by Dale DuPont
Updated 12 months ago
Bob Roscioli has become a legendary figure in the megabucks world of big yachts.
Bob Roscioli came to south Florida from Philadelphia in 1956. He landed a job loading trucks at Port Everglades until he got a call from a boat captain about a job sanding boats at a yard on the New River.
He took it and later learned to paint vessels as well. But when he asked for a nickel raise to his $1.10 an hour pay, he got fired. "That was the turning point in my life," he says.
Roscioli says he began going house to house on Fort Lauderdale's canals drumming up varnishing and cleaning jobs. Eventually, "I became one of the best brush painters in the world," he says, and later, "I could spray better than anyone in the world."
Fifty years later, Roscioli, 71, is still on the New River, but the former door-todoor boat varnisher is now the owner of Roscioli Yachting Center, a 14.5-acre repair and refit yard that caters to some of the biggest yachts — and wealthiest boat owners — in the world. Roscioli has become "a legend in our industry," says Jim Moores, founder of Moores Marine in Palm Beach County, which specializes in wooden boat repair and restoration. "They've changed the game in how yachts and the people who run them are catered to."
Roscioli's yard handles boats up to 155 feet, which can easily cost $10 million or more and are typically staffed by a captain and crew of eight. Big jobs — redoing the exterior or interior, for example — can cost $500,000 to $2.5 million. But his bread and butter, he says, "is the guy that comes in and spends $40,000 to $80,000" for a job that requires sand blasting the bottom and work on the shafts and propellers. "That's what we concentrate on."
Roscioli's clients have included heavy hitters such as the late Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald's, and disgraced investor Bernie Madoff. For several months every winter over about 14 years, Madoff's captain brought Madoff's 55- foot, 1969 Rybovich Sportfish Bull to the yard. The last thing he had done was a complete paint job, which cost more than $100,000. "I got paid," Roscioli says.
Then in April 2009, shortly after the yard finished the work, the U.S. Marshals Service seized the boat to raise money for Madoff's victims. That November, National Liquidators in Fort Lauderdale auctioned it for $700,000.
Roscioli likes to meet the owners "to find out who we're doing business with.
That's how I built my career," he says. But his staff deals mainly with the boat captains.
In the '60s, '70s and '80s, he says, the owners were more involved. Today, captains are more like boat managers. In the small world of yacht servicing, Roscioli has built his reputation with scrupulous attention to detail and fair dealing. "The best way to have a good experience in a boatyard," he says, "is to communicate well with the people."
More than 30 years ago, maritime lawyer Michael Moore of Moore & Co. In Coral Gables met Roscioli after wind blew paint from Roscioli's yard onto his client's yacht at an adjacent yard. "My client was livid," Moore says, but Roscioli "just took care of it." The yacht owner became a Roscioli client.
"His place is always spotless. The guy runs a very, very good operation," says Moore, who has been to a number of yards on his clients' behalf.
Meanwhile, Roscioli has branched out into boat building, operating Donzi by Roscioli International, a line of sport fishing yachts manufactured in Bradenton and finished off in Fort Lauderdale. The sleek Donzis range from 58 feet to 92 feet and from $2.5 million to $8.5 million. Roscioli became a dealer in 1986 and bought the line in 1987.
Today, Roscioli operates from the headquarters in Fort Lauderdale that he opened in 2008. The facility includes a lounge and fitness room for captains and crew, sauna, laundry, galley and concierge service. His son Rob, daughter Heather, and wife, Sharon, work with him.
Roscioli employs about 70 at his boatyard, down from a prerecession force of about 120, and 20 to 25 at Donzi. Finding workers is "a big problem," he says. The company works with local schools on training programs — sending people to upgrade their skills. "It's to our benefit to train a guy because we sell labor," he says.
Roscioli says he gets "an awful lot of inquiries about selling." But, he insists, "I love what I'm doing."