Sylvie Ernoult: Putting the ‘can’ in Cannes Yachting Festival

In this Women in Yachting interview, we speak to a lady who is the chief orchestrator behind of one of the superyacht industry’s most popular and significant events.

Introducing Sylvie Ernoult, Cannes Yachting Festival’s show manager and leading lady. Coordinating and overseeing every element behind the largest in-water boat show on the yachting calendar, Ernoult is one of the most recognisable faces on the French Riviera. And deservedly so.

Sylvie Ernoult, director at Cannes Yachting Festival

Working tirelessly all-year-round to deliver a successful and memorable Festival each September, Ernoult is a shining example to all prospective yachting professionals: Hard work pays off no matter who you are.

In a comprehensive drilldown of how Cannes Yachting Festival is put together and her career to date, Ernoult speaks passionately about pursuing your dream job without fear of being disregarded due to your sex.

[All images: @Yachting Festival Cannes - Abracadabra Studio]

How long have you been in the yachting industry and what is your role?

I’ve worked in the maritime and nautical industry for most of my career. That’s from my first job with a French shipowner, which I did for seven years, until today, as director of the Yachting Festival – a job I love and that I’ve been doing for eight years now!

My role? To build and synchronise the organisation of this Festival, which is a huge, complex machine. I rely on a team of technical, maritime, sales, logistics, communication, and luxury industry experts, who are based in France and abroad.

I ensure that the puzzle is put together correctly to create a Festival that’s safe from a maritime and health point of view; a Festival with plenty of content; a welcoming Festival that looks great to bring the magic of yachting to all our visitors.

What does a typical day hold for you?

It takes 359 days to build the show and 6 days to run it.

Throughout the year preparing the Festival, each day is a brick in the great build-up of it. I discuss things with clients, suppliers and the in-house teams; I work on the plans; I monitor the budgets; I take care of safety from a maritime, fire, Vigipirate and now health point of view… you really don't get bored!

Days are very busy but extremely motivating and this long period of building it up goes by very quickly.

Sylvie Ernoult among group at unveiling at Cannes Yachting Festival

A typical day during the Festival would be:

  • Staying in constant contact with all the teams and intervening when there’s a request or problem: a lot of problems come up, especially in the initial days before and during the opening and you have to go on site to approve a decision a team expert advises. For example: A large boat is too near the quay and cannot be moored correctly – this creates a risk and we have to install a six-metre pontoon to make its mooring secure. Another example could be an equipment manufacturer has set up their stand so it ‘goes over’ their space and into the aisle, and refuses to contain it to their space. I intervene to explain the safety constraints to them and have them respect our rules
  • Give a presentation to the press and respond to requests for interviews as much as possible. In the first three days of the Festival, I do a dozen interviews a day
  • Attend the ceremonies and official visits and do presentations of the event to different groups of people
  • Go to certain sales meetings with our main key clients, trying as best as possible to meet the sales team’s requests, as they ask me to go to certain meetings they deem to be important
  • When I have some time I go around the Festival: Every morning before opening I try to do a full tour of both ports and during the day I try to set aside a few opportunities to walk through an aisle or on the pontoons to meet our exhibitors as much as possible. I feel it’s very important to be out on site, to observe it all and check that everything is going well for everyone

Have you always wanted to be a show manager and what path did you take to arrive here?

No, I’d never have thought about doing this as a profession before doing it. I haven’t got a background in event organisation and trade shows. It’s chance that led me to take this position.

But every day I see that my previous positions gave me the experience needed to fulfil my role today. It’s true that apart from the organisational aspect of a Festival, you need to have technical and maritime skills, and be highly familiar with what a boat is to organise an in-water boat show!

Aerial view of Vieux Port, Cannes

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job?

The most challenging is making the Festival a success, seeing our clients’ satisfaction or even enthusiasm at the end of the Festival, consolidating our event’s position as leader and developing it successfully.

The most rewarding is finding my teams exhausted but happy at the end of the Festival. This profession is the profession in my career that’s the most unifying in terms of teamwork, and succeeding in building the strength of a well-coordinated, motivated team that’s proud of the work it has done. There’s nothing more rewarding.

Has your gender ever held you back in your career?

No. On the contrary, I often think that it’s easier to be in the minority and the maritime world like that of boating is highly male-oriented in general so I think that it remains more of an asset to be a woman.

But most importantly let’s not be sexist; what matters is sharing a passion for the sea and the nautical world and gender has nothing to do with that.

Have you smashed any barriers or glass ceilings to get to where you are now?

Yes. For 5 years I had to leave the nautical world because I could not leave Paris for personal reasons and did not find any nautical job in the French capital.

I worked for other nice industries like hotel and luxury real estate, but was so much missing the maritime environment that at the first opportunity of a job, I went back to the boating environment.

What advice would you give to the next generation of women in yachting?

Endeavour to work in an environment that you like is so important. Liking your job and working hard are the two ways to move ahead in your career. My advice is to follow these two rules as best as possible, regardless of whether you’re a woman!

When Yachting Pages met Sylvie Ernoult

You can watch the full interview with Sylvie Ernoult below. Yachting Pages caught up with her during Cannes Yachting Festival 2021.

In part one, Ernoult speaks honestly to our head of operations, Simon Brooks, about her career to date and, more specifically, her role in coordinating one of the Med's leading boat shows.

In part two, the focus switches to being a female in the superyacht industry and how Ernoult has used it to her advantage. Her insight is particularly pertinent for aspiring marine professionals! Her calm, authoritative style is evident throughout the interview - it's no surprise that she is so heavily involved in delivering a successful Cannes Yachting Festival every year.

Cannes Yachting Festival

Cannes Yachting Festival is a leading in-water boat show that takes place on the French Riviera for six days each September. A major meeting point for those within the superyacht industry, the Festival is renowned for the eclecticism of the boats it displays. Every year is welcomes nearly 600 motor and sailing units, monohulls and multihulls from two to 60 metres (6.5 to 196 feet).

The quays of the Vieux Port and Port Pierre Canto bring together the biggest names in terms of equipment and services, and the Festival offers pride of place to exclusive brands via its Luxury Gallery.

The event attracts tens of thousands of visitors from around the world, who enjoy the innovation and opulence the show has to offer. It’s the perfect event for both professionals and yacht enthusiasts.

If you're interested in pursuing a new position on board, search for Crew Agents in the Yachting Pages directory. Alternatively you can enjoy more interviews in our Women in Yachting series.

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