Google his name and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything other than Joshua Lee founding and leading his yacht brokerage company, Lee Marine – which by no means is any small achievement. It just proves that Lee either doesn’t open up about his private life, or that no one has ever probed.
It’s been two decades since Lee first sailed his way into Phuket and the marine industry. And it’s his vision, passion and integrity, combined with the commitment to client satisfaction, that is key to his company’s success.
From a suit-wearing derivatives trader in Hong Kong to luxury yacht dealing on an island paradise, Lee’s decision to make the switch filled a huge gap for his new home and was brand new territory in terms of geography and experience.
Perhaps the intense swimming lessons he took as a teen were just a prelude to the life he would lead as an adult. Growing up in Brisbane and making an executive decision to not carry on academically, Joshua Lee’s future was mapped the moment he left school.
In a reflective mood, while enjoying his favourite Chardonnay – the ‘97 Art Series from Leeuwin estate at Trisara, Phuket – Lee opens up in this week’s Sunday Sessions.
Born in the western suburbs of Brisbane, I had a simple and loving childhood. The hardest bit was travelling an hour and a half to the pool, and back … ELEVEN times a week! This went on all through high school.
My father was away a lot flying and eventually took a dream job with Cathay Pacific and left to Hong Kong. My sister and I were very proud of him. A lot of the burden fell on mum to raise us, which she did a fine job of doing.
When I left school, the last thing I wanted to do was more studying, so university was out for me. All my friends were excited about another 4 years in the classroom. All I wanted was to relax on a beach, with a cocktail in hand, and get away from the constant stress one is under at senior high school.
I decided to take a course called Elementary Sea-Going Skills and the curriculum included tying knots, basic navigation and seamanship. At the end of it, my successful application was with Whitsundays All Over – a company which operated large passenger ferries in beautiful Whitsunday Islands. A relatively cushy job compared to some of my classmates.
Eventually at 19, I became the youngest holder of the Master 5 Captain’s license. I was soon put in charge of a 24-metre fast catamaran that included up to 70 passengers and 6 crew. I borrowed a little cash from my father to purchase my first yacht with the intention to live aboard. This would save money for me, while I tried to get ahead. The 37-foot Roberts was built by the famous Australian sailor, Kay Cottee, who was the first lady to sail solo around the world unassisted. The yacht had pedigree and I had dreams to sail away. But soon enough, those dreams came to a screeching halt.
I took a job as a derivative traders’ research assistant in Hong Kong. The introduction, made through my father seemed like there was a real possibility to crack the big time financially. So I went for it. The private firm managed funds mostly for a small group of Cathay Pacific pilots. The work was challenging yet rewarding.
Prior to the handover of Hong Kong back to the Chinese in July 1997, the decision was made to move the company headquarters from HK to Singapore. It was then that my very gracious boss said to me, “Why don’t you go and pick up your yacht? It’s going to take 4-6 months to move the company so if you’re game – go and do it.”
So I grabbed two buddies, John Winter, who was an accomplished sailor, and my best mate Mike Moloney who had never sailed in his life but I trusted him with mine. Off we went.
Four very adventurous months later, we arrived in Singapore. My boss took one look at me and asked, “Do you really want to come back and put a suit on?” To which I politely declined. It was then that we reflected on our position and decided to keep going north to a place called Phuket, Thailand. Some “yachties” at Changi Sailing Club said we would enjoy being there.
After a very interesting 2 weeks at sea, we sailed into Phuket waters and I was immediately captivated by Thailand’s beautiful seascapes. We were stunned by the natural beauty and settled on Phi Phi Island for a few days.
Back in 1996, it was very different – absolutely charming. In Phuket, there was only one small marina – the Boat Lagoon berthing about 20 boats when we arrived. Fast forward to now – Phuket has 7 major marinas with thousands of boats. After about a month after our Phuket arrival, the boys both left to go home and I was trying to decide what to do.
After studying the map and charts, I decided the next port of call might be in the Indian Ocean, maybe the Maldives or the Red Sea. However, this was a little too far, so I took the decision to sell the yacht and return home.
It wasn’t long before I realised there weren’t any yacht brokers in the Kingdom of Thailand. So I decided to market the yacht myself on this new thing called the internet.
I purchased a digital camera with floppy disks and took 12 images of my yacht PAGLYN and put it on the net for sale. Soon after I went to the yacht club and asked if anyone else would like to sell their boats and the resounding response was, “YES PLEASE!”
Within three months I had over USD$100,000,000 worth of inventory for sale. Lee Marine was born and I have never looked back!
In an effort to sell my 37-foot yacht, and finding little in the way of professional yacht brokers in Thailand, I recognised the niche, and was motivated to launch Lee Marine International Yacht Brokers. Now celebrating our 20th year of operations, Lee Marine has become internationally recognised and respected as Thailand’s leading luxury yacht sales and brokerage company.
My inspiration was most certainly adventure. To jump on a 37-foot yacht and live on it for 2.5 years without anything but a 12-volt battery for electricity took some courage.
Then sailing her to Phuket was a quantum leap really. I would have kept going but the ocean between Phuket and the Red Sea was daunting and the time away was mounting. It started with the decision to sell the boat and ended with the creation of Lee Marine.
This was around the Asian currency crisis. The internet was just new. The rest is history!
My family and friends have always supportive and intrigued in the business we do both at the head office in Phuket and globally. They understand that our focus is professionalism and client satisfaction.
The naysayers years ago thought I was a bit senseless –overstating the yachting potential and spending too much money. Now those dubious voices seem to have been silenced. At Lee Marine, our belief is that you need to invest and re-invest to be sure you reach your ultimate goal – that of doing your best and satisfying clients.
I’m involved in every crevice of the corporation. I see the potential for Thailand and South-east Asia’s incredible cruising grounds. I thrive on thinking out-of-the-box. Lee Marine is undoubtedly a hands-on, switched-on, new yacht sales and brokerage company that makes global alliances sit-up, take notice and get involved – be it builders, sellers or buyers of smaller yachts to custom-built superyachts.
With our approach to business – we see slow and fundamental growth of Phuket while outsiders may see fast. We are here for the long run. Trust and partnership with buyers, sellers and builders is of paramount importance. The yacht owner’s satisfaction is superlative and fundamental. Simple.
If you, or any one you know, is looking to buy/sell a yacht, get in touch with Lee Marine here.
Like them on Instagram @leemarineofficial and follow them here on Facebook.