Beneteau Sailboats: From Family Shop to Global Hit Fifty years ago, Beneteau was a small, family-owned company that made fishing boats in a French village. Now it's the world's top sailboat maker, with dealers in 50 countries. Reporter Eleanor Beardsley has more on the woman who transformed the company.

Beneteau Sailboats: From Family Shop to Global Hit

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And moving us now from land to water for a story about the business of sailing. The French company Beneteau is the world's top maker of sailboats. Fifty years ago, it started out as just a small family-run business making fishing boats. And here's Eleanor Beardsley with a profile of the woman who transformed Beneteau into a global success story.


ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Never mind that Beneteau is the leading player in the multimillion dollar sailing industry. The company's headquarters still sit on the waterfront in the quiet Atlantic coast fishing village of Saint Gilles-Croix-de-Vie. It was here that Benjamin Beneteau began making tuna boats and trawlers in the 1880s. Almost a century later the company changed course in the hands of Beneteau's granddaughter - 21-year-old Annette Beneteau Roux. Under her stewardship, Beneteau has grown from 17 to 6,000 employees.

MONTAGNE: (Through translator) You have to put yourself in the context of the 1960s and the decline of the fishing industry. Beneteau would've disappeared like many companies. My husband told me even though I was a girl of 21, I could still run the company. So we came out with the first pleasure boat. The rest is history.

BEARDSLEY: Plant manager Florence Grube(ph) says Beneteau builds 10,000 boats a year.


MONTAGNE: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Roux attributes the company's success over the long term to what she calls Beneteau's soul.

MONTAGNE: (Through translator) It hasn't always been easy, but I've always had faith in the deep know-how in this company. We have values that go back to our beginning. Almost like genes.

BEARDSLEY: Eric Stromberg is a production manager.

MONTAGNE: Everything that you see happening in the automobile industry in terms of the comfort you see now coming into boats. People now live in a high design world. They drive high design cars. And they expect that from their boat as well.

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Saint Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, France.

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