david margason: vision comes first

David Margason is, in a word, an enigma. Heading up a project such as the Porto Montenegro development – a subtly opulent and paradisiacal new yachting hub – as well as many other incredible developments such as Blue Water and Centre Parcs, it would not be hard to imagine that there would be more ego than man. Nothing could be further than the truth.

Softly spoken with an air of quiet contentment, should you find yourself sitting next to him in a bar you would have no idea that he was at the helm of one of the most exciting projects in Montenegro’s history, let alone the yachting and leisure sector. At Force One we have followed closely the developments of the project over the past couple of years – exploring the investment opportunities as well as the incredible infrastructures they are building – yet a more fascinating picture has emerged from all of this.

F.1.M. : On a yacht it is important to know and trust who your Captain is; you’re the Captain of Porto Montenegro yet little is known about you outside of a work context! Speaking to your colleagues, everyone is beguiled by your work ethic. When I asked if they had any burning questions they would like answered, something that came up time and time again was – do you sleep?

D.M. : Sporadically! Although I’m not somebody who has ever slept very much I go through phases. I guess, something that is very important to me is not wasting a single second of what time you have – I really, really suffer if I feel like I’ve wasted a day. I don’t mean this in some grand work sense, but in a life sense. I think that’s a really tragic thing to do. Relaxing and doing nothing for the day isn’t wasting a day if that’s something you decide to do, but just wasting a day because you didn’t bother to think about what to do is almost embarrassing.

F.1.M. : And have you always been like that?

D.M. : Yes. Why are people like that I don’t know. I am almost obsessed by a sense of creative fulfilment; something that I think you will see from the work that we are doing here. There’s nothing more rewarding, whatever that is to you as an individual. To me, every minute gives you the opportunity to create something; it could be a relationship, or a building, or an event… It could be an atmosphere or a spirit between people in a room. Anything. If you end the day with something more than you started with then you’ve created something. I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I don’t waste too much time sleeping! Every now and again I may lie in until 08:30… But if you’re awake you might as well be creating something!

F.1.M. : Would you say that prior to coming to Porto Montenegro you enjoyed creative fulfilment? Or has coming to a project that’s in its relative infancy allowed you to get stuck in with gaining a greater sense of creative fulfilment?

D.M. : I suppose it goes back to why I decided to come when invited; I was 54 when that happened, so not exactly young. I was installed in a very nice house in leafy Hampshire after a life of working abroad and travelling, seeing my children every day, so why on earth would I decide to leave that? It started out with a very general conversation with some people who I considered friends and are the main investors here, with whom I’ve had a relationship for 15 years, and it was very casual – at least on the surface of the conversation – about what they were hoping to do in and for the Balkan region. Our investors are very conscious of what they create around their physical, hard investment, as there’s a soft investment too. I went home and spoke to my wife and said that I walked out of the room with an extraordinary list of things that needed to be done here, and what was appealing for me was that if I actually looked at all the things that I had done throughout my life, and probably not understanding why I was doing them at the time – I’m somebody who generally says yes and then figures out how – suddenly I came out to this meeting knowing why I’d done all of them, as almost everything I’d ever done came together and needed to be done as a single collective here. I started with an exceptional foundation with an exceptional place that had been created, and the icing on the cake was when I came over and had I look I found that this place was populated with a people of a quality I’d never experienced before. So here I was with a great starting point, a phenomenal team, and a list of things that needed to be done which fit like a hand in a glove of all the things I’d ever done. And, I’m a sailor, so it was serendipity, it was ridiculous.

F.1.M. : It sounds like the complete opposite of a midlife crisis! A eureka moment!

D.M. : Well I guess you could still call it one of those, I abandoned the 06:49 to Waterloo for a 06:30 buggy along the sea! Seriously though, it has had a huge impact on my family. Yes, I do FaceTime them every morning – which you can’t underestimate how this has changed the ability of people to work away from home and fulfil their creative ambitions.

F.1.M. : Does your family get to visit much?

D.M. : As much as they possibly can. They love it here. But my kids are seriously studying at school and for me the justification for my wife and I in deciding to do this was – and you’ll see it come across in some of our collateral – we are great proponents of creating a life less ordinary. We don’t want to allow ourselves to be pushed through life by whatever currents are guiding us necessarily, we want to do things that are less ordinary.

F.1.M. : I think it comes back to what you were saying at the beginning about not wasting a single second. It would appear that you are embodying “a life less ordinary”…

D.M. : You have to be a little bit careful about that as eventually you sort of become a bit bizarre in yourself and to other people! Although I’m sure there are some people who don’t understand why I do what I do. I mean, I love what I do so in that respect I don’t think it’s any different to me going to play golf.

F.1.M. : I remember asking you the last time we spoke about the level of pride you must feel at seeing – not just your plans – but your team’s plans come to fruition, and even a year down the line you don’t appear as enthusiastic as before, but more! I think you can definitely see this in the new events that you’re putting on. You’re not just building a physical infrastructure but a community infrastructure, a lifestyle.

D.M. : This is the hardest part of the job and the hardest part to achieve and the hardest part to communicate to people who aren’t here. You can show them photographs of things that you’ve built but you can’t show them a photograph of the spirit you’ve created. So it’s very difficult to communicate that. . I’m very lucky in that I have very perceptive shareholders and a very perceptive board. You can’t turn the desert of Dubai into Dubai without having phenomenal vision and determination coupled with self-control. I only have to say three words to them for every 300 I have to say to everybody else to explain what I’m doing, and without that it would nearly be impossible to continue what I’m doing.

