Women moving boating. The story of three top managers – EP.1

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From left Annette Roux – Giovanna Vitelli – Carla Demaria

Women entrepreneurs, managers, captains of industry. They are the ladies of boating, Italian and international. Starting today, in several installments, we will tell you their stories.

Women in charge of boating

Valuable stories, because the boating world has traditionally been male and-it must be said-often male-dominated. But the women we tell you about have been able to go beyond that. How did they do it? The secret perhaps lies in an answer by Carla Demaria (one of the “bigs” whose story we tell in this first installment) to a reporter who asked her how she had managed to get so high in a man’s world: “I simply never thought about it. I just focused on the goals to be achieved.”

Today we tell you three stories. Some, you will see, are intertwined with each other.


Annette Roux, the empress of boating

They call her “Madame Beneteau,” and with good reason. When Annette Roux (born 1942) joined “Chantiers Beneteau,” the family business founded by her grandfather in 1884, she was not yet 22 years old.

Annette Roux - women in boating
Annette Roux

That was in 1964, and under her leadership (she was chairman of the board from 1976 to 2005, but never left the company) the French shipyard went from being a small business specializing in small fishing boats with 17 employees to becoming the world’s largest series boat group, with 1.5 billion in sales and 8,000 employees.

A great feat. Accomplished since the 1960s, when, as she says, ” the “businesswomen were rare, not well known. Although actually in our artisan circles often, the boss was the wife….”.

Today, the large conglomerate Groupe Beneteau controls the brands Jeanneau, Prestige, CNB, Lagoon, O’Hara, I.R.M, Coco, EYB, SGB, Four Winns, Glastron, Wellcraft, Scarab and Monte Carlo Yachts, as well as Bénéteau.

Annette Roux’s secrets? At least three:

  • He quickly realized the importance of the emerging fiberglass industry in the second half of the 1960s, organized his company in such a way as to build boats according to industrial procedures
  • realized early on that in order to spread their boats it was necessary to rely on a network of distributors.
  • has been able to juggle even in times of crisis, making strategic choices and diversifying investments. Not surprisingly, she was president of the French boating industry confederation for 17 years, from 1992 to 2009.

Giovanna Vitelli, Mrs. Azimut wanted to be a lawyer.

There is a woman at the head of the world’s leading superyacht manufacturer, Azimut/Benetti. Giovanna Vitelli since 2023 has been the president of the group with 1.2 billion in sales, 3 billion in order backlog, 2,350 employees, and more than 45 models of yachts and megayachts. a network of 138 sales and service outlets around the world, presiding over the European, American, Middle Eastern and Asian markets.

Her father, Paolo, founded Azimut in 1969 (in ’84 the purchase of Benetti), but that Giovanna, a 49-year-old from Turin, would end up at the top of the company was anything but a foregone conclusion. “Do whatever you want,” her father had told her (in his heart, probably, hoping she would follow in his footsteps).

Giovanna Vitelli, president of the Azimut-Benetti Group
Giovanna Vitelli, president of the Azimut-Benetti Group

And so she did. First an Erasmus in Germany (from which he never wanted to return), then a law degree with honors in Turin in 1999, and then the profession as a lawyer in one of Italy’s most prestigious firms, Bonelli Erede Pappalardo in Milan. Her career as a brilliant princess of the bar is marked. In 2004, he is about to move to New York for a long stint in one of America’s big law firms with a sky-high salary. Her father reveals, “I’m happy for you, but I have to think about the future and I will look for a buyer. In fact, I have found one.” Something clicks in Joan. Perhaps his all-Piedmontese pride. Are we really sure about selling a family business? Azimut has it in its heart.

He tore up his ticket to the U.S. and entered the company operationally, first closely following strategies related to product development, then as vice president. He personally follows the developments of models such as the Magellan and the successful Benetti Oasis (which his father was dubious about, he revealed in an interview). In March 2023, without much publicity, the handover with Giovanna Vitelli as president of Azimut/Benetti was announced.

Its first, important steps? One is the one, decisive, toward sustainability, with the launch of the Seadeck range of yachts: lighter, with more efficient hulls, next-generation hybrid propulsion systems. The goal, achieved, is to have boats that produce 20 to 30 percent fewer emissions than similarly sized models.

Under his leadership, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund (Public Investment Fund – PIF), one of the largest in the world, joins the Group as minority shareholder (33 percent, with 59 percent firmly in the hands of the Vitelli family) with the Long-term investment prospect to support the company’s next phase of growth.


Carla Demaria. A life at the top

The first woman president of Confindustria Nautica in history (2016-2019), always in top positions in Italian and international shipbuilding (Azimut, Beneteau, Sanlorenzo…), does not come from the yachting world. Carla Demaria, born in Turin 64 years ago, decided to turn her life around in 1986. His father passed away prematurely, and his business in industrial soundproofing is sold to what was then his best customer. Carla, who has been studying economics, decides she needs new challenges.

Carla Demaria

In Turin there is a reality on the crest of a wave that produces yachts we just told you about: Azimut/Benetti. When he joined the company in 1986, there were “only” 150 employees, but soon the business exploded and this ensured Demaria’s brilliant professional growth, holding various positions in Paolo Vitelli’s company, from those related to production to sales (sales and marketing director). Then she was given the investment division, Azimut Capital, in 2000. Carla Demaria’s career jumps follow a dizzying pace.

In 2002 he became president and CEO of Atlantis Spa (formerly Gobbi), which was acquired by Vitelli’s group. He left Azimut in 2008, after 22 years, and embarked on his first international experience. Annette Roux, we just told you about, called her into the Beneteau group (the story goes that the two met on the beach and Roux made her the offer out of the blue) where she founded the new reality Monte Carlo Yachts: the boats are not to be built in France, this is Carla Demaria’s “diktat,” but in Monfalcone.

The brand she created grew (at a time of black crisis for boating), and she also advanced her career at Beneteau, where since 2011 she has been a member of the group’s board and also became general manager of the brand, a role she held for six years.

All good adventures come to an end. The exit from Beneteau in 2018 is a painful one, as Italy’s Demaria-who has since become president of Confindustria Nautica, the first woman to hold the post-contests the group for operating in a way that depresses Monte Carlo Yachts.

With such a track record, Carla is certainly not left out of the world of boating. Joins the large Sanlorenzo Group in the year of its listing (2019), as a member of the Board of Directors. Today he is CEO of the Bluegame brand, acquired by Sanlorenzo, a pioneer in, among other things, hydrogen-powered chase boats that we will see in action in the 2024 America’s Cup. A tireless woman.

Eugene Ruocco


In the next installment we will tell you three more beautiful stories of women who have made boating great.

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