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Yachting: Article

Team Spirit

Behind the scenes with the six dynamic women who run The Sacks Group


Members of The Sacks Group Yachting Professionals work together to give clients the benefit of all their experience.

Their clients include members of the Forbes 400 and 500 lists, heads of state, famous celebrities, CEOs of large companies, and families. Their diverse backgrounds range from staffing a yacht to staffing the White House. Whatever their individual experiences have been, they now have one common goal: to find their customers the perfect charter yacht.

 The all-female charter team at The Sacks Group (TSG) Yachting Professionals operates under the guiding principle of "service, service, service," says Jennifer M. Saia, president and charter specialist. Along with three charter agents and two charter assistants, Saia says "they aim to exceed expectations with professional service in the world of luxury yachting," and have a high rate of repeat customers as a measure of their success.

Although their jobs sound enviable, members of the charter team stress the amount of time and dedication their positions require due to travel and inspections. In addition "there's a heavy work social schedule... no personal life," says charter agent DJ Parker, who joined TSG in 1995 after a career as a successful charter captain in the Caribbean. With two transatlantic crossings under her belt and 19 years prior to that as a geopolitical analyst for the federal government, she enjoys traveling the world and is used to scheduling complex details.

 The satisfaction that comes from making the perfect match between client and yacht appears to be a passion for these women. "You can never see a yacht enough," says Saia, who visits the yachts as often as possible during local open houses or shows. "If I'm out of town in a city/ country where a boat is traveling, I'll go out of my way to find it and see it - whether it's the first time, or the seventh time."

Barbara Stork, a charter agent at TSG concurs: "I visit the yachts any chance I get. Even if you've been on board previously, it's always good to refresh your memory as there might have been a crew change or a minor update."

A former worker in the press advance office of the White House, charter agent LeAnn Morris Pliske attends numerous charter shows a year, "taking the time to scrutinize each yacht and become familiar with the crew." LeAnn's fouryear stint crisscrossing the globe as chief stewardess on large motoryachts comes in handy when making her recommendations.

 Saia also got her start in the yachting world as a yacht stewardess. After earning her bachelor's degree in aviation business administration from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (she wanted to run a major airline!), she took a summer job working on a charter yacht and shifted her transportation future. She started at The Sacks Group as a receptionist, and rapidly advanced to the Luxury Yacht Vacation Division, finding the right "fit" in the retail charter bookings department. "Once I landed the position in this area," says Saia, "I excelled in finding the right yacht for the client, building relationships, and increasing sales year after year, while truly loving my job!" Her position quickly became more than a job when, just four years later, in 1994, 28-year old Saia bought the division from company founder Edward Sacks.

The division has grown into a multimilliondollar company, due in large part to Saia's dedication to the business and the time required to succeed. "In this industry," she says, "many of the professionals do not have children. It's hard to have a ?normal' schedule per day, week, month, or year when you are at the whim of a client looking to vacation on an expensive item such as a yacht. We are at their disposal 24/7."

 In addition to inspecting yachts locally 2-4 times per week, Saia and her team also travel to fam trips (2-4 day familiarization trips) far and wide to inspect yachts, sample the fare, and get to know the crews much better, and to experience the destinations. There are also several major charter shows, plus brokerage shows around the globe.

Obviously it would be impossible for each member of the charter division to do it all, and that's where the team effort comes in, says Julie Haiko, charter assistant at TSG. Mary Gaskell, also a charter assistant agrees: "While each of us has a specific job, we have no qualms about asking our colleagues for help in certain situations in which they may be more proficient or knowledgeable. I have found that everyone is most helpful in sharing information, especially on yachts or charter locations, even on shortcuts to doing things more efficiently.

 "Personal service and the willingness to do whatever it takes to make sure that the charterer has the very best experience is most important," Gaskell adds. "Taking care of the little details ahead of time, and doublechecking all of the arrangements ensures that the charter will go smoothly and the charterer will be dazzled with our service."

In some cases, service and accommodating clients can push the limits. Gaskell once had a charter inquiry for a 100+ft yacht for a couple who had a pet male lion that they insisted on bringing with them. He had to have his own cabin with a VCR so that he could watch "Born Free." The problem was where to put the litter box!

In another instance, there was a charter out of Newport on which the charterer demanded that the lines be off and the yacht headed for Nantucket at exactly 10 a.m. The captain and crew did as ordered and were halfway to Nantucket before they were contacted by radio that the charterer was in Newport, standing on the dock. He had gone to get a newspaper and hadn't told anyone. The crew all thought he was sleeping! Ever resourceful, the TSG team contacted another yacht in their fleet that was going to Nantucket and the charterer hitched a ride with the other charter group.

 The Sacks Group currently manages a fleet of 35 yachts. "We keep our fleet manageable," says Saia, "so that we can offer better service. These are generally newer yachts, 80ft and above, with exceptional crews and owners who are serious about chartering their yachts. TSG currently has a wait list because they have reached the maximum number of yachts they can take within a few categories; they try not to have the vessels within the fleet compete for the same business. The newest boat to join the fleet is Starship, a 143ft Van Mill power yacht that sleeps 10 and comes equipped with a helicopter.

What does Saia do when she wants to take a break from the yachting world? Apparently, she never does. In her "downtime," she travels regularly to the Bahamas and the Caribbean on her own yacht vacations (no doubt doing a little research at the same time). "I truly have a passion for the yacht charter industry," says Saia, "and I enjoy assisting clients in making their vacation dreams come true."

Saia likes to help others' dreams come true as well. To this end, she is very much involved in community work and serves on the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County, donating countless hours and sponsoring fund-raising events. Saia is also active within the industry and serves as an associate member of the Florida Yacht Brokers Association; an active member of the Charter Yacht Brokers Association; and co-chair for the Charter Professionals Committee of the Florida Yacht Brokers Association.

It's no wonder she can relate to her successful clients' needs to take a break and charter a yacht to temporarily get away from it all.

Contact: The Sacks Group Yachting Professionals, 954 764-7742 or

More Stories By Jamie Matusow

Jamie Matusow is a freelance writer based in New York. She was the long time managing editor of legendary Yacht Vacations & Charters Magazine. Jamie traveled extensively throughout Mediterranean, Caribean, and the Bahamas where she filed many of her charter stories.

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