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Crystal Cruises at Cruise 360 In Fort Lauderdale, Florida

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Education & Perceptional Application: Edie Rodriguez

Crystal Cruises CEO Discusses Rise & Implementation Of Her Continued Strategy Ahead Of Cruise 360

Edie Rodriguez in Weston, Florida. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

Identifying strengths and taking them to the next level seems to be a way of life for Crystal Cruises CEO Edie Rodriguez. She understands the potential and elements of a brand but also seeks to build them. With her ideas and leadership, Crystal as a brand continues to grow by leaps and bounds with such elements as air cruising, yacht expeditions, river cruising and the continued core of their brand on the ocean. Rodriguez sat down with The Buzz ahead of CLIA’s Cruise 360 Show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to discuss evolution, ambition and keeping your eye on the ball.

The Buzz: Can you talk how your beginnings and getting your education at Nova shaped you from the get-go?

Edie Rodriguez: Sure. Well, I live in Weston. It's a great place to raise a family. My son is now 27 but I've lived here from when I moved, basically, from New York to Fort Lauderdale 30-plus years ago. And it's just a great community. I used to come here on spring break and I always loved the warm weather. I couldn't take the New York winters so I said, "I'm going to get out of Dodge and try it." And really, when I came, I said, "I'll try it for a year." And the rest is history. I've been here well over 30 years now and I love it. So Nova was a great school to go to locally. Because what happened was, I started my degree and when I moved, I stopped to work. Then I went back and completed my degree. So I'm a big fan of Nova. My son went to their private high school and he has his MBA in international business from them. One of my sisters is a lawyer in New York. Her law degree is from Nova so we're sort of three in the family and that it's our alma mater in one way, shape, or form. But I think they're a great organization. And coincidentally, I'm having a meeting later today with their president.

The Buzz: Was it a specific kind of training or was it the experience that shaped you

ER: I would say that, first of all, I was given great advice as a young child and I've said it often. It’s my advice to anybody today and it was the same advice I gave my own son, which is to get a great education, find your passion, and follow it. That’s exactly what I did. So I guess I'm traditional in that I do see the value in a formal education. And not only is my undergraduate degree-- I have a Bachelor of Science, but I also have gone on and I've taken executive management graduate courses at both Harvard and Stanford. So I have a philosophical approach that, as an individual, I want to grow till I go. I've got all these little mini-mantras. Edie-isms, I call them. And one of them is to grow till I go, meaning, just like, in my company, I say it's in a state of perpetual evolution. As an individual, for me, it's a state of perpetual growth and revolution and education. Every day, every man or woman is my superior in that I may learn from them. So every day I perpetually want to learn and grow both formally. That’s why I'll still take these executive education programs at some of the finest Ivy League schools, but I also think what forms you is absolutely business experience. Because particularly in this technological day and age, I literally work 24/7/365. I don't say that as a martyr. Not one day did it ever feel like work my whole 36-plus year career… because I love so much what I'm doing that every day is a new adventure.  I'm in love with what I do. So to work that way, the company obviously gets the benefit of it as do my team members, my employees - they know I'm accessible 24/7 - as well as the guests and the clients. They email me. I'm the only one who works my email. I answer them back directly. They have my cell. They call me. I'm totally accessible. So I think what forms you is that foundation of a good formal education, but it is about continuing education. It is about work experience. But in all of it, I think what is paramount is the fact that you really have to love what you do because if you don't, you're going to be miserable and then that's going to show. It really also boils down to that old Dale Carnegie foundation: To Win Friends and Influence People. If you don't get along with people, and you can't motivate them to meet the company objectives, or to have the brand fans love your brand, then you're not going to win. And any company has to be a marketing-driven organization.  I think those are the foundations to lead you to that. And so I'm still a proponent of formal education, but there is nothing like experience. But I believe that it is critical to find your passion and follow it. At Crystal we have a mantra: we hire for the personality and train for the skill. And I think that that is critical, particularly when you're in a service industry where our on-board team members are working 24/7. At the end of the day, if they don't love what they do, it's going to show. I can train them how to give good service, how to place the fork and the knife where it needs to go, how a sommelier should pour the wine. But if they don't love what they do, it's going to be generic in the function. So by giving it their own personality because they're passionate and love what they do, it's a win-win formula.

