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What Makes a Sunseeker: Dennis Barnes, 45 Years at Sunseeker
Dennis ‘Digger’ Barnes celebrates 45 years of service at Sunseeker International. To commemorate his exceptional contribution to the business for almost half a century, Sunseeker is honoured to release an exclusive insight into this unique boat building business from the perspective of the longest-serving employee.
On his first day of service in 1978, Dennis received a clock card marked with the number 16, signifying Dennis as the 15th Sunseeker team member to join the business (avoiding the number 13 was a superstition always observed by Robert Braithwaite), today, that number is well into the thousands. Dennis joined Sunseeker International, then known as Poole Powerboats, as a Trainee Engineer working with a then-28-year-old John Braithwaite. Dennis immediately impressed the Braithwaite family with his knowledge of engineering, and he was encouraged to pursue a ‘Heavy Vehicle Engineering’ course. This was at a time when marine apprenticeships only existed for larger commercial ships in East Yorkshire, England. Now with a workforce of over 2,200 people, Dennis oversees quality assurance as a Lifecycle Manager and within his 45 years with the business has passed his boat building knowledge onto hundreds of apprentices and colleagues.
When Dennis joined the business, Sunseeker produced one boat per week from 21 to 23 feet in just one workshop at West Quay Road, Poole. As the first and original shipyard facility that remains active to this day, West Quay Road is a critical site whereby yachts are tested and finished before they are delivered to owners worldwide. The production footprint at the original site has grown six times since the late 1960’s when Sunseeker began. Today, West Quay Road is also home to the Sunseeker Showcase, a dedicated client lounge and event facility, as well as a year-round yacht display.
Dennis has built a career in production manufacturing, becoming a foreman in 1988. Working in various roles for over two decades, Dennis became a manager at Willis Way. In 1987, Willis Way was producing up to 28 boats a month. By 1999, Robert Braithwaite appointed Dennis as site manager at Willis Way (the second site acquired by Sunseeker as demand increased), where he remained for sixteen years. Today, the Willis Way site is a dedicated 55-foot build facility accommodating Superhawk, Predator and Sport Yacht models.
While he was working at Willis Way, Dennis and his team had the opportunity to achieve something ambitious. Sunseeker had sold out on the Manhattan 60 for two years. To fulfil the customer demand, Dennis worked closely with suppliers and colleagues to deliver one 60-foot yacht every five days. It was a monumental collaborative effort, but the team met their target and built 69 boats in 18 months. This was the start of building quality boats delivered to customers in time for the yachting season.
With a wealth of experience in planning, people management, production engineering and build processes, Dennis has worked across every manufacturing department. In 2021, Dennis was promoted to Lifecycle Manager, a specially created role to optimise production efficiency and overall product quality. Dennis identifies areas of improvement and works with production teams to set in motion an activation plan.
Throughout his career at Sunseeker, Dennis has established production practices and entire departments focused on product quality. In addition to his significant contribution to processes, Dennis has always been passionate about people development, heavily influenced by the Braithwaite brother's approach to doing business, with people at its heart. In early 2000, Dennis established the first formal marine apprenticeship scheme alongside two former Sunseeker employees and a local college. The award-winning Sunseeker apprenticeship programme known today is the result of Dennis' blueprint in training, ensuring practical experience and theory align to provide quality skills to Sunseeker boat builders.
Dennis recalls that Robert had a dream to build a boat business that is known worldwide and brings wealth to Poole. In the 45 years that Dennis has worked at Sunseeker, the business has grown exponentially to achieve the dream of Robert Braithwaite, CBE, Founder of Sunseeker.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today and with the knowledge I have without the two Braithwaite brothers.”
Dennis fondly recalls one of the reasons Poole Powerboats became Sunseeker International is because British motorsports racing driver, Henry Taylor, who was the company’s dealer in the South of France, informed the Braithwaite brothers that “Poole” did not translate well in French. With ambitions to become the world’s leading performance yacht business, Robert Braithwaite changed the company’s name to establish true international appeal.
“Robert says ‘Dennis, what my dream is to build a boat business that is world known and brings wealth to Poole' and has he achieved that? Yes, absolutely."