In the second in our series ‘Women at the Helm’ we were delighted to speak to Aino-Leena Grapin, the female CEO of Winch Design, the international design studio, working on some of the most iconic land, air & sea based projects across the globe. We asked Aino-Leena to describe to us her path to the role she is currently in, she said:

“My career has been rather diverse, however there has been a common thread of business leadership in a creative space. I started off as a strategy consultant at Bain & Co before moving to the auction and fine art world where I spent a substantial portion of my career. Firstly, I worked at Christie’s in a variety of strategic and operational roles, including my last role as International Business Director in the Russian Art department. I then went from a 250-year-old established company to a tech disruptor start up, Paddle8. I led the expansion of this New York based online auction house in Europe and the Middle East; this was right before joining Winch Design. Winch was a natural step for me because our projects are so unique and intricately designed that they are like works of art in their own right.

When I joined Winch Design as CEO in 2016, it was my first experience of the yachting industry. In the first year, I had a lot to learn from Andrew Winch and the rest of the Senior Leadership Team and five years later, I’m still learning something new each day!”

Discussing with Aino our ‘Women at the Helm’ series we talked about females and senior positions in the superyacht industry. This is her insight;

“Whilst this is still an issue that needs to be kept at the top of the agenda, considerable progress has been made in many industries. In the UK’s FTSE 350, women represent 30% of board positions for the first time. It is crucial that the yacht industry follows suit because diversity in leadership positions means diversity of thought and this has been proven to drive higher business performance which in turn benefits everyone.

At Winch, I’m incredibly proud to say that we employ more women than men overall and two thirds of our leadership team are women. Our clients often operate as a couple where the woman is a key decision maker and increasingly so, we have female clients driving their own projects. To be able to serve these female clients in the best way possible, it is vital that we also have women in senior roles. Throughout my career I’ve been supported by many incredible women and because of this, supporting the women at Winch is very dear to my heart.

Our industry has more progress to make with regards to other types of diversity. We must ensure equal opportunities for all, as only then, will we be working at our maximum potential. A business is built on the strength and talent of its people, our only focus should be to recruit those best suited to the role at hand.”

Sharing insight into her journey, Aino provided advice to other females who may be looking to get ahead:

“As equality continues to elevate how we live in our societies, now is a great time for women to embrace the career of their dreams. No matter your gender, it is key to find your purpose and passion which can propel you into the right direction. If that is working in superyachts, then certainly go for it! The superyacht industry is becoming more and more diverse with an array of women filling typically male dominated roles such captains, engineers, leaders of shipyards and design studios.

It’s always worth remembering that if you cannot find a company who will support you, you can always start your own! To support women, I think about the qualities of leaders that I admire and try my best to emulate these. For me, it is a passion to serve others with vision and humility and to strive for effective decision making.”

Aino added that her career in the superyacht world had opened experiences and opportunities she had not imagined, she shared these with us;

“It’s the people. We’re immensely privileged at Winch as our circle of clients is incredibly diverse culturally and they are also some of the smartest, most successful people in the world. No two clients are the same and therefore no two projects are the same and it is always a delight to interact with these inspiring individuals.

Another added benefit of the job is learning about some of our incredible suppliers! This has been great when it comes to making design decisions about my own home – being surrounded by such a talented and generous team also means there is always someone to turn to when you’re seeking a bit of interior design advice or to get inspired!”

Aino is an inspirational woman who has brought her 20 plus year experience of leading and growing businesses to Winch. With an MBA from INSEAD she ensures that Winch Design is run both commercially and creatively brilliant. She discussed her current role, her career and her plans for the future.

“It is truly a privilege to work with such a talented group of people at Winch Design and each day is completely different. When we’re in the studio, one of my favourite things to do is to walk around and see the sketches and visuals coming together; seeing the designs come to life. We are a vibrant team of 130 individuals, with each person bringing a unique energy that creates the special Winch culture that we all enjoy, whether they’re a designer, an accountant or studio manager! The whole team embraces creativity, innovation and change and we never shy away from a challenge.

Another key thing I am proud of is our position and ability to drive change in the industry. Sustainability has always been top of the agenda and in early 2020, Winch signed the Water Revolution Foundation’s (WRF) ‘Code of Conduct’ which aims to unite the whole superyacht supply chain in a vow to take charge of our own sustainable transformation’. I have recently chaired the newly formed Designer Roundtable for the Water Revolution Foundation, which I found particularly rewarding. I loved witnessing all the great design minds in the industry debating very meaningful topics. This transformation is already underway but we need to ensure we continue to be guided by science and not fall for green washing.

Throughout my career, I’ve been passionate about driving change in an organisation. When I joined Winch in 2016, we were a team of 70 and now in 2021, we’re a team of 130, to see this increase over the last 5 years has been truly rewarding. Whilst this means we are a bigger studio; it also means we have even more creative talent which in turn creates a stronger studio. This growth has also been down to the expansion of our architecture studio over the last few years, where we’re now working for commercial clients as well as private.

It is important that we retain our central design ethos of attention to detail, complete dedication to our clients and always make sure that Winch is a fun place to work. I’m especially proud that we’ve been able to maintain this throughout our growth and diversification.

The next step for Winch Design is managing our gradual return to working in our beautiful studio in Barnes which sits right on the River Thames. Whilst we’ve successfully worked from home for the last 18 months, we’re incredibly excited to be able to see everyone again and experience the benefits of the working in the studio! Whilst each company is approaching it differently, we’re confident we will find our own way which is safe, and which works for our teams and our clients.”

For more information on Winch Design follow their website.

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