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Seabourn Cruise Line: Finally Something Positive!

I learned – and taught – over the years that the three most important words when starting a new position are: I Don’t Know!  By saying and utilizing these words the opportunities to learn, avoid mistakes, correct errors…basically improve…are omnipresent.  I have found those that are most likely to succeed rely far more on “I don’t know” than ego and stubbornness.  And, it seems, this is – quite fortunately – playing out at Seabourn.

Seabourn’s New President, Natalya Leahy

Last week I wrote an article about the situation at Seabourn and, being honest, it may have sounded bleak, but actually was written with the hope that my two decades of investment in Seabourn wouldn’t sink to the ocean’s depths. I wrote, in part:

The good news is that Seabourn’s new president, Natalya Leahy, is uniformly liked as a person. That is, to my mind, a huge first step in righting a floundering ship. The issue is that Natalya has, for the past seven years, been the financial person (Chief Financial Officer) behind the scenes for both Holland America and Seabourn. That has virtually, if not literally, nothing to do with what a luxury line is supposed to deliver to its guests or how to deliver it.

Natalya was on the [Luxury Cruising CEO] panel with Michael Ungerer (Explora Journeys), Navin Sawhney (Ponant), and, Barbara Muckermann (Silversea).  It became clear that Natalya doesn’t have the experience or knowledge base to discuss service levels, booking trends, sustainability issues, etc. 

That is not to say that she cannot learn things. Natalya clearly is very smart, enthusiastic, and charming; all of which are necessary traits. 

Rick Meadows

And, consistent with that, last night it was announced the Seabourn’s former president, Rick Meadows, has been retained as a consultant to assist Natalya “on an as-needed basis” (very important wording!) with “multiple aspects of the business, including fostering relationships with external partners“.  

One of my recent criticisms of Seabourn was that due to the philosophies that had been put in place there was a virtual, if not literal, “brain drain” with almost all executives and many staff leaving to work with other cruise lines in numbers just not seen in the industry.  While Rick Meadows may not be my favorite Seabourn alumni, the fact is that Rick does have a tremendous amount of knowledge and, as Natalya points out in the press release, “During [Rick’s] time, the company launched three new ships and introduced expedition cruises, including the order and design work to construct two purpose-built expedition ships, Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit.”

Now, I don’t view Rick as Seabourn’s savior. Heck, I was rather happy he was terminated…not fully appreciating “the devil you know is better than the one you don’t (Josh Leibowitz)“. But, honestly, while not the knight in shining armor, Rick can – and hopefully will be – a great source for Natalya…as she is in charge as president! – to understand what Seabourn is expected to be by guests, travel agents, industry partners….and, even, staff and crew.

Alas, this doesn’t mean there will be smooth sailing and I do expect the rough seas to continue for a while. Headwinds include, but are not limited to (a) not only desiring, but permitting, a change in philosophy through the brand; (b) having the financial ability to install that philosophy; (c) having the right executives, staff and crew to execute; (d) “buy in” by the guests, former guests, and potential new guests; (e) the ability to honestly differentiate Seabourn in a positive way from its competition; and, without limitation, (f) the changes being the right ones.

But with all of the concerns, a few things are certain: 

  • Natalya Leahy wasn’t brought in (and Josh Leibowitz terminated) because Carnival Corp. though things at Seabourn were going well. 
  • Natalya Leahy is smart and confident enough to say those three words and actively put in place the learning process, making them more than empty words.
  • Carnival Corp. has seen that a number of the things it put in place in recent years weren’t right and is making a move to correct them.
  • Natalya and Carnival Corp. has clearly figured out that simply applying corporate edicts doesn’t work when operating a luxury cruise line.
When I was younger, I could never admit I was wrong. Heck, that is probably why I became a lawyer, as I could argue my way out of most anything (though not the conflicts).  As I matured, I realized (learned) that admitting a bad decision gives you an opportunity that failing to admit it prevents: Making a new decision!
Whether it is the right decision or not, the decision to seek Rick’s assistance by Natalya and Carnival Corp. is the first step in admitting the mistakes at Seabourn and putting a process in place to correct them. Now, will Rick Meadow’s input be part of the solution? Only time will tell, but…

One thing is for certain: Seabourn knows it needs to change and it is making an effort to do it.  Bravo!

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 US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
  UK: 020 8133 3450
 AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232

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