Humans of METSTRADE this month features Lesley Robinson, CEO of marine industry association British Marine. Lesley was one of a very select number of people awarded an OBE in Queen Elizabeth II’s Birthday Honours List this month, in recognition of her services to the leisure marine sector.
What attracted you to working in the marine industry?
I have always had a passion for boating and was a keen yachtsperson in my 20s and 30s, sailing the Round the Island Race, cruising the French coast and taking some memorable sailing holidays in the Mediterranean and further afield. I wasn’t very good, but really loved it and still do.
As can happen, my career then took me to places where boating wasn't easily accessible and when I met my husband, he didn’t really like being on the water! We’ve enjoyed many other outdoor activities together like hiking, including the UK Three Peaks challenge and climbing Kilimanjaro. Boating still calls though. We recently took a relaxing break with a friend on a Norfolk Broads hire boat for a few days and I hope to get back to sailing in the Solent again soon.
My determination to look for a career move that encompassed a love of boating was fulfilled when I joined UK-based MDL Marinas as managing director. I’m a passionate believer in customer service and know that improving experiences for people and making boating more accessible are key to growing the leisure marine industry. A good marina isn't just a place to put boats – it is your second home and social hub. We put a strategy in place to focus on the physical, emotional and social experiences of our customers, to improve retention and grow the numbers of people engaging with us.
Moving to the CEO role at British Marine was the logical next step in my desire to play a part in promoting the wider industry. It provides an unrivalled opportunity of working with people who are influential in the future success of the industry, as well as the privilege of representing the needs of a large number of companies working in the sector.
Tell us about your business?
British Marine is the trade association for the UK leisure, superyacht and small commercial marine industry. Our 1,500-plus members come from a broad range of businesses including boat builders, chandlers, brokers, marinas, passenger boats operators and engine makers and we cover the whole of the UK, and both inland waterways and coastal
British Marine’s vision is a thriving industry delivering amazing on water experiences for everyone. We have five key focus areas for our members – participation, environment, technical and innovation, people and skills and representation. During these past 15 months we have also been hugely active in supporting the needs of our members through the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit.
We are active members of ICOMIA and IFBSO and highly engaged with international bodies like the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), all of which plays a part in supporting the global marine industry too.
What interesting trends are you seeing in the marine industry?
There are strong indicators in the UK and elsewhere that we will see another pandemic-related summer boom of staycation activity this year, with the welcome growth of new and younger people into boating. We need to understand how to retain this interest when international travel opens again and continue to improve accessibility and service to sustainably maintain momentum.
The growing drive to improve environmental impact is an area I believe the leisure marine industry must lead in to influence the agenda and stay ahead of legislation. Linked to that is a trend I am seeing for companies to shift away from any ‘not invented here’ bias in favour of collaborating with other businesses and industries to speed up technological development and innovation. Environmentally sensitive, brilliantly designed accessible products will sustain our push towards participation retention and growth in a responsible way.
What is the importance of METSTRADE to your business?
METSTRADE provides a great international business to business opportunity and British Marine does everything in our power to support our members and help to grow their businesses there. We provide support services and easy access for those wishing to exhibit at the show. Our stand is an incredibly busy hub at the heart of the British Pavilion for exhibiting and visiting members to meet potential customers and suppliers, as well as receive advice from our staff and UK government trade advisors. It’s all about making links, spotting opportunities that might otherwise get missed and putting our members in touch with those who can help them progress their plans and sales.
How do you plan a typical METSTRADE visit?
Being me, my plans are made well in advance!
METSTRADE forms a melting pot where many industry stakeholders gather, so attendance at key meetings is important. I am also a member of the ICOMIA Executive Committee and METSTRADE is one of our main opportunities to catch up, face-to-face.
Most of my time is reserved for catching up with British Marine members. I like to take advantage of any quieter moments on their stands to have an informal chat about what we can be doing for them and to ask how we can improve.
Which METSTRADE areas and activities do you most look forward to?
I always enjoy our British Marine networking party on the Wednesday evening, which is a great opportunity to meet socially with many people.
It’s a very busy three days at METSTRADE, but I like to get out on the show floor and see what is happening in new technology development around the globe. If time allows, that will include a walk around the Marina & Yard Pavilion, to catch up on news in the sector that brought boating into my career.