Last week, we had a not-so-ordinary work day with Sail Club Croatia and its CEO, where we set sail with their team and enjoyed the beautiful views of the Croatian coast.
This opportunity allowed us to spend the day with part of this amazing team and get to know Marija Sekulić-Dumanić, CEO of Sail Club Croatia. Marija is a passionate sailor and a dedicated advocate for sustainable yachting. With years of experience and a strong belief in the power of responsible practices, Marija shared her journey and vision for a better future with us.
In this interview, you will read about Marija's efforts to build a successful business while preserving our oceans. You will also learn how Sail Club Croatia is leading the way in sustainable charters in Croatia.
1. Firstly, we would like to start by getting to know you. Please tell us, and our readers, a bit about yourself. Who is Marija Sekulić-Dumanić?
A mom, a wife, a sailing enthusiast, and a wine lover, or at least that is how I see myself. On the other hand, I am a constant learner and a hard-working lady, in an almost men's business, fighting my own battles, and doing my best to achieve long-term goals together with my team. Making sure we have excellent boats, satisfied guests, and a sustainable business and tourism.
2. We know that behind your title of CEO are years of experience, hard work, sacrifices, and dedication. Could you tell us more about that path?
I went through the whole process. From agent to manager. I have worked in a shipyard, and I've participated in those processes as well. Officially working as a booking manager, but actually doing everything and gaining experience, so I am familiar with everything in the charter and shipyard. Even moved to Split at some point since I considered it a logical sequence due to my dedication to work. In yacht charter, you are always available. And I really loved it. But, after my child was born, I decided to leave. The work collided with my idea of being the included parent. But kids grow up so fast and after only 2 years I came back to business. The very thought of returning to the boats delighted me. I didn't hesitate, and here I am for the third year as the head of the Sail Club Croatia.
3. Where did the love for this industry come from?
Hmm, neither I nor anyone from my family had any connection with the sea or sailing. What started as a student job, quickly became my dream job. There was nothing nicer to me (and this is still the case today) than connecting the faces of the guests with the emails we exchanged before their arrival and their satisfaction after returning from sailing. And the moment I realized that I discovered this is my calling. I just love to balance office work with traveling, meeting people, greeting guests, and providing them with a superb sailing experience.
4. Were there any challenges you faced on your journey to becoming CEO? How did you overcome it, and what did you learn from that experience?
Taking over the company in the year after Coronavirus was challenging in every way. A new team of people doing the job in their own way, and a lot of other things had to be dealt with. The change was hard. From the human side, you don't want to change people and their way of working. From the business side, you see mistakes and omissions that you must solve if you want to move forward.
This process of change was, of course, met with resistance. Still, those who were ready for change are now valued employees whose efforts have been rewarded multiple times. With a 30% increase in salary, annual awards and bonuses, top equipment free for personal use, new vessels in the fleet, etc. I believe that they recognized my vision and are working in accordance with it. Make no mistake, it wasn't an easy process, and indeed, money is not the only motivator for employees. It took some time for us to get to know each other. As well as to start to respect and share the same beliefs and put them into action.
I learned that if people don’t want to learn and progress you can’t force them. But at the same time, I have learned that I can’t keep those same people around me and that change is the only constant if you want your business to grow.
5. Sustainability is a critical aspect of responsible yachting. How do your personal values align with the company's commitment to sustainability? What specific measures have you implemented to ensure sustainable practices within Sail Club Croatia?
I am dedicated to sustainability and bio-products, which is why I reached out to your company. Your line of environmentally friendly cleaning products, which are safe and effective, aligns with my personal beliefs. By using 100% biodegradable formulas, your products ensure that no harmful residues are left behind, protecting marine life and reducing marine pollution. Together, our aim is to safeguard the sea we cherish and contribute to a more sustainable future. I take pride in my mission to make a positive impact. As part of our efforts, we provide each guest with an Eco bag filled with NatureSafe Marine products.
