Captain Greatness

One of my ongoing “habits of Greatness” is to make a point  each month of meeting, learning from and, if possible,  having lunch with a “Man or Woman of Greatness”.

Last month was not a disappointment:

I was invited by one of my suppliers to participate at their annual convention. This year it took place on a 12 day cruise in the Mediterranean. We boarded in Rome, and stopped off in many exotic ports including Naples, Rhodes, Athens and Alexandria to name the best known. All those icons of antiquity that I studied at school finally came to life: the Acropolis, the Pyramids, the Sphinx, Mount Etna, the Coliseum…

With more than 2000 passengers including 850 in our group and 1200 staff on board I got to interact with some very interesting and great people.  But the person who stood out to me as an individual who has truly embraced excellence and is fearlessly expressing  greatness was Captain Patrik Dahlgren:

Captain by rank and current Master of the “Navigator of the Seas”, at 34 years old he commands the largest cruise ship in the world and is one of the youngest such Masters in the industry. Most are in their 50s or older, signs of a well established and slow-to-change maritime tradition of rank where age, connections and politics are often key ingredients to career advancement. His second-in-command was a Venezuelan woman in her mid-twenties.

His employers (Royal Caribbean International) clearly value capability and performance over tradition.

If you were to stand the ship up vertically and you were sitting on the bow, you’d be looking down at the Empire State Building. It is gigantic! The navigation cockpit on the bridge is exactly the same as that of the American aircraft carrier USS Forrester!

What impressed me about Captain Dahlgren was  his passion (it’s written all over his face!) and his progressive management style:

“My job is not so much to tell people what to do as most of them already know what to do. Many have been on ships like this for 10 years or more.

My job is to create an environment where the staff come from the heart!

If I can create an environment where they are actually  enjoying the cruise experience, then this will certainly reflect when they interact with our guests. I provide the staff with shore excursions, just like our guests. We have bars, parties and many activities for them. Also all staff get to eat the same excellent food as the guests do. These are just a few of the things we do to keep our staff enjoying the ship. Everyone is of course well trained in their specific roles but I never run any fancy “customer care” or “customer service excellence” programmes. They don’t really work. People coming from the heart works!

When we have problems, I ask them. They know. I spend a lot of time walking around the ship from one end to the other and speaking to staff as well as guests. Just like you met me on my round here today.

And when things go wrong, for instance say there is a fire, it’s amazing how calm everyone is. You would hardly notice. Ship discipline (which is a necessity aboard any vessel)  combined with everyone knowing exactly what they are doing creates this. We run mock situations all the time.”

Easy words from the captain one might think: ”the staff coming from the heart”…but I can tell you that the service and general friendliness from all levels of staff that I encountered over the twelve days was close to impeccable. His system clearly works!

And in an industry, certainly far more complex but not dissimilar to the fast food industry (that I know very well) in terms of pressures, staffing and managerial challenges, seasonal ups and downs, huge drive on efficiencies and profitability, that is quite an accomplishment indeed!

I was surprised to learn that as little as 8% of his activities involve navigation. More than 90% of his time is dedicated to the management of this mini floating city. So in addition to his Marine Master Licence, he has degrees in Economics, Marketing, Accounting and Organisational Behaviour.

But don’t be fooled, this man is a seasoned sailor. His career started at 12 and he has since sailed everything from private yachts of the rich and famous to  tankers, cargo ships, jumbo ferries, sophisticated military craft to the most expensive luxury liners such as the “Navigator of the Seas”.

What I also very much liked about Captain Dahlgren is that he is a “professional dreamer”: he  has his eyes set upon his next dream command:  the new generation of cruise ships: the “Oasis Class” , currently under construction in Finland, which will make his current command look very small by comparison!

And speaking with him, feeling his enthusiasm, excitement and great knowledge of these next ships,  one is left with little doubt that he will be there: he is clearly living it in his mind already, in full Technicolor!

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