Manfredi Lefebvre  Photo: Bill Bernstein
Manfredi Lefebvre Photo: Bill Bernstein

Silversea Cruises' Manfredi Lefebvre

When Italian-born Manfredi Lefebvre enters a room, heads turn. The silver-haired executive chairman of Silversea Cruises, who invariably wears a double-breasted suit and silk tie, is imposing. Conversation reveals a soft side, however.

Lefebvre has been passionate about ships since he was six years old. That’s when his father—who founded Silversea in 1994 after co-owning another cruise line—first took him aboard one. At 14, he went on his first cruise, from Los Angeles to the Mexican coast, and loved the experience. In 2001, a decade before the death of his father, he took over management and full ownership of Silversea; then, last year, he sold two-thirds of the company to Royal Caribbean for about $1 billion. He remains executive chairman of the all-suite luxury line, which has nine ships and will add two more by 2021.

 “I have loved every single working day of my life,” says Lefebvre, “and I still experience an intense sense of adventure whenever I step aboard a ship.” Not necessarily a sense of relaxation, though: he says he works every day, even spending portions of his weekends and vacations returning emails, participating in daily conference calls, and addressing assorted business matters. Meanwhile, in his role as chairman of his family’s Heritage Group, he recently acquired 85 percent of Abercrombie & Kent, the luxury travel company. (Geoffrey J.W. Kent, the company’s founder, owns the other 15 percent.)
 

Lefebvre has lived for 25 years in Monaco, which is Silversea’s headquarters. But he travels constantly, partly because the company has regional offices worldwide. We caught up with him in New York City, where he had come for meetings.

Manfredi Lefebvre  Photo: Bill Bernstein
Manfredi Lefebvre Photo: Bill Bernstein

As a child, what did you want to grow up to be?
I’ve always been attracted to the marine industry and the travel business. I believe it’s in my DNA. My family has invested in ships since 1840. My father was among a select group who wrote the marine law of Italy, which is still in use. 

When your father founded Silversea, how did he envision the company?
He wanted to create an ultra-luxury cruise line with a global reach, offering a bespoke experience aboard all-suite ships with all-inclusive pricing. Once guests step on board, almost all amenities are complimentary.

How did your father decide on Silver Cloud as the name of your first ship?
He saw a Silver Cloud Rolls-Royce pass by in Monte Carlo. Our first ship was influenced by the luxurious and stylish concept of the Rolls-Royce car.

And it’s been smooth sailing ever since?
No. You can imagine what it was like to be the chairman and only shareholder of a cruise line on September 11thand also during the Lehman Brothers crisis, when bookings started disappearing.

What’s the best advice your father gave you?
To expand Silversea’s fleet to 12 ships. But why stop at 12? I say at least 12 ships! He would have been so proud to see our progress over the years.

Manfredi Lefebvre  boarding company jet
Manfredi Lefebvre boarding company jet

Do you think your daughter will go into the family business?
It's difficult to say with a 19-year-old girl. My decision was easy because I loved to be a continuation of my father. We’ll see what my daughter would like to do.

Why did you decide to sell the majority ownership?
To build ships, to grow faster, you need a commitment of capital resources. We're victims of our success because there's a rush to build new ships, which cost a lot of money. We ordered three ships one month after the deal was signed. It’s difficult to be as efficient competing alone as you can be within a partnership.

Do you think the culture of Silversea will change with this merger? 
Silversea has to establish a way forward beyond me, because I am not eternal. With the merger, I’m not the only shareholder, and gradually I will reduce my involvement. I don’t plan to retire and play golf, so for the next five years or more I will continue to do the same job. Then we'll see.

How do you promote international tourism as an executive committee member of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC)?
If I can encourage people to explore this beautiful world, then I will have succeeded in life. If I can help to raise awareness for issues such as illegal wildlife trade, climate change, and sustainability, then our planet may be in better condition for generations to come. The WTTC represents travel and tourism companies from across the world: cruise lines, airlines, hotels, tour operators, and others. Our collective voice resonates louder than an individual’s could.

How do you fly?
Both privately and commercially. Sometimes I fly with people with their own planes and sometimes I charter. The office takes care of it and looks at what is the best rate.Two years ago, we owned a Cessna Citation II, and we're buying another. It's good at landing at many airstrips and it does the distances I need in Europe. 

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When will you buy the Cessna?
When I find the right opportunity. I buy secondhand because I don't want to immediately lose 35 percent of the value of the plane.

If money were no object, what airplane would you choose?
I've been flying with some people on their Global Express. It’s fantastic. But it costs more money that I'm willing to dedicate to toys.

Manfredi Lefebvre
Manfredi Lefebvre

Do you expect to travel more or less in the next year?
More. I think it's going to be about 150 hours private. 

What is it that makes you passionate about travel?
I am always amazed by the limitless beauty of the planet—its variety and the proliferation of life that inhabits each environment. Traveling offers a way to experience these things, enriching oneself in the process. 

What keeps you from retiring now?
I still take great pride in being involved with the day-to-day running of Silversea Cruises. This cruise line was launched by my family and I am committed to seeing it prosper into the future.

You're also now involved with Abercrombie & Kent. Why did you recently buy a majority share of this company, and what will your role with it be?
I'll be an active chairman. Geoffrey Kent and I have known each other for more than 20 years and have done a great deal of business together. I seek to further develop A&K as the premier brand in luxury and experiential travel, to cultivate more destination management companies, expand destinations, and foster existing products like safari camps and riverboats. After a first stage of organic growth, a second stage would look to external growth.


FAST FACTS

NAME: Manfredi Lefebvre

BORN: April 30, 1953 (age 65) in Italy

POSITIONS: Executive chairman, Silversea Cruises; chairman, Abercrombie & Kent; chairman, Heritage Group SA (a holding company of the family trust); executive committee member, World Travel & Tourism Councilmember, World Economic Forum.

EDUCATION: Attended Military Naval School “Francesco Morosini,” 1969

TRANSPORTATION: Charter flights, airlines, and Silversea ships. Shopping for a Cessna Citation II.

PERSONAL: Lives in Monaco. Avid reader. Loves to travel. Has a 19-year-old daughter.


This interview has been edited and condensed.


 

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