Patrick Knowles: “Your ability to tactfully deal with others is key”

Your ability to tactfully deal with others is key, especially when you and your career can be buried by the change that sits in the bottom of a client’s pocket. Once I had a client who didn’t want to pay towards the end of the project. Strategic negotiations got us out of that mess in […]

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Your ability to tactfully deal with others is key, especially when you and your career can be buried by the change that sits in the bottom of a client’s pocket. Once I had a client who didn’t want to pay towards the end of the project. Strategic negotiations got us out of that mess in one piece…litigation would have destroyed me and my career with zero impact on the client.

I had the pleasure to interview Patrick Knowles. Seasoned and established in the global yachting scene, Patrick & his team (Patrick Knowles Designs) have produced award winning designs & recognitions for a Broad stable of both domestic and international clients who have become long time collaborators and retained clientele. With beginnings in designing aircraft interiors for private, VIP and Head of State sectors, Patrick Knowles’ ability to capture and interpret the imagination of the world’s most discerning clients made a crossover into the luxury yachting market a smooth transition, and he has since worked with numerous shipyards in Europe, the Americas and beyond, collaborating with the likes of Burger Yachts, Christensen, Delta Marine, Feadship, ISA Shipyard, Palmer Johnson and more.

Thank you so much for joining us Patrick! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve had the privilege to work in many disciplines of design from residential, commercial, hospitality, aviation, marine and coach. My entry into the aviation industry came about when I met an individual who allowed me to design his aircraft. I made it clear that I was not schooled in that field, but yet he moved forward, and we created multiple projects together. This opened up a large spectrum for my career. Around that same time, by brother Bryan mentioned to an individual who was the financial backer for a global yacht design company that his little brother was a designer and would like to work with yachts. My brother was given a number for me to call, I called the number, mentioned the persons name, received an interview that week and was working in the firm the following week….the rest, as they say is history.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success?

I recall when I was “moonlighting” during a period in my career in which I was freelancing for an aerospace company who were well aware of my daytime obligations and were quite accommodating….to a point. During one particular “heavy metal” project, a vernacular in the industry denoting a very large aircraft, I was burning the candle at both ends, so much so that one evening I came home, went straight to my study to complete the design I was creating for this particular aircraft and before I realized it, the sun was up, I was short on time and ran out of the house, then realizing I was still in my clothes from the day before. I went back inside, quickly changed, and arrived at work ahead of time (and before many others). That grit, that focus, and that drive delivered me to the later successes I experienced in my career.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

When I first formed my business, my attention at that time had shifted primarily to the marine sector. I was employed at a world renowned yacht design firm for 4 years leading up to my solo departure. Determined NOT to pilfer clients from the firm I had been working for, I embarked upon an INSANE meet and greet program, in which I reached out to several of the yacht brokerage houses urging them to utilize our talents to enhance their sales by providing (free of charge I might add) design concepts to present to their prospect of what the vessel could look like should they acquire it. As a new and unknown entity, the only (or rather, the quickest) path to reeling in business was to give it away for free. That period was very exhilarating yet taxing for me as during that point in time, we didn’t have the benefit of computer generated renderings….therefore they were all drawn, in great detail by hand (my hands) as one cannot delegate a talent. I don’t think it would go over very well if Pavarotti, after an exhausting concert the night before, asked a fill in to perform his next concert on his behalf, so there are just some things one must do themselves. That reality adds to the gravity of “hard time”.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were hard?

A wonderful and supportive wife combined with a genuine passion for what I do. Those two factors kept the engine plowing towards the end of the tunnel so to speak….all things come to past, so by reasoning, it most assuredly must apply to hard times as well.

Design in systemic. No matter where you are, what you look at, what you put on….it all came off the board of ‘someone’! My professional life was spent on a board, a board that allowed me to generate, create and produce some amazing designs. Once in a while I would reflect on my portfolio or design archives and think to myself, where did that come from? Design is very much a driven career, and there are multiple factors that shape what we create, when we create it and sometimes that influence doesn’t return, it was a moment, a feeling captured in that time. If you don’t have the drive, the creative vehicle will simply not advance forward!

How did Grit lead to your eventual success?

Because I had to do everything myself, the drive to alleviate that weight was intense, therefore it took real grit to plow forward. In hindsight, that period of grit in which I was doing it all solo was relatively brief. Relief came quickly by means of a staff, a growing staff I cultivated in a certain way to support my drive, speed and relentless quest to get it done successfully!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There was a yacht I designed in which the owner had acquired an antique desk topping the value of many single family homes. On the day of delivery, there was a pinch point along the path leading into the master suite thru which the desk was NOT going to pass. After several attempts I thought I am simply going to have to yuck it up, call the owners and reveal the baboon I am for not catching this detail. One of the movers suggested cutting off 2 of the legs of the desk to get it in. Well, that suggestion sent me, the captain and much of the crew running. Literally. It was such a preposterous suggestion (albeit the mover did not fully realize the antiquity or value of the piece). His assistant came over shortly afterwards and asked if we can somehow or another get his boss off the boat. Why? We asked. He said he can get the desk into the suite. We do so and came back a few moments later and the desk was in the suite. The lesson? Fully recognize who is standing amongst you during distress. Relief can come from the most unlikely source…..appreciate the potential EVERYONE has to bring to the table!

What do you think makes your company stand out?

We listen. Intently. It is very easy to design for oneself. To design for another can be quite difficult at time, extending beyond the boundaries of our comfort zone. We design to meet a challenge, a personal request and sometime that calls for creating something we personally are not drawn to, but yet we do it and we do it with pride and honor. The end product and it’s quality is king….regardless if it meets our personal taste or not.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive?

Be flexible in the way you approach your way of doing things, many times we are doing it wrong, or at least not optimally.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

Yes, a gentleman by the name of Richard Moore, a mentor of sorts. He was considerably older than I was and had the wisdom one can count on to stay clear of calamity. He shared his box of tiger traps with me which helped me in many ways to steer clear of disaster, primarily in the dealings with people on an ethical level which has served me much more so than anything dealing with design challenges.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Though one may think of the yachting / luxury industry as one of excess, I have chosen to be giving of my time and to be philanthropic whenever possible, as I think many of my colleagues in the industry do. I often work to mentor incoming designers who have yet to work in the yacht industry, and have students coming to my studio in October as a matter of fact for a hands-on approach to what we do. I believe that the best you can put into the world is education and opportunities.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share an example for each.

  1. Much to my chagrin handshake deals no longer exist….and if they do, when you find it, count it a once or twice in a career experience.
  2. Do not allow an object you design that has the ability to fly or sail away out of your sight. Chasing it globally can prove very difficult.
  3. Fully understand what the responsibilities are for starting a business and how your actions relate to such responsibilities.
  4. Your ability to tactfully deal with others is key, especially when you and your career can be buried by the change that sits in the bottom of a client’s pocket. Once I had a client who didn’t want to pay towards the end of the project. Strategic negotiations got us out of that mess in one piece…litigation would have destroyed me and my career with zero impact on the client.
  5. Find pleasure in the details. It is the same in design as it is in business. The details can bog you down or they can help you create the path — you get to choose.
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