Diver Magazine Exclusive: Peter Hughes sells his business to the new owner of the Aggressor Fleet

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In the Caribbean and on the Pacific and Indian Oceans Wayne Brown is the new Dance Master

By STEPHEN WEIR

His hand is no longer on the tiller; he is no longer the admiral of his fleet. Yes, the title on the business card says “president”, but, according to Peter Hughes, it is now Wayne Brown who is walking the Poop Deck on his Dancer fleet of live-aboard dive boats.
Peter Hughes, the man who introduced luxury live aboard dive travel to North America and established four-star standards for land-based Divi operations in the Caribbean has told Diver Magazine in an exclusive interview that he has sold his company, lock, stock and dive boats. The new owner, Wayne Brown, is the owner of the Aggressor Fleet of live-aboard dive boats, Hughes’ fiercest competitor.
Speaking at the Adventure Sport Exhibition in Toronto, Mr. Hughes said that he sold his operation to multi-millionaire Wayne Brown 24 months ago. “ We were very very quiet about the sale,” he said. “It was months before anyone had an inkling that a change had been made. We just did not make a big deal out of it and yes, this is probably the first time I have officially spoken to the media about it.”
Peter Hughes sold his company two years ago at the height of the US economic meltdown. High unemployment, bank closures, a squeeze on lending and a near collapse of the American tourism industry took its toil on the Hughes operation. “ I had to sell. It was purely done for financial reasons”.
And while the poor economy has hit the dive travel industry hard, the recession has had little effect on 49-year old Brown. According to newspaper reports the new owner is “a globe-trotting multimillionaire” who, up until 2006 owned 60 Taco Bell restaurants. He sold them and developed a management company that has a portfolio, which includes a British-based luxury travel agency, the Aggressor Fleet and now Peter Hughes Diving.
“Other business ventures, such as his upscale scuba-diving service, reflect the adventurous lifestyle that he (Brown) leads with his wife and college-age children,” reported the Augusta Georgia Chronicle (his hometown paper) shortly after the deal was made.
“I was born in Scotland but family moved to Trinidad … learned how to dive in Tobago at an early early age (10 years old – some 50+ years ago)” said Mr. Hughes. “Diving has been part of my life since then.”
Over the years he has been involved in dive resorts and live-aboard dive boats (sometimes at the same time) in some of the world’s most popular sites. Hughes is as comfortable in Bonaire, Cayman, Belize, Bahamas, Grenada, Tobago, Grenada, St. Vincent, Roatan, Egypt, Ecuador, Palau, New Guinea, Raja Ampat, Fiji and the Maldives as he is in his south Florida office.
The dive world first became aware of him back in 1972 when Hughes turned around the dive operations at Anthony’s Key Resort (Honduras’ Bay Islands.) and the Divi Flamingo Resort in Bonaire. One of the big changes was not requiring paying customers to load their own tanks onto dive boats (the norm back then) and using multiple dive boats to dive different sites at different dive levels at the same time.
His first move into the live-aboard industry began in 1986 when Peter Hughes and his wife Alice, made a deal with Divi Resorts to purchase a 100-foot oil field crew boat. Divi and the Hughes converted it into an 18-passenger boat to carry scuba divers to areas not easily accessible to land based dive operations.
“It was a vast departure for a company who owned and operated only land based resorts,” reads Hughes’ history on his website. “It was the beginning of a new life for Peter and his wife Alice; and it eventually brought a new dimension to the world of dive travel.”
“Nowadays it just makes sense – personal service, luxury, good food. But back then …” he told Diver Magazine. “ I credit my wife Alice. She told me there was no way she was going to go on a live aboard, sleep in a windowless hold (in bunk beds) and have to line-up for the head in the morning behind 5 sleepy male divers.”
“That was the norm back then. We didn’t want to do business that way,” said Hughes. “Individual cabins and heads, good food, even better service, that became our working model for years to come. Just bringing some of the cabins above the waterline and giving them picture windows, twin, queen and even King sized beds, were huge steps.”
On a Hughes ship, passengers come on board, hand over their gear, show their c-cards, hear a safety lecture and unpack their luggage. The passenger to crew ratio is about 2 to 1; so after that divers can just sit back and relax and let the Dancer crew do everything. The boat prepares your gear, fills the tanks (Nitrox always available), looks after your cameras, gets you in the water, leads you around underwater (if you want), helps you back in the boat, gives you a hot towel, a back-rub and a cup of hot cocoa. The food is usually outstanding, and there is always someone on watch 24-hours a day.
