Il Padrino


 IYG’s George Jousma is the godfather of selling Italian yachts in the American market.

Born and raised in Southside Chicago by a Dutch-American family, George Jousma was an unlikely candidate to become one of the most successful American yacht salesmen of the past three decades. Growing up, Jousma assumed he would somehow be involved with the family’s ready-mix concrete business. That business was successful enough that Jousma spent his youth on and around boats, and also helped instill in him a love for all things mechanical. The Jousmas kept a series of Bertrams at a marina in Holland, Michigan, and that’s where George fine-tuned his boating knowledge. The final Bertram they owned was a 46 that spent the winter in Fort Lauderdale, where George and his father used it for billfishing before bringing it back up to Michigan on its own bottom.

By the time college rolled around, George knew he needed a degree, but his heart remained in Holland. “I went to Depaul, in Chicago, but I did everything I could to be in Michigan, including condensing my classes into three days so I could be there as much as possible,” remembers Jousma. It was no surprise then that after school, Jousma moved to Holland and began selling boats. First it was Tiara and S2 Yachts, and then it was Grand Banks, Sea Ray, Hatteras, and Bertram. “We sold everything,” says Jousma, “it was too much.” Though he may be being modest.

By the early 1990s he had done well enough selling boats in Michigan that his name began popping up in the South Florida big leagues, and in 1994 he was hired as the CEO of Allied Richard Bertram Marine Group (now Allied Marine), a one-time juggernaut in the brokerage industry that needed its ship righted after some financial missteps in the early ‘90s. Jousma was the man for the job. He quickly realized that to get back in the game, the brokerage house would need some new and exciting products. He began eyeing an Italian builder that spanned the yachting market from entry level to the upper echelons of luxury: Azimut-Benetti. Though Azimuts had been sold in the States before with middling success, it was Jousma who established the brand as a staple in every American marina worth its salt. And as for Benetti, Jousma’s ambition and understanding of the market was a perfect match. By the time the builder introduced the 115 Classic in 1997, Jousma was so confident in his ability to move them that he actually inventoried the model. And remember, this was 1997, when a 115 was still considered massive.

Through the byzantine machinations of the South Florida yacht-brokerage universe, by the turn of the millennium Jousma also found himself selling Ferrettis and Custom Lines. With the two largest Italian boatbuilders being sold under one roof, egos were destined to clash. “I was bouncing between shareholders wondering where the bottom line was while also assuring two different Italian builders—competitors—that I was loyal to them,” recalls Jousma with a laugh.

Eventually Ferretti had enough of the back and forth and bought what was then called the Allied Richard Bertram Marine to be its U.S. distributor. MarineMax soon snapped up Azimut. What might have been a major career disrupter for some was barely a blip for Jousma, who kept a wily eye on the impending buyouts while looking for a graceful egress. That next step came in the form of—you guessed it—yet another Italian builder, Sanlorenzo. Sanlorenzo was a small company with a strictly Mediterranean footprint at the time. Massimo Perotti, the long-time number two at Azimut-Benetti Group and a friend of Jousma’s, had big plans for the builder when he took it over in 2008. Perotti figured that the ideal candidate to run his company in the U.S. was the American with the most experience selling Italian boats. He hired Jousma, and thus was born a decade long partnership that was fruitful for both parties. Jousma quickly established Sanlorenzo as a major player in South Florida and beyond. (If you’re keeping score at home, Azimut, Benetti, and Sanlorenzo—all major players in the domestic yachting market—have Jousma to thank in part for their stateside success.)

By 2014 Jousma began looking north to expand Sanlorenzo’s presence, and opened up an office in Sag Harbor in the Hamptons. The Jousma name soon rang loudly in the Hamptons, which made George particularly proud because it was his young son Boomer’s name people were saying. “Boomer started working with me and it was the best thing that could have happened,” says George Jousma. “I got to teach him stuff and he keeps me young. If it wasn’t for Boomer, I don’t think I would have had the gumption to start The Italian Yacht Group. But with his energy and immense talent for sales, it became something that I thought we could pull off.”

For his part, Boomer is endlessly grateful for the opportunity to work with his dad. “It’s been kind of a dream scenario in a lot of ways,” he says. “I grew up around boats, I love them, and sometimes I like to think I know a lot about them. But then I talk to my dad and he is just this absolute well of knowledge about builders, and the market, and human nature. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor than my father. When I first started out he gave me the confidence to go out and compete, and now that I am more entrenched under my own name, it’s still invaluable to be able to bounce stuff off my dad.”

The father-son duo has become a true force on the East Coast and across the pond in Italy. Smart yacht owners who have fallen in love with the unmatched style of Italian vessels look to the Jousmas first when they are considering buying, selling, or building a boat. And the Italian builders as well have a deep sense of trust devoted to the Jousmas and the IYG team as a whole, and that’s largely thanks to George’s unparalleled history working with the very best brands that Italy has to offer. It’s a not-too-shabby legacy for a Dutch kid from Chicago.