How This Cruise Line is Building a Culture That You Want to Be a Part Of

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When was the last time you were so impressed with the service of a company that you felt compelled to take a picture with their staff? How many companies create cultures that YOU want to be a part of?


This year, I went on my first Celebrity cruise with my family and we absolutely loved it. A voice in the PA system on the first day taught us the difference between a ship and a boat is because of the size and that’s why our ship is a relationSHIP, not a love boat. Little did I know that the voice is from, Captain Kate McCue, the first ever female captain of a major cruise ship. She’s my first female ship captain!


We really loved the staff, who all remembered our names and our stories. They seemed genuinely happy to get to know us and serve us. In our cabin, I read on a napkin, “Celebrity, where the world is at your service”. I really felt like the staff wanted to make this true for us; the world was really at my service.


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I wondered, if the staff were so focused on delivering this first-class experience, what were the company’s leaders like? I found out that the president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, is the first female CEO of a publicly traded cruise line on the New York Stock Exchange. It's a big deal - why? Because in an industry full of male captains and CEOs, Lisa was breaking the glass ceiling by putting Celebrity in the spotlight through world-class service. So I got to interview Lisa on how she created this culture for Celebrity and how she’s using her position to change the world.



Learning before designing and innovating


When Lisa took over as CEO, people were actually cheering for her to shake things up at the company. What really helped her become effective was the time she spent learning in all her previous roles within the company, gaining perspectives from sales, marketing, operations, eCommerce, public relations, etc. The people who worked with her trusted and supported her because of her results. So when she became CEO, that trust allowed her to make changes quickly.


She created a complete culture shift--hiring the first female captain, elevating the importance of diversity and sustainability, investing $500 million plus in fleet innovation, and building a billion-dollar ship (Celebrity Edge). Celebrity Edge was named the 2019 Cruiser Choice by Cruise Critic: “it's not the largest, nor the most luxurious; But it is one of the unique and appealing cruise ships we've seen in a decade and it was very much built to appeal to the contemporary traveler.”


How can you get to know your team more? How can you ignite the enthusiasm among your team to improve your company culture?


Leveraging diversity to grow business and brand reputation


“We need to teach young girls less about fitting into the glass slipper and more about shattering the glass ceiling.” Lisa believes that she can really accelerate the focus of diversity inclusion with her current role. “Traveling is so enriching, just to experience different cultures and different food. I believe it is important to our business of travel and to humanity to continue to keep ourselves open to others.”


It was important for her team that the leadership champion and respect all of the cultures of the crew hailing from 60 countries in the world, because their guests were also diverse. She has hired five female hotel directors (zero when she started) and four female captains (zero when she started). Lisa has raised the percentage of women on the bridge, the command room of the ship, from 3% to 20% over the last four years.


celebrity cruise kelly lei 2There was a line of guests, including little boys and little girls, waiting to take pictures with Captain Kate. I was thinking that my sons will grow up not thinking a pilot or ship captain would have to be a man.


Lisa knew diversity was important, but she feels that even she underestimated how important it was going to be. She has received numerous notes, emails and social media messages telling her that what Celebrity does in the world is so important. She believes that it is why people stay loyal and continue to choose Celebrity.


How are you leveraging the diversity of your team to create new ideas or gain more clients? How are you championing diversity in the way you do business?


Building a proud company culture for employees and customers


I asked Lisa what she wants her crew and customers to feel when they are on her ships. Without hesitation, she said, “I want them to feel proud.” She wants her guests to feel proud and happy that they are spending their hard earned money on this vacation with their loved ones. She wants her employees to be proud to work on the ship. She believes that you can get a paycheck to satisfy whatever it is that you want or need in life, but if people are proud of where they work, they will be more loyal and retention will be higher. Lisa was most proud of delivering Celebrity Edge and having Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Laureate, as the Godmother of the ship. The cruise members told her how proud they were to choose someone like Malala. There were even tears in their eyes on the day of the ship delivery.


How can you make your team proud of working at your company? How can you make your customers feel proud of doing business with you?


Continue to attract talent and never be complacent


The biggest challenge for her now is to continue attracting and retaining talent to build their brand and culture. She believes Celebrity can do this by treating their employees well, keeping their service customer-focused, and making sure their culture is strong no matter what ship they are on. Celebrity is getting ready for the launch of their new Galapagos ship, Celebrity Flora. Lisa sees it as her job to ensure all the future ships and projects are just as game-changing as the ones before. If you are treating people well and have big visions for the company (continuously innovating and doing exciting projects), talents will want to jump on your ship.


How do you build your vision so big that your team will go the extra mile for you? How do you continue to challenge your team to up their game? How can you be the employer of choice?


Your company culture can WOW both customers and employees. Discover how from our case studies: 



About the Author

Kelly Lei

Kelly is the happy growth activator at DH. With her 15+ years of lessons learned in engineering, sustainability, investing, business, education and non-profit, Kelly works with business leaders, especially startup founders, to level up their personal and team performance. She's also a venture investor passionate about creating a better future of work and a sustainable world.

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