“ We established the standard. Divers keep coming back year after year after year. Some divers want to try all of our boats, others stay with just one,” continued Hughes.
“The Aggressor did its best to match our service. There has always been a lively debate amongst divers as to who is the best - The Dancer Fleet or the Aggressor. Now in the Galapagos you will see the Sky Dancer tied up beside two Aggressor boats and you might think there is a difference but … (they are ultimately controlled by the same person, Wayne Brown).”
For both the Aggressor and Dancer Fleets, there have been challenges over the years. The Wave Dancer was lost in a 2001 hurricane (20 people died). The Aggressor boats have had diver fatalities at some of their more challenging destinations -- the latest was only last month in the Galapagos.
So, aside from a few scuba bloggers how come no one has mentioned the take-over of the Dancer Fleet and the new ownership of the Aggressor operation? “ In many ways it is business as usual, “ said Hughes. “ There have been changes made, the Wind Dancer has left the Caribbean (for Cocos Island) but very little that people might pick up on. I notice though!”
Although he might chaff at bit in his new role as employee Peter Hughes is still called the president and is the face of the company. He keeps a busy pace occasionally shipping out on any one of the eight boats bearing the Dancer name. He still attends dive shows and conventions around the world. “ I came to Toronto because I have a good relationship with Greg Woodward, (owner Squba Travel -- London, Ontario) so I support the Adventure Show. “
“Wayne has cut back on some of the International shows – if the Aggressor is exhibiting, lets say in Moscow, then we won’t be there. Next time around I could be in Russia in which case the Aggressor won’t be there. Since we came here to Toronto, the Aggressor stayed away. It just makes sense.”
It is also the case of Meet the New Boss, Same As The Old Boss. Wayne Hasson co-founded the Aggressor Fleet back in 1980 and lived in the Cayman Islands for 20-years. Hasson is, like Hughes, a president within the new company.
An informal man, the force behind the Aggressor fleet was simply known as Wayne. The new owner is also named Wayne and until recently the purchase wasn’t well publicized in the industry. Many divers hear the name Wayne and assume that it is still Hasson who is in charge.
In fact Wayne Brown has pulled a Victor Kiam … Millionaire businessman Kiam says that he took control of the Remington electric shaver manufacturer because "I liked it so much I bought the company".
The Aggressor website explains the take-over of Hasson’s company this way: “Brown was so impressed with the trips they took with the Aggressor Fleet that in 2007 he decided to make it a more ‘intimate’ relationship. Wayne is committed to great customer service providing you with the Ultimate diving experience aboard every Aggressor Fleet yacht. From the reservation team, to the diving, to the accommodations and ship’s crew you will experience first class above, adventure below.”
With the start of the new dive season both the Aggressor and the Dancer Fleets are printing new high gloss brochures that will be distributed around the world. Both booklets will spell it out in black and white that Wayne Brown is the captain of a lot of ships in the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
In the world of live-aboard charter boats there is a tangled web of boat owners, part owners, franchisees, private contractors, and marine insurance firms. Despite the many players Peter Hughes has always been in charge of his company’s destiny.
62 ½ ear old Hughes readily admits that Wayne Brown is now calling the shots and that his role has diminished within the company. He says that while he hasn’t agreed with some of the destination decisions made by the new boss, --there is now only one Hughes yacht servicing the Caribbean, what was once his biggest market - he is happy that he can continue to support causes that he believes in (i.e. REEF and its Lionfish Invasion study) and of course, to go out on the Dancers and dive in style and comfort.
CUTLINE: Peter Hughes at the the Toronto Adventure Show
Bottom: Peter Hughes and Gregg Woodward, Squba Holidays, at the Adventure Show in Toronto February 2010

STORY UPDATED - PETER HUGHES LEAVES COMPANY MAY 2010 http://stephenweirarticles.blogspot.com/2010/05/follow-up-peter-hughes-has-left-his.html

Comments

Emily said…
Very interesting!
It might be usefull for my littlwe sister who's planning a Galapagos diving cruise. Thanks for sharing

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