket list’ item or two. But truthfully I can’t switch off (I’d welcome tips and advice on that actually) and always travel with a mobile office so I’m available for emergency client requests. The only time in the past two years I’ve disconnected from the internet was when I was at sea and I honestly thought I’d had a limb removed.
You've pioneered some great concepts in crew recruitment from “speed interviewing” to joint Q&A sessions with Aigua Sea School. How do you feel when other agencies less than subtly borrow your ideas?
Isn’t imitation the biggest form of flattery? I’m happy that, although ‘only’ a boutique agency, my ideas are influencing the marketing departments of bigger companies across the industry. As a little fish in a big sea, I can make one hell of a good ripple.
How important is social media to your world?
Incredibly! It’s how everyone communicates for a start, with the added bonus that if I’m having ‘one of those days’ I can flick through Facebook and laugh at someone’s Friday night antics. Social media is an excellent platform to reach a huge amount of people in a very short space of time (instantly in fact) as well as being a great source of information. The trick is to keep it entertaining and light. One of my clients summed it up beautifully - “Facebook is for those jokes you tell down the pub, when you’re not at the pub. Serious stuff is for websites.” I try to keep the EL CREW CO page positive, funny, motivational, informative and personal. There are lots of crew out there whom I’ve not yet met in person, but many feel they already know me a little bit - I have Facebook to thank for that.
Three pet hates about the industry.
Yachting is a very successful and wealthy industry, as such it’s attracted a lot of people looking to exploit and extort both crew and yacht owners. This really grinds my gears, but sadly there are always people who pick on the vulnerable. It’s also not very conducive to happy relationships, I see a lot of break ups. I can’t actually think of a third one…
Three pet hates about crew who are looking for a job.
Bad grammar and spelling – basically when it looks like they’ve put a CV together in five minutes. Your CV is your first impression and, if it looks like a fag-packet sketch, it will create an instant and lasting impression of the wrong kind. Like the closet geek I am, I studied CV psychology across the board and spoke to various captains to create what I perceive to be the best CV guide currently out there (Yes, I actually just said that). This guide is available on the ‘Community’ page of my website and really easy to follow - it’s got a pretty good success rate too.
Second, lateness to appointments. If you have a meeting set up, unless you get struck by lightning, then be on time. No, actually, be five minutes early.
And lastly, Crocs and/or white sunglasses. Just, no. Never. And leave the skateboard at home.
Three things you love to see in a crew candidate.
Enthusiasm, smartness, qualifications, eagerness, confidence, a great sense of humour. I know that’s more than three, but the positives outweigh the negatives. I also like to see new crew who’ve done their research. There’s no excuse not to have read up on yachting before coming to seek work, there are so many resources out there. Meanwhile I love to see experienced crew who are serious about their careers and keen to find the right yacht for them. Ambition, passion and drive. These are the crew members I am proud to place.
Three loves about the crew industry.
In Palma, I love how the industry is so tight. Overall I see lots of crew helping each other out to find jobs or day work, decent accommodation, social hangouts and so on. Other yachtie hubs aren’t so warm, Palma is a great base. It’s also a great opportunity to travel and see the world. Yes, you’ll be working for most of that time, but with the great wages on offer and the complete inability to spend them whilst you’re working, think of the holidays… It’s glamorous, unique, and constantly developing. I can’t bear standing still so working in an evolving industry like this suits me down to the ground.
Tell us what your grand plan is for EL CREW CO.
While we already discussed imitation being the greatest form of flattery, I’d at least rather get a head start on my grand plans before I publicly reveal. So you’ll have to wait and see.