L. Bruce Jones: The Innovation Interview

L. Bruce Jones, Chairman & CEO of Triton Submarines shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology, exploration and submarines.

Bruce grew up living on heavy marine construction platforms in the South China Sea and the Persian Gulf. He learned to dive at the age of nine under the jacket of an oil tanker terminal seven miles off of Kuwait. His first jobs were in the marine construction business and usually involved diving or operating a boat. He had the opportunity to travel extensively from a very young age and has visited over 110 countries. Bruce attended high school at Culver Military Academy and it was there that he began sketching submarines and underwater habitats and writing letters to Jacques Cousteau.

Bruce was formerly the President of L. Bruce Jones & Associates, Ltd., the leading technical and business development consulting firm on the tourist submersible industry. The firm published both Passenger Submarines: A Comprehensive Analysis of the Submarine Tour Industry, as well as the periodic newsletter Viewports. The company also developed business plans on a consulting basis for a wide array of marine and undersea leisure related businesses. In 1993 Bruce co-founded U.S. Submarines, Inc. and today U.S. Submarines is the undisputed world leader in its field.

Bruce is an expert in all aspects of manned submersibles and tourist submarines. Over the past 22 years he has consulted for most of the companies active, or interested in, this field and he has evaluated all the major civil submersible and submarine designs and has been responsible for tourist submarine related business development, capital acquisition, and operational start-ups. He has conceived and co-designed several personal luxury submarines as well. He has carried out extensive site feasibility surveys in the Caribbean, Pacific, Atlantic and the Med. For eight years Bruce was the Chairman of the Manned Submersibles Committee of the Marine Technology Society, and he is a review panel member of the Society of Naval Architects & Marine Engineers — U.S. Coast Guard Submersible Safety Panel. He is an appointed member to The American Bureau of Shipping’s Special Committee on Underwater Systems & Vehicles.

Bruce holds a degree in Geological Science from Trinity University and he did further graduate work in that field at the University of Washington. He attended the Executive MBA program at St. Mary’s University. He was at one time one of the world’s leading research gemologists and he holds substantial credentials in that field (G.G., F.G.A., DGemG) and he continues gem research and precision gem cutting as avocations. He was formerly the President of Pacific Gemological Services, the Vice President of Research and Education at AGMS and the CEO of Air Shuttle, Inc.

He was recently a member of the Board of Directors of the Aviation Technology Group. Bruce is a fixed wing, helicopter and ultralight pilot. He is also an experienced diver and submersible pilot and a former U.S. National Skydiving champion.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Strictly speaking I would define it as the process of creating something new. However, it is more useful for me to look at it within the context of what we do. For us, innovation is the adaptation and assembly of existing technology into something new and task-effective. When we build a deep submersible or an undersea resort we take equipment and technology proven effective in subsea applications and adapt them to something new, and hopefully something greater, in a synergistic sense, than just the sum of the components.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

The Finance/Investment Industry. Last year, Wall Street invested about $200 billion in capital formation – that’s money that went to new business, new technology and modern plant and equipment development. That sounds like a reasonable number until you realize that Wall Street traded $40 trillion worth of stock, fully 200 times more. So, speculation, which primarily serves only the traders, represents 99.5% of equity market activity with capital formation amounting to only 0.5%. Long term investment creates value, short-term profit taking destroys it. Unless the financial markets reverse the trend and start to re-invest in innovation, America’s long-term future is bleak indeed.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

My parents inculcated in me a sense that all things are possible if you embrace life and opportunity and work at what you love. The will to do new things, learn new things, step outside your comfort zone and grasp new experiences is so important when it comes to personal satisfaction, because only in so doing will you encounter what you love and have the confidence and ability to pursue it.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

I suppose that if I am remembered for anything it will be the development of luxury submarines, deep diving submersibles and undersea resorts and residences and I am having a great time doing those things and I take great satisfaction in my work. But I love my many avocations as well. If there is a corollary between achievement and satisfaction, and I believe there is, then it is worth pondering those quiet moments of extreme satisfaction and well-being and analyzing the source. I have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed an amazing 26 year love affair with my wife Liz, and though it sounds hopelessly corny, my deepest sense of satisfaction comes from my relationship with her, and so logically, finding, developing and nurturing that immensely satisfying and successful relationship is my greatest achievement.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Both. I’m a voracious reader and I own virtually every non-fiction book I’ve read in the last 20 years, and my favorite works of fiction as well, and they sit on the shelves in my library and they feel like old friends. Holding a book in my hands is still my preferred way to read. Having said that, I spend a great deal of time on-line; looking up something from the computer, iPhone or iPad is a constant habit and I am quite happy to download a book and read it electronically. But if it’s a good book I buy a copy and put it on the shelf. My wife and I are also pilots now planning a trip around the world in a small airplane. The iPad with all its aviation apps is an essential part of our flight bag. Quickly being able to access an aeronautical chart or approach plate is great for situational awareness and overall safety.