Crystal Symphony On The Water. [Courtesy: Crystal Cruises]

Where does the heart of Crystal lie in your perception?  And then B, when did you find your passion for the cruise industry? Did it happen at a certain point?

ER:  found my passion for the cruise industry very early on. My first job was as a travel consultant. I wanted to learn everything there was about the travel industry. That’s when I went on my first cruise. In fact, my younger sister when she graduated college, I took her as my present to her. Her college graduation present from me was a trip on a cruise. We went on a girls' get-away cruise to the Caribbean and it was great fun and that was my first flavor of it. So obviously, I sold it first in the travel agent capacity. And then that was my first cruise, taking her on that college graduation present gift. I just fell in love with it. There are many ways to travel…and obviously at different times you want to do different things. But in general, cruising was my passion. As a little girl,, my passion was I wanted to travel to every country in the world in the most luxurious manner. How was I going to fund it, being the independent person I am? That led me to a career in travel. And the rest is history. But in the same breath after that first cruise and selling it and reading about all the different marketing positions of the cruise industry brands, I just became passionate about it. My goal, then, was I wanted to go on every cruise line brand, and subsequently, I pretty much have. So it was great because I always say you can be the greatest salesperson in the world, but there is nothing like when you actually experience what you're selling. And so, sure, after that first cruise, generically I could have said, "Oh, I went on a cruise, and I know what it's like." But when you really then break it down and see the different brand positionings and the deliverable of the different experiences, it really changes. So the love of the cruise industry came from  there and still with me today. I think I'm even more passionate today than when I started about the cruise industry and about travel. Then three and a half years ago --- I admired Crystal from afar as a competitor. And I didn't come in like a bull in a china shop to change the world. I respected the then-23 year history of the brand and I was cognizant of the fact there are reasons that they win the awards they win. I don't have an ego the way a lot of CEOs do. They want to come in and they want to change things and put their mark. It wasn't about that for me. I spent nothing but the first two weeks on my job interviewing pretty much every shoreside employee --- as well as on sea. My first day on the job was actually on a ship. So I met with the crew and chatted with them there. I do town hall meetings on board the ships every time I'm on board. And then when I got to the office in LA, I spent my first two weeks really having, obviously, a company town hall meeting. But then, meeting with the individual employees and finding out what they liked about Crystal, what they didn't, what they felt could be improved. And a lot of the stuff they wanted, respectfully, I couldn't understand why those changes weren't implemented…because a lot of them were easy things to make the employees happier. So I implemented those very quickly. But it also gave me an opportunity to see where the challenges were and really what needed addressing. And there were two areas in particular, and we have addressed them. But concurrent to all that, when the former chairman was hiring me he had been recruiting me for 10 months. And when I finally said, "Yes. Okay. I'll come," I said, "but I'm not coming unless you're going to grow the brand.” Because respectfully, at that point you're a 23-year-old brand, you need new ships to grow when you look at the competitive landscape. I believe brands either grow or die." And he said, "Yes, yes. Please come and we will grow the brand." And of course, I'm a woman of my word so I'm going to give you 100% and I expect that that's what's going to happen. And if not, I'm going to very pushy. After I got there, a few months into it, they decided-- the then parent company who by the way was a fantastic founding owner. They were tremendous. They built the brand. They made the investment. But they just got to a point in their ownership-- Crystal was their icing on the cake but it was not their core business. NYK's core business was container shipping. So they made a strategic decision several months into my being there that “We know we told you we're going to buy new ships and build and grow, but we're not in a position to --" I said, "Fine. Then we're going to sell and find somebody who will." And that was what happened. We engaged JP Morgan. There was a bidding war and Genting was the recipient of that bid. Next month, in May, will be two years that they've owned us, and they've been a phenomenal new owner and an incredible parent company. They are the ones who bought us and were very bullish, as I told all the bidders, "Do not even bid or buy us unless you're willing to spend and make the investment to grow the brand." They understood that, and they agreed with that. And they have made the investment, and we are growing the brand.

Go To Part II Of Interview


Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

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