11 Tips To Success From The Woman In Charge Of The World’s Largest Cruise Line

Laura Begley Bloom

Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy Christine recently made waves in the cruising industry when she appointed Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal to be the company’s new CFO (chief fun officer) and launched a brand campaign titled, “Choose Fun.”

It’s part of Duffy’s management philosophy: “People first and financials will follow.” And it’s one of the hallmarks of her leadership as the head of the world’s largest cruise line. With 25 ships, 43,000 employees and nearly five million annual passengers, running Carnival Cruise Line is no small feat.

Duffy is the first-ever woman to serve as Carnival’s president — and this year marks her third at the helm. Hers is an inspirational success story. She began her career as a travel agent and rose through the ranks to become CEO of Maritz Travel Company (a world leader in corporate meetings, events and incentive travel), then CEO of the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA), before taking her current role. “I am all about this journey of change, transformation and reinvention,” says Duffy.

As a leader in the travel space, Duffy is also a champion for women’s rights. She founded Meeting Professionals International’s Women’s Leadership Initiative to address the limited number of females holding executive and leadership positions in the travel industry, and she is a member of The Committee of 200, an organization of the world’s most successful women business leaders, working to advance women’s leadership.

We recently caught up with Duffy to get her insight on how she got to this lofty position, how a fun factor can help you in your own career and how she inspires other women to get ahead.

1. Start Small

My mother is French, so I speak French and growing up I spent a lot of time traveling in France and in Europe. I knew I wanted to be in travel. Back then, the best job was to be a Pan Am or TWA flight attendant. I made it to the final rounds of the interviews in New York, but what I didn’t realize was they took very seriously the fact that you had to be 5 feet 4 inches in your stocking feet. I’m 5 feet 2 inches. I was pretty devastated when that didn’t work out. So I ended up getting a job as a receptionist at a travel agency on Walnut Street in Philadelphia, which was travel agency row. After six months, I went down the street to McGettigans Travel Bureau. This was 1982 and I was hired by Norbert McGettigan, who met me in the reception area and said “hire her.” So for $200 a week I became a travel agent in Philadelphia. McGettigans did a ton of cruise business back when the QE2 was in Philadelphia. They had done the wedding of Grace Kelly.

2. Follow the Unconventional Path

My fundamental principle is to find your passion and pursue it. The one thing consistent for me is travel. Running a trade association was quite different than being a travel agent or running a big consumer company. All of it ties back to my passion, which is travel. You need to figure out your passion and go after it, and be willing to get out of your comfort zone, which clearly I have done many times because every time I was offered a great opportunity, my immediate reaction was: “Are you talking to me?” Focus on the journey, but stay open to what shows up.

3. Make Yourself Known

Don’t assume people know what you do, whether you’re a business or an individual. Operating under the radar is not a sustainable strategy for success. I see this with many women, who don’t want to talk about what they do because they think people should notice. They think: “My boss should know what I do, people should know the value I contribute; it’s not nice to talk about what you’re doing; it’s braggadocious, it’s whatever.” That is just not a good thing. Generally, men are much better at saying, “Hey, look what I did.”

4. Go Beyond Your Job

I think women get very heads down and say, “I’m working really hard; people should know what I am doing,” and they don’t engage in what is going around them, whether that is your community, whether that is your hobby or whether that is a professional network. You have to have a network and you have to work at these things. I am a big believer that the more you get involved outside your job, the more you advance.

5. Give Back

I believe in giving back and helping others along the way, and I do make sure — especially given the environment today — that I never forget every one of my opportunities came from a man. There were no women saying, “Hey, do you want to be president and CEO?” because there were no women in those roles. So I do think this idea of giving back — and for me, given where I am, helping other women see the possibility of what they can do — is important. If someone would have told me that I would have been president of Carnival Cruise Line when I was turned down from Pan Am, I would have thought they were smoking something.

6. Don’t Focus on a Straight Line

There are a lot of opportunities that you are not expecting that don’t exist right now. You really can’t predict what is going to happen, and if you’re not open to what shows up because you are so focused on the next step, you’re going to miss it. A career and a life is not linear and if we are so focused on the next step, we don’t see what’s around us — real possibilities.

7. Take a Step Back to Get Ahead

When I left Maritz to go to CLIA, you could have said that was a step back. I took a lot less money, and CLIA was a non-profit. If I had not taken the CLIA job, I would not be here. But it never even occurred to me when I went to CLIA that it would lead me to a cruise executive job.

8. Embrace Your Inner Fun Factor

The other thing that is interesting — and I’ve had this said to me numerous times — is that people want to work with people who are fun and easy to work with. There are people who are difficult to work with, and I never thought that would be a criteria. And I hate to say this, but I think there is also this thing where women sometimes are overcompensating and thinking, “I’m going to act like a man and I’m going to be tough.”

9. Have Empathy

A lot of people are coming out of great schools and they are so smart, but they don’t start at the bottom and work their way up. When you start in the middle or start as a director, it is really hard to be empathetic to the decisions that we make and how those trickle down and impact people on the front lines. I think about that when I go on a ship. I spend time walking around and just thanking the people who clean up the cabins or work in the engine room. I don’t think people understand how appreciated that is and how people just want to be acknowledged for the work they do and the contributions they make. So how do we make sure that we’re empathetic?

10. Think About Travel as a Career Option — and Consider Its Impact

I don’t know that kids go to school and say, “I want to be in the travel industry.” They are all going in and saying, “I want to work for Google or Apple or I want to be an investment banker or a lawyer or get my MBA.” There is an under-appreciation for the value of travel as an industry and the economics of travel and why travel matters in such a big way. Clearly, if you are working at St. Jude’s, that is an amazing mission and purpose, but I believe what we do serves an amazing purpose for people because a vacation is the most precious thing. Travel brings people together with all of this divisiveness that we have. When people are on a Carnival cruise ship, they are just together having fun. I also look at the people we employ — we have 40,000 employees on the ships representing 60 countries and 110 different cultures, and they’re working together and living together and serving our guests. It’s pretty amazing. But a lot of people don’t translate that to a job and a career. Or they translate it into a job but not a career and that’s where I think we have not done a good enough job attracting and being on the radar of a lot of these academic universities. But we really do need to make sure that we are attracting the best and the brightest and more people that can see travel as a real legitimate option. Because there are so many different things you can do in the travel industry.

11. Take the Next Step

Did you see Darkest Hour? At the end of the movie, there is a quote, which is my new thing: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal and courage is getting up and taking the next step every day.” It is so true because success is not final — it is very fleeting. There are people who get some success and think, “I’m better than everyone else,” or people that have a failure and think, “I’m dead.” And neither is true. It is about getting up every day and figuring out the next step to take.

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