Carnival Corp. president and CEO Arnold Donald is stepping down
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The CEO of the world’s largest cruise company will step down this summer after nearly nine years at the helm.
Arnold Donald, 67, is stepping down as CEO of Carnival Corporation, the parent company of Princess, Holland America, Cunard and six other brands, including its namesake line, Carnival.
Josh Weinstein, 48, currently the chief operations officer for the cruise giant, will take on the role of president and CEO after Donald’s departure on Aug. 1.
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Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Donald, starting with a profile I did of him when I was a travel reporter for The Associated Press.
He was one of the few Black CEOs of a large travel company and took over the cruise company in 2013 during a period of turmoil. Donald replaced Micky Arison, the son of Carnival’s founder, who had been the CEO since 1979. Donald was the first person outside the founding family to run the company, although Arison still remained very active in the company, serving as the chairman of the board.
Donald’s first task — very similar to one of his last ones — was to reassure the public that cruising was safe.
Carnival was having a bad streak. First, its Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Italy, killing 32 passengers.
Then an engine room fire on its Carnival Triumph left that ship without power. That alone wouldn’t be an issue — but for five days, passengers lacked air conditioning, hot food and use of most toilets. Cable news was fixated on the ship, dubbing it the “poop cruise.”
Donald’s job was to help passengers cast aside their fears and put the fun back into cruising.
More recently, his job was to steer the company through the COVID-19 downturn without filing for bankruptcy or taking government bailout money (no small feat). Now, the public seems to want to sail again, with strong bookings coming in across the industry.
The first time I met Donald, we were walking across the Lido Deck on one of Carnival’s older ships. Every few seconds, he would stop mid-sentence to ask guests if they were having fun. Small talk is an art, and he was a master at it.
The cruise industry has always struggled to attract first-time cruisers. Donald went out of his way to be a cheerleader for those travelers.
“You’re not marketing a product, you’re marketing an experience — a life experience,” Donald told me back in 2014.
Donald grew up in New Orleans during segregation, the youngest of five children.
In our first interview, he recalled that as a young Black boy, “society was constantly telling us in subtle ways that you’re less than, you weren’t really a part of, you can’t do this, you can’t do that.”
Slowly, that started to change. The civil rights movement came and a scholarship let him attend a prestigious, private high school. That’s when his opportunities grew and his mindset of preparing to run the world — or, at least, a giant company — began to form.
Donald’s path to Carnival wasn’t the most conventional one.
He spent much of his career at the Monsanto Company overseeing Roundup weed killer, and later led a company manufacturing the artificial sweetener Equal.
But he fell in love with cruises during his spare time. Actually, it was his love of blackjack that led him to cruises — something that as a blackjack player myself has always stuck with me.
“I counted cards,” Donald told me in 2014. Back in the day, dealers on ships didn’t shuffle cards frequently. That made it much easier to count cards than in land-based casinos. His winnings paid for that first cruise and there was no turning back.
Now, as Weinstein takes over the company, he is going to face one of the busiest travel seasons in recent history, one that is complicated by ongoing supply chain and staffing challenges.
The pandemic is also making it harder to get new travelers onto cruises. Images of passengers quarantined on the Diamond Princess, one of Carnival’s ships, early in the COVID-19 outbreak are still fresh in many vacationers’ minds.
Unlike Donald, Weinstein has spent years in the cruise industry. The past 20 have been at Carnival, including the past few years as Donald’s deputy. Donald will remain involved in the company as vice chairman.
Donald addressed the change very briefly Tuesday morning during a panel discussion at Seatrade Cruise Global, the cruise industry’s annual meetup in Miami.
“I’m really excited for Josh, and more excited for me, so it’s all good,” Donald said after being asked about his changing role at the company by BBC news presenter Lucy Hockings, who was moderating the panel.
Donald and other cruise industry CEOs on the “state of the cruise industry” panel then quickly moved on to talking about the ongoing comeback of cruising.
With additional reporting from Gene Sloan in Miami.
Featured photo by Lars Niki/Stringer/Getty Images.
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