How has your extensive background in marine construction impacted your day-to-day management of Triton Submarines and ensuring that the organization is on the cutting edge of technology and innovation?

Growing up I lived on offshore jack-up rigs in the South China Sea and Persian Gulf. I spent almost all my time in the company of adults and for some reason I developed a keen sense of observation that lead to good judgement when it comes to people. That talent has helped me more than any one factor because an organization is nothing more than the sum of its people’s talents. I often have to force the development of something new against a wave of skepticism, but we seem to always come through successfully. I am fortunate to work with an amazing group of people.

How has the primary use of Triton Submarines changed since the company was established in 2007? Have there been any alternative uses for the submarines that have surprised you?

Triton is an offshoot of a sub company I founded in 1993 and we learned a lot in the early years of running that firm. I run Triton in conjunction with my best friend and business partner and I think both of us have been surprised at how the yachting industry is embracing the idea of having our subs on board these large yachts. For years the large yacht builders sort of looked at us like we were a bit crazy; now those same people are seeking us out and asking for advice and help. The subs are also used for marine science research, treasure hunting, deep sea tourism, charters, etc., but none of those applications is surprising. Last year we did the first ever deep submersible dives in Antarctica and in Japan one of our Triton’s was used to view and film the giant squid underwater for the first time in human history, so we were a bit surprised by that.

What new technologies did Triton Submarines develop with Rayotek Scientific in order to make the Triton 36000/3 a reality and how will these new technologies impact deep sea exploration?

Rayotek is run by a brilliant innovator who had the answer to a question he had never been asked, “How do you build a large high pressure glass sphere that will withstand the 16,000 psi pressure at the deepest spot in the ocean at 35,800 feet?” We knew that glass spheres had been successfully used to send equipment packages into the deepest ocean for 40 years but no one could build a high pressure sphere over 20 inches in diameter and get it to work. Rayotek has a proprietary technique that allows for the construction of large spheres – there is 170,000 tons of pressure on the passenger compartment of the Triton 36,000/3. The sphere will allow us to send three people into the deepest trenches in a sub that is totally reliable, has a 360 degree view from its transparent hull and is able to make repeated trips in a commercially viable way. The other big issue is that there can be no metallic-glass interface because they expand and contract under pressure at different rates. Conventional deep submersibles have metal access hatches and metallic through-hull penetrator plates to pass electrical cables, air and oxygen from the inside of the sub to the outside. We don’t. Solving the problem of access, life support, power, thruster and ballast control without any penetrations in the glass hull took a lot of innovation.

What trends are you currently noticing with respect to luxury yacht builders and their owner’s desire to incorporate yacht-based submersibles into their yachts? As Triton Submarines embraces these trends, will you create custom submarines that will blend seamlessly into each unique yacht design?

Luxury yacht builders are really only interested in our luxury deep submersibles because their clients are asking about them. We have an on-going initiative to educate the market about integrating subs onto yachts and the relative ease with which that can be done. Sub acquisition, crew training, maintenance and operations are unique, but not overly complex, issues. We have recently doubled our model line-up to 10 different subs which should meet anyone’s mission requirements.

Today Space Exploration is all the rage with innovators such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson. At this time, only Sir Richard Branson has shown an interest in deep sea exploration. When do you think that more innovators will turn their attention to the many benefits of the ocean and deep sea exploration?

I really don’t have an answer to that question. My partner and I puzzle over the significant efforts toward getting into space when 95% of the ocean depths are still unexplored. On almost any submersible dive you are seeing parts of the ocean that no human eye has seen before. If you dive into the abyssal ocean, chances are you will encounter new species on every dive. And then there are tens of thousands of seamounts and deep sea vents with totally unique eco-systems just waiting to be explored. However, we have recently come to an agreement with a wealthy innovator to fund the build of our first full ocean depth Triton 36,000/3 and we expect that the sub, and that commitment, will change mankind’s relationship with the deep ocean.