Additionally, we have partnered with Green Sail, a nautical community dedicated to protecting our seas and oceans through sustainable environmental practices. Starting this year, we have implemented online check-in to reduce paper usage by transitioning to digital methods. We also practice environmental consciousness by using recycled copy paper and we are proud we have adopted three dolphins from the Blue World Institution Vivi, Stripy, and Apple to improve their quality of life in our beloved sea. In addition, we actively collaborate with partners who clean the beaches, and we have been offering significant discounts on our boats for environmental initiatives for several years now. We believe these practices and commitments are essential for shaping our future.
6. Have you noticed any differences in the perspective of guests towards sustainability in sailing, compared to, let's say, five years ago?
Uh, a lot of challenges, for sure. I think people now care more than before since the culture around us is pushing us to make the change. But still, the biggest problem is educating the guests and explaining everything to them. Still, not everyone is environmentally conscious or wants to worry about it. But that doesn't discourage us. When booking any of our vessels, the guest has a link on the confirmation that takes them to a page dedicated to sustainability, our plans and goals, and our expectations from guests. Those obstacles have certainly not been overcome, but step by step, everyone will understand how and why to care for the sea and marine flora and fauna.
7. What are your long-term goals and vision for the company's sustainability initiatives? Are there any innovative projects or partnerships you're particularly excited about in this regard?
Our long-term vision for sustainability involves incorporating solar and electric boats into our fleet, as we prioritize true primitive sailing and genuine connection with nature. We aim to raise awareness among our valued clients, ensuring they are ready to embrace the future alongside us as we proudly discuss our sustainable choices. Collaborating with our partners, we seek to foster awareness and collective growth.
Maintaining our status as a county with the cleanest sea is of utmost importance to us, as it directly impacts the health of the marine ecosystem. We firmly believe that significant change begins with small steps, and it is crucial to initiate action. Through partnerships like Green Sail, we receive valuable education, firmly believing that one person can make a difference. Consequently, we invest in our employees’ education, expecting them to share their knowledge with others, particularly our guests who possess the power to make a substantial impact on our planet and our seas alongside us.
Our charter comprises dedicated and motivated young individuals who are eager to learn and continuously improve. We firmly believe in taking proactive steps toward a sustainable future through our environmental practices. Our ultimate goal is to protect the sea we cherish and contribute to the construction of a more sustainable future. We take pride in our mission to make a positive impact and invite all charters to join us on this transformative journey.
8. What kind of work culture do you strive to create as a leader within your company?
I believe one aspect of great company culture is open communication, with leaders being open to questions and suggestions. And that is why my doors are open, I prefer informal communication and strive to provide as much training and education as possible for employees. When people feel valued and are aware that someone is investing in them, they work harder and provide better results. And my goal is for each employee to work as Sail Club Croatia is their own company.
9. Looking back on your journey as CEO, what advice would you give to aspiring female leaders, especially the ones in the yachting or maritime industry?
Adopt a learning attitude! You can’t succeed in business if you’re not willing to learn. Prioritizing learning puts you ahead of the curve. It keeps you humble and adaptable, introduces you to new ideas and perspectives, and helps you stay up to date on industry trends and shifting customer needs. Aim high and long-term but take small steps forward every day.
And don’t be afraid to ask for help! Knowing your strengths and bringing in people to help you with your weaknesses is vital in building a great business.
Make sure your boats are well maintained. You may not teach each guest to take care of our Adriatic Sea but for sure you can keep your boats maintained to make sure no oil will leak into the sea, or a broken engine will make a huge noise, etc. Everyone is responsible, so do your part.
The only thing that's left to say from our side is that we really enjoyed spending time with Sail Club Croatia's team. It's always nice to spend time with like-minded individuals, who care about ocean protection and who are advocates of sustainability. We appreciate the opportunity and we're looking forward to future collaborations.