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An Interview With Carnival's
New President - Gerry Cahill

by Roy Witman © 2008

After 35 years at Carnival Cruises, legendary President, Bob Dickinson has made the decision to retire. Filling his shoes will be a familiar face at Carnival, that of Gerry Cahill former Chief Financial Officer, who has been with the organization since 1994. While Bob Dickinson will be a member of the Carnival board, Gerry is official at the helm. I had the privilege of discussing with Gerry his new position and other points of interest.

ROY: Gerry, what influenced you to study accounting in college?

GERRY: I started college as a finance major and freshman year at the University of Miami I took Introductory Accounting. I kind of liked it because it was very logical. I have a brain that thinks very logically so I changed my major to accounting and stayed in it.

ROY: How did Howard Frank pursue you to jump ship and join Carnival Corporation?

GERRY: I don't know if I jumped ship. Howard had known me back at Paine Webber. I had worked with him. Howard had been the audit partner at Resorts International so we had a relationship. Then he moved me to Wyoming and I agreed I would go to Wyoming for two years. After that my family and I decided we really wanted to go back to south Florida. Wyoming is such a beautiful area but it is a little colder than usual for someone used to going around in a pair of shorts and t-shirt in January. Howard had read in the papers that I was coming back so he called me since we had a relationship. So it worked and I was very fortunate. Life is funny like that. Sometimes you wind up in the right place accidentally.

ROY: How did CEO Micky Arison approach you and offer you the position of President? Did you have any time to think about it?

GERRY: I had a lot of time to think about it because Micky had been bouncing different ideas off me for a few years to take a position in the operations side. Micky has always liked that executives have operating experience and I happen to agree with him. So I've had a lot of time to think about the issue of whether I wanted to go into operations prior to Bob deciding that he was going to retire. The day that Micky actually walked into my office and asked me, I already had plenty of time to think about it so it took me about 10 seconds.

ROY: What do you feel Carnival employees will miss most about Bob once he retires?

GERRY: The people in the organization have really welcomed me better than I ever anticipated and I think it's going very well. Bob has been a tremendous supporter of mine and has handled the transition better than anything I could ask for.

ROY: Do you feel that the new fuel surcharge will have any effect on bookings?

GERRY: We are anticipating and certainly hoping it won't but time will tell. We don't really expect that it will have any negative impact.

ROY: Do you have any new ideas on how to increase onboard revenue in your fleet of ships?

GERRY: We are always looking at new things but to me it is a very, very delicate balance because you don't want to ever give the impression to guests that you're nickel and diming them these days. The idea is to try to find new things for guests that were not available in the past but that they would have an interest in paying for. There are some different things that we're looking at that will evolve over time. It's just this year that we're going through a complete upgrade of the gift shops and all the merchandising in there. We've spent a lot of time in trying to upgrade the quality of the products and I think it's going to work. But there are other things that are in the works that I'm not ready to talk about yet.

ROY: On average, in your former position with Carnival Corporation, how many hours did you normally work per week? As President of Carnival do you plan on working and traveling more?

GERRY: This would scare people! In my old job I don't actually know but if I had to guess I probably worked 60 - 65 hours per week. Throughout my entire career I've been a worker. I love work and I get a real high out of what I've done and I love the job I had before. Since I've been in charge of Carnival Cruise Lines, I can't remember taking a day off but I don't anticipate that's going to go on forever. I'm going through a transition and obviously there's a lot of learning for me at this point in time. Hopefully I can moderate it as I go forward but right now it's basically seven days a week.

ROY: What made your company go outside the Carnival family to bring in a new marketing director? What qualities in Ruben Rodriguez attracted you?

GERRY: When Bob was President, Carnival Cruise Lines had already started a search for a Chief Marketing Officer. When I came in I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do with respect to that search. The position had not been filled at that point. But what I decided after I met with Ruben during the PCG work he was going for Carnival Cruise Lines about 1 ½ years ago was that I was very impressed with him.

He has a tremendous strategic mind and so I saw an opportunity there to bring in someone that had the tactical sense and an excellent understanding of how to marry your marketing and your guest experience together and how important it is that they go together well. So to me it was a great opportunity to bring in a fresh viewpoint, to bring in somebody that had this experience to help us really get the marketing to work better with the product itself. Bob has said this over the years - that we don't get the pricing that our products deserve. Ruben's task is to help us get the pricing.

ROY: Do you plan on ever doing a President's cruise for concierge club members in the future?

GERRY: That is a question that I don't know the answer to. Nobody has asked me that question yet. That's an interesting question though. I'm not adverse to it. I'd have to talk to [some others] and see what [they] think about it.

ROY: Living in Florida most of your life, did you have a hard job convincing your family to move to Wyoming to take the position with Safecard?

GERRY: No, I'll tell you a little bit about my style. Before we made the decision to move I flew the entire family to Wyoming. We went out there for about 5 days and I said if we go it's because everyone decides we want to go. It's kind of my style as I like to include people. I don't make all the decisions but I always include people in the decision-making process so we all went out there and the entire family voted to go. It was a truly great experience but we were happier living in south Florida because of the weather.

ROY: I recently read that your last family vacation was a bike trip to Ireland. Did your family have more time together versus on a cruise vacation? Did they all enjoy it?

GERRY: It's interesting. I think we probably had about the same amount of time together. At this stage with my daughters being grown adults I'll do anything I can to get the family together. Over the years we've probably done 15, 16 or 17 cruise vacations together with the family. We had actually come up with the idea of a bike vacation when I was on a cruise in Alaska. The concept of going on a bike was great since we're all very physically active [and athletic].

My wife and daughters are huge runners so the idea of going and doing something physically challenging was very attractive to them so I used that as a lure to get the whole family together. My one daughter lives in London and the other lives in Tampa. They are both gone and so if I could come up with an idea to get the whole family together I would do it, I would pay for it, whatever it takes.

ROY: Let's say in 3 years Micky asks you to replace him as Chairman. What would be your answer?

GERRY: I don't think that far down the road. I have one thought in mind today and that is to really do a great job as president of Carnival Cruise Lines. I will take what happens tomorrow but you know what - first I have to do a great job as president of Carnival Cruise Lines. If Micky would ask me that down the road that would come probably because of the fact I had done a great job at Carnival Cruise Lines, so listen, I'm happy to be here.

Carnival Cruise Lines is the largest cruise line in the world with over 20 ships - including the recently launched Carnival Freedom - that visit all seven continents.

Read more about the Carnival Cruise Line.

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