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MIAMI – Arnold Donald has swag. Not the phony suburban swag, but that old-school, down-home New Orleans Black neighborhood kind of swag that signals the confident chief executive strolling into the board room is clearly in charge. As Carnival Corporation’s first African-American CEO, Donald has prepared for this high-level, high-profile, high-paid position all his life.

At the prestigious St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, an all-boys, all-African-American Catholic school where Donald received a scholarship, he recalled this inspirational mantra from his teachers: “Three times a day, they would say: ‘Gentlemen, prepare yourselves, you’re going to run the world.’ ”

It’s close enough. Today, Donald, 60, leads the world’s largest cruise line with 120,000 employees and 100 ships for the 10.5 million passengers who cruise with Carnival each year. Sitting inside his spacious 10th-floor office at Carnival Corp. in suburban Miami, Donald talked about his vision for leading the Carnival Corporation. For Donald, it’s all about trying to offer unprecedented customer service.

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He spends some of his time sifting through “psycho-graphics” to determine which of his nine “brands” – cruise ships — will best suit individual passengers. He enjoys talking to “guests” about their experiences while cruising and often asks passengers how Carnival can better serve them.

“We’re in the vacation business and part of our job is to help people have a good time,” Donald said in an interview with BlackAmericaWeb.com. “We can’t make more very fast. We can’t sell more volume. It’s not like selling shoes. Our ships sail full, we can’t sell more cabins, you can’t just build as many ships as you want in a year, there are only so many shipyards and they are limited in the number of ships they can build in a year.” “So we want to create onboard experiences where we’re giving the guests what they want,” he explained. “And therefore they are willing to pay for it. So the trick is to determine what the guests really want.”

Donald’s leadership demeanor is reminiscent of the affable Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York, who was famous for walking around the city charming residents and asking: “How am I doing?” Engaging, charismatic and gregarious, Donald is not the typical CEO. At his core, Donald is a people person – an over-achieving, quick-study executive with a hearty laugh who is known for his progressive leadership style.

Donald frequently asks his employees for their advice – and he actually listens to them. “It’s really uplifting to be around that level of human spirit all the time,” Donald said. “The level of energy here is contagious.”

After graduating from Carleton College in 1976, Arnold and his wife, Hazel, moved to St. Louis to pursue engineering degrees at Washington University. After graduating from Washington University, Arnold began his career at Monsanto, also in St. Louis, while pursuing his MBA from the University of Chicago. Today, Donald has earned a reputation for his keen attention to detail and a clear understanding of how to keep Carnival at the top of a highly-competitive industry. He often reviews spreadsheets, analyzes data, consults with consultants, and studies profits and expenditures, but the bottom line for Donald is a no-brainer – keeping customers happy and coming back for more cruises.

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6 thoughts on “Smooth Sailing for Arnold Donald, Carnival Cruise Lines’ First Black CEO

  1. Cameron Jones on said:

    Congratulations. as one of Carnival original cruise members.(I remembered how we ran aground on our very first cruise out of Miami) Its a joy to see how far the company has come and grown. Best employer ive ever worked for.

  2. Sharron on said:

    Comment for Dee. You never said why you couldn’t board the ship? All of my experiences with cruising with Carnival have been awesome. I am sorry to hear of your experience. Try it again. If you enjoy cruising, don’t let one bad experience stop you. It didn’t stop me. But my experience wasn’t on the ship, I had a freaky accident in Nassau. I fell and broke my wrist and had to get stitches to my forehead. That didn’t stop me from cruising once I healed. I went right back after healing. Always had a fantastic time cruising with my family. As a matter of fact we all are going May 2015 to Cozumel, Belize etc. 7-days. Looking forward to it and got a “FANTASTIC” deal. DON’T STOP CRUISING DEE!!

  3. redbone1954 on said:

    I have a carnival cruise planned for Dec of this year. I will be sending Mr. Donald a email asking about the entertainment on the ship and why there are none or rarely any Black enterniment on board. Do we not have any Black musical and entertainers???? soooooo I hope he gets on board with that

    • Sharron on said:

      I am leaving on a cruise on the Valor May 2015. I am looking forward to it!! I totally agree with you. There is not enough of black entertainment. Other than that, cruising with Carnival is AWESOME!!

  4. I love cruising and I’ve been cruising for 35 years. This article was great; well written and informative. Until I read this, I didn’t know that Carnival has its first Black CEO which I’m proud to see and glad that Carnival is taking a step in the right direction because the experiences I’ve had cruising on Carnival have been bad. Their service and food was below the standard compared to other cruise lines in the same category. Instead of being treated like valued passengers, they treated my family and I like just another number. Nevertheless, I decided to try a Princess Cruise (owned by Carnival) hoping that I receive a better cruising experience. But instead, I had the most horrible experience ever, leaving out of San Francisco in 2013. In fact, they wouldn’t even allow me to board the ship nor would they use all of the resources they had to get me on board even though my cruise was paid in full. After talking to their customer service reps several times, they would not give me a refund for a cruise that I was ready to board but not allowed too. It was awful and their employees were so rude and insensitive that I couldn’t even believe what was happening. What really was the fact that they kept my money. If I hadn’t wanted to make a donation to Carnival then I would have but I didn’t. As a result, we missed our entire cruise vacation that we had paid for and thoroughly prepared for. This experience was completely unbelievable and extremely frustrating. We left the port in total shock from a traumatic situation. I expected a much higher level of service and I expected to board the ship. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed and it ass extremely stressful for a frequent traveler to experience such poor service. I hopeful that Mr. Donald, the new Carnival CEO will usher in new era for Carnival, an era that appreciates its passengers and provides better and fair customer service.

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