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.
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.