Keith Thomas, acting general manager of Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour, got started in the boat business more than 30 years ago with an apprenticeship. The businesses he now manages at the facility include a boatyard, marina and shopping centre. The company also recently completed construction on two large buildings designed for retail and office space. The company currently employs a staff of 20.
What is your capacity at the boatyard?
Three hundred-plus. Land [storage] depends on size: Anywhere from 250 to 325, 330 boats; depends on size. We also provide hurricane storage. The boats are in keel pits. That provides a more secure situation for the boats. We have about 40 boats in those pits. That’s a huge seller for us. It brings the clients back all the time because there are no other yards that really offer that service.
How did you get started in this business?
I started many years ago with a company in the Virgin Islands. I did a three-year apprenticeship with them. Then the then-owner of that company trained me to be a manager, and I’ve been managing ever since. I started in late 1977, ’78, and I did that three-year apprenticeship. That was everything from hauling the boat, rigging the boat, sailing the boat, docking the boat. So I learned the intricate parts of boats.
What is your typical day like?
Fun. I would haul five, six boats on average any given day. That can go up to as many as 15, 16, or as little as three or four. The marina is a transit marina, so boats come and go daily. And dealing with the tenants, the shops, the workers, the customers. I enjoy the people.
With the Town Centre, you’re just waiting for tenants to move in?
Yes, the tenants. Because it’s a fit-out situation as the renters will do the building out of the interior. So that’s what I’m assisting with now. As the tenants start moving, we’re putting in the electricity, the water, and getting them ready for their rental to move in.
What kind of demand do you see – not only for your yacht clients, but for the community – for services that might go well in buildings like this?
The businesses that service our major pillars — if we can attract a few of those over, it would be a major help for the community and for us: the community to avoid having to go back and forth each day to Tortola, and us in getting these rented, of course. Definitely it would be nice to have more services catering to the tourist industry, because we do have a lot of tourists coming through the yacht harbour. We’re next to the port. All the ferry passengers are being dropped next to our marina, and I think that if we had something to show them, sell them or offer them, we can do more.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be successful in business?
I believe that success is attitude. It would be good to identify what you think you’re good at, and, once you’ve identified that, work hard at it. The marine field is a good field to be in. … There are so many areas that you can pick. You can be a mechanic, you can be a woodworker, you can get into the accounting side of it. … Hospitality creates more jobs in the Virgin Islands than anything else, so I would advise young people to start looking at it as an avenue.
Interview conducted, condensed and edited by Jason Smith.