Robert Braithwaite, the man who founded Dorset’s world-beating luxury British boat builder Sunseeker has died at the age of 75.
Robert, joined by his brother John, set up the business as a distributor of imported boats but turned it into one of the largest luxury yacht makers in the world.
Sunseeker’s chief executive Christian Marti said in a statement today: “Sadly, in the early hours of this morning, Sunseeker’s founder Robert Braithwaite passed away.
“Robert was an inspiration to everyone at Sunseeker and to the wider marine industry, recognised as a boating pioneer, a true visionary and someone who changed the face of boating forever.
“Robert was not only the company’s founder but the father of the ‘Sunseeker family’ here in Dorset, and worldwide through our dealers and clients. He will always live on as the driving force behind our success.
“Our thoughts and deepest condolences are with his immediate family.”
Robert Braithwaite left school at 15. The business that became Sunseeker was founded in the 1960s as Friars Cliff Marine. They were selling various brands including small boats made by the American firm Owens Cruisers Inc. Friars Cliff Marine was renamed Poole Powerboats in 1969 when it moved to the town.
When Owens Cruisers decided to close down its UK operation, Robert Braithwaite raised some money, drove to Owens’ offices in Arundel and negotiated a deal to acquire their boat moulds.
A success story : Sunseeker
Poole Powerboats went into boat production and launched its first model, the Sovereign 17, in 1971. The company laterly introduced the Sports 23 and the Daycab 23.
When formula One driver Henry Taylor visited the company at the Southampton Boat Show in 1972 and asked for a boat that would accommodate a sunbed, the team set about designing one. It was at this point that Robert’s younger brother John joined the business, becoming increasingly responsible for the designs.
The pair produced innovative motor yachts using latest technologies and cutting-edge design.
The business was renamed Sunseeker International in 1985. Its yachts became popular across the globe and the company employs around 2,600 people in Poole and Portland.
After Sunseeker yachts appeared in four James Bond films, Robert Braithwaite was invited to make a cameo appearance in the Daniel Craig movie Quantum of Solace.
He was awarded a CBE in 2007.
Robert Braithwaite stepped down from his day-to-day role at Sunseeker in 2012 but continued as president, saying; “Having spent my life developing Sunseeker into the world’s most exciting global luxury yacht manufacturer, I have decided it is time to step back from my full time role while still continuing to help the company in key areas.”
The company was bought by the Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda the following year. On 19 June 2013 it was announced that the Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group had agreed to buy a 91.8% stake in Sunseeker for £320m.