Yesterday it was announced that Rick Meadows was retiring as President of Seabourn Cruise Line and from its parent company, Carnival Corporation. It is, of course, upsetting when the head of any company departs; mostly because of the unknown, though sometimes because he/she was the face of the company and its inspiration.
Some clients, Seabourn guests and even some staff have asked me, “What does this mean? Is Seabourn going to be OK?” The short answer, from everything I can see and tell is, “It means nothing more than Rick Meadows is out and Seabourn is moving forward.”
In all fairness to, and compassion for, Rick, there are many in the industry and guests that consider Rick to be their dear friend, colleague and otherwise wonderful and talented man. But this article is not, or is it the time for, a eulogy for Rick Meadows. This article is about what this means for Seabourn. [For those not in the industry, people seemingly never disappear after they leave a travel company; they reappear working for another one. For example, Mark Conroy retired from Regent Seven Seas and reappeared (after his non-compete) at Silversea. Larry Pimentel retired from Seabourn, reappeared at SeaDream Yacht Club and then re-reappeared at Azamara.]
So with that, and with my focus being on Seabourn, I must state upfront that while Rick is a nice person, on the business side of things we have butted heads since the day Seabourn was brought under the Holland America umbrella. If I said it once, I said it one hundred times, “That is not Seabourn!” Our differences started literally on our first telephone call and, while eventually we were settled into “cordial”, tension has been omnipresent.
I had inklings since March that this was going to happen; actually thinking it was going to be April. Rick Meadows has had a difficult time at the top of Seabourn. When he was Exec. VP of Holland America and they wanted a new president they took all of HAL away from him. They then gave him Cunard North America and that was taken away from him almost as quickly as given. I am not saying (because I don’t know) why Rick Meadows is leaving now, but the writing has been on the wall for quite a while; at least from from my perspective.
Let me give you some perspective:
I have been involved with Seabourn at a “more than mere travel agent” level since 2003. I was friends with, and a huge admirer of, Debbie Natansohn. She was the Seabourn President that made sure I was truly appreciated, personally taught me so much about what it was that made Seabourn “Seabourn” , who spoke to me about her (and they were hers) plans for the growth of Seabourn with the Seabourn Odyssey and how important – no vital – engagement from crew to guests was. Debbie’s sudden death that shocked everyone and was an emotional gut-punch that nobody thought they, or Seabourn, could survive. But we survived and so did Seabourn…and so did the Seabourn Odyssey.
Pamela Conover was Seabourn’s next president. Pam, who by the way, came from Cunard and overseeing the construction of the Queen Mary 2, was also a friend. The guests loved her, possibly to a fault! (I was on the maiden voyage of the Seabourn Sojourn and when the ship skipped Heimay Island, Iceland where I was to disembark and there were to be five days before a port with airport access would be reached, Pam had a pilot boat come out to get me. Yes, Pam was incredible at Customer Service!) But when Carnival decided to blend Seabourn and Holland America Pam was out, Seabourn was moving from Miami to Seattle, and most of its personnel were let go. But with the fears of some (most?) that that blending would become a loss of the Seabourn brand, no less its identity, Seabourn survived and grew.
And so here with are, with another change in the President of Seabourn. Yes, these are mind-boggling times that are hard to get our heads around, but alas, so they were the last two times though each for different, but equally traumatic, reasons…But Seabourn survives.
As I did with Debbie and Pam, I have asked myself, “What is the hallmark left by Rick?” and, honestly, I struggle. To be fair, Seabourn is now part of a larger corporate family so individual decisions are far and few between. But there should be something; a WOW that an individual rather than a corporation creates.
I, personally, have been troubled by Seabourn losing some of its identity by the constant marketing of Thomas Keller under Rick’s watch. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Grill by Thomas Keller and it was a needed change, but dedicating so much of the ships and marketing to a chef (and one that unless you are truly a culinary devotee you wouldn’t know who he was. Heck, the majority of people where I live and most of his premier restaurants reside don’t recognize his name) never made sense to me. To me that brand should be Seabourn: The Grill by Seabourn or just The Grill, if nothing else. [Heck, Earth & Ocean works and Chef Tony Egger – its truly creative mastermind (and my friend) – isn’t marketed.]
Similarly, marketing Adam Tihany has been similarly baffling. I, personally, like Adam, and with limited exception (ex. the bar in Encore’s The Club) I really love what he has designed on the ships. Full disclosure, my daughter interned for him twice, working on elements of both the Seabourn Ovation and Seabourn Venture. So again I have no issue with him doing work for Seabourn or his parlaying same into work for Holland America, Celebrity and other cruise lines. But why has Seabourn been marketing him, rather than Seabourn?
And don’t get me started on Andrew Weil and his Mindful Living. I know there are those that follow him, but I watched him downing too many huge and unhealthy meals to buy into his program or to support making it a focus of Seabourn marketing.
I have also had issues with Rick over itinerary planning, guest relations and more that would not be appropriate to detail here. Over time there have been improvements, but why the struggles and fights? Why the lack of personal engagement? Basically I have had an open door at Seabourn with almost every person…for decades…except Rick’s.
HOWEVER, and this is a huge HOWEVER, there are so many people in Seabourn’s Seattle office who are incredibly dedicated, literally live-eat-breathe Seabourn, care deeply not just for Seabourn but the Seabourn guests. There are times they actually tear-up when things don’t get done as quickly or as successfully as they should. Your personal Seabourn Guest Experience even before you get on the ship is personally and critically important to them. Yes, Seabourn takes your pre- and post- cruise experience personally and I am confident that this aspect of Seabourn is actually going to improve to even higher levels.
And, of course, I could not talk about Seabourn without mentioning its officers, staff and crew on the Seabourn ships. They are the best, most dedicated, and most forward-thinking at sea. They are the ones that, despite any issues I might have on land, make the magic happen for the Seabourn guests and are the primary reason Seabourn guests return time and time again. I keep in touch with many of them throughout the year, as I know many Seabourn guests do as well. That is something that is pretty special. And at Seabourn that is not going to change.
With Carnival Corporation heading into this worldwide ordeal with the least leveraged fleet and the strongest balance sheet, I am confident it and, thus, Seabourn are going to survive and soon will again thrive. Of course there are the “what ifs” that cannot but play in our heads, but Seabourn will survive.
So with that, I wish Rick Meadows a wonderful and happy retirement…until he possibly reappears.