KIM CLIFFORD has been appointed general manager of Hobbs of Henley, where he began his career as a 15-year-old on work experience.
He has spent 34 years with the boat hire company, working in the workshop and yards and skippering boats including the The New Orleans.
Mr Clifford, 49, of All Hallows Road, Caversham, said he was delighted by his appointment, although it means moving ashore permanently.
“I started at the bottom and I’ve worked my way all the way to the top,” he said. “It’s great to be part of this team. Hobbs is a family-run business and the standard of boats here is superb.
“I’m just getting used to being in the office instead of on the water. To start off with it was a bit daunting but I’m starting to find my way around.
“It’s a new challenge but after skippering for all those years it’s nice to have something new. I’ve had to work a lot of evenings so I’m glad I won’t be doing that any more and I can get my social life back!” Mr Clifford was given a full-time job the year after his work experience in 1981. He worked on the umpire launches for the Henley Royal Regatta with Tony Hobbs, father of current managing director Jonathan Hobbs.
He then worked in the workshop with engineer Andrew Trust before being given his skipper’s role when Hobbs bought the historic umpire’s launch Consuta.
He went on to skipper The New Orleans when it was bought by the company in 1991. This is the biggest passenger boat on the Upper Thames and can carry up to 125 people.
After Hobbs added The Hibernia and The Waterman to its fleet in 2001 and 2003, Mr Clifford was made operations manager, responsible for overseeing and supervising all four boats. He has been replaced as skipper of The New Orleans by Darren Backx.
Mr Clifford says his lifetime’s interest in boats started when he was a boy of 12.
He said: “My parents had a boat so it all started then. I have my own boat now, a Princess motor cruiser, and I spend my days off sailing it at Poole Harbour in Dorset.
“Throughout my career I’ve been learning on the job, which is the best way. Back in the old days there wasn’t a lot in the way of qualifications but that’s all changed now.”
Mr Clifford’s wife Lisa, 49, also works at Hobbs as passenger vessel co-ordinator, while two of his sons, Joe, 21, and Lewis, 18, work in the boatyard.
His oldest son, 23-year-old Sam, also worked at the boatyard but now works for Princess Cruises in America. The family will be travelling to San Francisco later this month to visit Sam and take a cruise along the coast of Mexico. Mr Clifford says one of the highlights of his career was sailing The New Orleans past the Queen when she visited the Henley Business School for her diamond jubilee in 2012.
He said: “It was the river pageant for her jubilee so we took The New Orleans down and sailed past while she was in the garden. We didn’t get to meet her but we waved from the boat.
“We have a lot of celebrities too — we’ve done Paul Daniels’ birthday party and Liz Hurley was here for her mother’s party a few years ago.
“The regatta is always great as well and driving the biggest boat on the river is an honour.”
Mr Hobbs said: “I believe one of the main reasons for the longevity and success of Hobbs over the last 145 years has been that it has had vastly experienced watermen with real working knowledge of the Thames.
“We are really fortunate to be able to appoint Kim as general manager as he has a wealth of experience on the river combined with fresh and innovative ideas on how to take the business forward.”