Profile – Jeremy Usher
Many people would be envious of Jeremy Usher’s childhood. In the mid 1970s, aged nine, his mother and stepfather took him out of school and together with his two younger siblings, the family set sail on a Golden Hind 31 for the trip of a lifetime.
“They owned two dry-cleaning shops in London and we lived in Hertfordshire. Having learnt to sail, they bought a boat, put a manager in charge of the shops and set off.”
From England the family headed to Greece, stopping off in Alicante for six months over the winter and once in Greece, they flew to Australia, exploring the east coast in a jeep and caravan.
By the age of ten Jeremy could strip an engine and he and his brother indulged in their passion for fishing. While home-schooling was a priority, Jeremy says ‘life experiences’ gave him the best education. “We were caught in a Force 12 for nine and a half days trying to get across the Bay of Biscay, strapped in our seats, when a tanker pulled up to check we were ok. It was thumbs up from all of us.”
After three years, the children returned to mainstream schooling, settling in Emsworth, Hampshire, where their parents bought a pub. Jeremy worked for Emsworth sailing school in the summer and at 17, he joined the Merchant Navy as a trainee officer, working on Shell tankers.
“I completed enough sea time to secure my second mate’s ticket, but then wanted to change career so returned to college in Southampton to study for a HND in Yacht and Boatyard Management. During the summer months I worked for Sunsail abroad which is where I met my wife Lucy.”
Jeremy joined Ian Terry Engineering as a production manager, providing lightweight titanium sailing equipment and during his time there, supported three America’s Cup, Admirals Cup and Whitbread teams. In the early 1980s, he moved to Camper & Nicholsons as a project manager working on super yachts.
“This was a career highlight as it enabled me to demonstrate my boat building skills. I delivered a Bill Dixon western red sealer strip-planked epoxy boat ‘Yannakee II’ on time and on budget - it was the largest strip-planked yacht in the UK and winner of the Fort Lauderdale Super Yacht Award.”
The birth of his first child prompted Jeremy to take a home-based role - as European sales director for Pompanette Inc who owned Hood Yacht Systems and Bomar. This was followed by a sales/senior manager role for glazing specialist, Trend Marine, involving a family move to Norfolk.
After 12 years, Jeremy wanted to move his growing family to Devon. Once there, he initially worked in marine propulsion, but was then appointed general manager at Lewmar with a brief to set up a glass plant in Havant. “This was a fast-paced business and a ‘tough gig’ to set up from scratch.”
After four years’ commuting to Havant, in 2017 Jeremy joined Tewkesbury-based Solar Technology as sales director.
The solar engineering and innovation business provides ‘off grid’ solar solutions for sectors including marine, caravan, RV and equestrian and it recently acquired a lithium phosphate battery firm Lifos. “Everyone’s looking to use solar technology, however we are one of a few to design and provide quality systems at the top end of the market.”
As more people use more devices on boats and other vehicles, demand for solar power continues to grow. “We’re expanding around 10-15% across the board, we have more product designs to launch and we’re in the running for a Queens Award.”
When Solar Technology started in 2000, there were three staff. The firm now employs 12, plus four European distributors.
Jeremy still sails; he has a Channel Island 22 boat, moored in Kingsbridge, Devon. “I love being afloat around Devon and holiday in France with my wife and three boys.”
He describes Oceanair founder, Andy Fitzgerald, as his mentor: “I met Andy when he started running his business from his shed. Although I didn’t work with him, we’ve always kept in touch and his pragmatism and advice ‘the hardest thing in life is to sell yourself; if you can do this, you can get anywhere’ helped my career.”
So too did Jeremy’s optimism and his mantra ‘there’s always a way, you just have to find it’.
Tips for others entering the marine sector? “Network - this industry is still about who you know as well as what you know, and talking to people shows your personality. Once you’re in it, it becomes part of you - I wouldn’t trade it for anything."
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