by Chris King
St. Louis (NNPA)–Arnold W. Donald is the sort of impeccably smooth executive who appears to cruise through his life and varied careers, so it makes sense to find him suddenly announced as president and CEO of a global cruise corporation.
On June 25, Carnival Corporation announced that it would split the roles of chairman and chief executive officer. Micky Arison, who had served in both capacities for decades, will continue as chairman of the board, while Donald, who has served on the company’s board for the past 12 years, will assume the CEO role effective July 3.
This is a major step back into a corporate management role for a businessman who has been somewhat on the sidelines in recent years, other than corporate board service at several major corporations, including Bank of America, Crown Holdings and Laclede Group.
His most recent executive positions have been as president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council and as president and CEO of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International. He made his name and fortune previous to that as founder and CEO of Merisant after 20-plus years of senior positions at Monsanto.
One significant reason for his accepting the helm at Carnival relates to the mission of the Executive Leadership Council, a professional network and leadership forum for African-American executives of Fortune 500 companies.
“I look across corporate America, and one thing that influenced me to take this role is the relative lack of African-American participation in the leadership of Fortune 500 companies,” Donald, 58, told The American. “Hopefully, in taking on this role and joining the ranks of, unfortunately, very few others I will help make it possible for others to follow at other corporations.”
With $15.8 billion in annual revenue, Carnival Corporation would occupy the No. 159 slot on the Fortune 500 list if it were incorporated in the United States. Carnival lists its headquarters as Panama. Carnival Corporation is the largest cruise company in the world, with a portfolio of cruise brands in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia, comprised of Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, AIDA Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard, Ibero Cruises, P&O Cruises (Australia) and P&O Cruises (UK).
Currently, there are six African-American CEOs of Fortune 500 companies: Kenneth C. Frazier of Merck & Co., Inc; Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. of TIAA-CREF; Kenneth I. Chenault of American Express; Don Thompson of McDonald’s; Ursula M. Burns of Xerox Corporation; and Clarence Otis Jr. of Darden Restaurants, Inc.
Asked if diversifying the workforce and management at Carnival would be a priority, Donald said, “We have over 90,000 employees at Carnival all over the globe, so it’s already a very diverse employee base.”
Asked if he would target more minority consumers, he said, “I don’t have the stats in front of me, but there is very active participation in the African-American community on a number of our lines. Only about 3 percent of available vacationers are cruising, so we have a huge upside as a corporation to teach the public, including the African-American community, about the unbelievable experience and vacation value in cruising.”
Donald’s own African-American family has enjoyed the cruising experience. In fact, Donald said he has declined other senior executive positions during his years away from the bustle of operations, but he was enticed to accept the opportunity at Carnival because he believes in the product.
“The service, the product, appeals to me,” he said. “It makes a real, positive difference in people’s lives. One of the most memorable experiences of my life was taking my entire extended family on a cruise. This was maybe 15 years before I joined the Carnival board, but the bonding and memories are things my family still talks about.”
Donald, a New Orleans native, has kept St. Louis as his home city even when taking executive leadership positions with organizations headquartered elsewhere. Will it be possible for him to lead a global cruise line from a landlocked city?
“I will spend every second I need to spend wherever I need to spend it on behalf of the shareholders of Carnival,” Donald said. “We have a global corporate staff in Miami, and initially I will spend a tremendous amount of time in Miami. But there are no immediate plans to relocate at this time. My family’s home base is St. Louis for the foreseeable future. I love St. Louis.”
Reprinted from the St. Louis American