F.1.M. : I would say what you’re doing here is very authentic…

D.M. : I think luxury was the watch-word during the creation of Porto Montenegro, and certainly luxury is still an important part, but it’s a by-product. Luxury has never had any one definition of course, it’s very individual. To me, the ultimate luxury is this idea that you’ve created something that you didn’t think you could create. If people can help you do something that you are capable of, investing their time in you to do that, that’s true and real luxury.

F.1.M. : And the resulting emotions, which is something you definitely can’t buy

D.M. : Luxury is a part of the soft infrastructure here for sure, and it’s definitely a very important component of what you promise people before they come here and then you had better be able to deliver it. Some days the coffee isn’t as hot as other days, or the G&T isn’t as cold, but if the spirit of the place is right it’s consistent and you feel it when you walk the streets. They know if they’re in a place of contrived luxury and spirit, then this is the most important experience to deliver. Delivering a place that is at ease with itself makes the experience more luxurious in a less obvious sense, but how do you bottle that? You can’t. I’m not responsible for creating that, it’s already in the DNA of the people who are here. I may have taken a few chains off to let it out a bit more, but it’s true that if I had done all the same things in another location I wouldn’t have got the same result.

F.1.M. : Again it comes back to the point you made about your past experiences coming together, leading you to understand more about what you’re doing here, can you tell us what in particular has stood you in good stead to make Porto Montenegro such a success?

D.M. : I’ve nearly always worked on the waterfront, whether it’s a river or the sea, probably because I’m fairly deeply connected to the water myself. I have a pretty good understanding of how the ocean and the water can be integrated with the land in a way that is fairly unique. I’ve also worked with Middle Eastern investors for the past 20 years; I have a clear picture of those investors and a good human relationship with them. I’m an engineer fundamentally by background, so I am someone that sort of tries to rationalise most things, although these days as I get older I don’t allow my rationale side stifle my creative side, and that’s a change. A lot of people who have grown up as engineers can never be anything other than engineers, and ultimately they – for whatever reason – don’t have the courage, or allow themselves the luxury, of creating something truly innovative.

F.1.M. : It’s almost quite a dangerous combination! An engineer’s brain couple with creativity…

D.M. : I’ve always thought it the perfect combination, although maybe that’s why I don’t sleep at night actually! Those things pull you in very different directions. I have moved more into the creative spectrum, but I cover that by making sure I have people I work with who are more comfortable in the control and engineering side of human nature. If you want to do something bigger than your own capabilities you have to work with a team don’t you!

F.1.M. : Do you find yourself now having to be reigned back in now with your ideas and creativity?

D.M. : I’m pretty self-policing, although I definitely push things out to a fairly wide angle in terms of exploring what’s possibly before bringing it back in towards a solution. I do believe that we needed to do that here, I do think that if we hadn’t dared to be different and allowed ourselves the luxury of creative experimentation here I can’t imagine that we could ever have reached full potential. . I’ve always don the creative stuff during the day and the disciplined stuff during the night. I spend a lot of my working time helping other people to be creative and achieve those things, which means I have to go home at night and start my own work doing the things that I would otherwise allow my whole day to be absorbed by.

F.1.M. : If you were to unleash your creative beast, with no one to hold you back – investors and money isn’t an issue – but you’ve got the whole of Porto Montenegro at your finger tips, what would be the first thing you did?

D.M. : First of all I’d take some time out and learn to play an instrument!

F.1.M. : Which one?

D.M. : Probably the piano. Over the years I’ve actually bought two and sold two. They always end up unplayed in the corner as I just don’t have the time. It’s one of the reasons why I would and am going to in answer to your question, focus on the Synchro development. It’s something that is fundamentally founded on the idea that as you go through life and the further you go through life, the more the desire and even the “need” for creative fulfilment comes to everybody and therefore it’s something that people should be providing as a service. If we can get our Synchro development right then it’s the coming together of all the ingredients and the notion that people want to belong to a community that is creative and, not in a crass way, but a tangible way, and want their heart to beat a little faster a couple of days a week. You can do that in the gym of course but there are other experiences that do that as well, and that’s what we’re trying to create here.

F.1.M. : A final question: if you can imagine this, you have a day off! How would you spend it in Porto Montenegro?

D.M. : With my wife and my children! My daughter would be out sailing as she’s a fantastic sailor. Sailing for her is liberation, she’s become a totally different person. She’s 17 now, and has decided to join the Navy! She’s like me, she likes to experience all kinds of different things but also likes to have a few boundaries to lean up against some times. And my son is hugely passionate about nature, he always wants to be in the mountains either foraging for food and he’s very engaged with bushcraft and survival skills, and increasingly now on his mountain bike.

F.1.M. : So Montenegro is perfect then with the sea on one side, and the mountains on the other.

D.M. : Absolutely. It’s great to spend time with them and see them. Partly I’m here to create a different life experience for them and I think they find that highly valuable as I say to them I’m sorry for not always being there, but they understand and say it’s fine and come out as much as they can. And for myself, other than music which is something I dream about more than having any skill in, I am a passionate sailor, it’s long passage sailing that I like. I love the system of 4 hours on 4 hours off for 20 days or so – maybe because I don’t sleep very much! I love the idea of waking up at 2 in the morning and coming up on deck and taking over from somebody and sitting in the dark sailing far away from land, sometimes thinking about what I will do there when I return to it..

Credits Photos: © Zoran Radonjic – © Mihael Djuricic