Arison steps down as Carnival's CEO, names successor

By Tom Stieghorst
Micky Arison and Arnold DonaldCruise maestro Micky Arison, whose name is nearly inseparable from the Carnival brand, will step down as CEO of Carnival Corp. this week after 34 years at the helm.

For the first time since Arison's father, Ted, founded Carnival in 1972, a person outside the family will be running the company.

Taking over on July 3 will be Arnold W. Donald, a 12-year Carnival Corp. board member and former chemical industry executive who has no management experience in the cruise business.

Arison, 64, remains chairman of Carnival Corp.'s 11-member board, the top position at any corporation. COO Howard Frank also stays in his role, giving Donald a wealth of experience to draw on.

Donald, 58, joined the board in 2001 and is said to have taken an active interest in Carnival's various brands. He had a 20-year career running divisions of the chemical giant Monsanto Co. and became CEO of Merisant, a sweetener company that was spun off from Monsanto in 2000.

Arison said he has come to value and rely on Donald's judgment and believes he'll bring a fresh perspective.

"I'm not going anywhere," Arison said, adding that he plans to remain chairman "for the foreseeable future."

The Arison family controls about 27% of Carnival's stock, the largest single holding by far.

Although little known in the industry, Donald has strong people and management skills, according to those who have worked with him.

"Arnold is a very smart, very astute guy, very affable," said former Carnival Cruise Lines President Bob Dickinson.

Dickinson, who served on the board with Donald until April, called him an "extraordinarily good listener" who "comes to sound judgments by weighing both what is said and what is not said."

He added: "Any organization benefits when you have a guy of Arnold's extraordinary talent."

Arnold DonaldDonald grew up in New Orleans, the son of a carpenter, and graduated from Carleton College. At Monsanto, he was key to the development of the herbicide Roundup and went on to fill several top jobs, including co-president of the agriculture biotechnology division. In 1997, he was named Black Enterprise magazine's executive of the year.

Married with three children, he resides in St. Louis.

In a conference call for Wall Street analysts, Donald listed his priorities as consistently delivering on the promise of an exceptional vacation, expanding the appeal of Carnival brands globally and driving returns on invested capital higher over time.

"I want to assure you that I expect to be accountable, that I believe, as the current management team does, in transparency and responsiveness when it comes to important relationships our company has," Donald said.

In the conference call, Arison said the executive change was driven by laws for public companies in the U.K., where splitting the role of chairman and CEO is seen as a benefit to shareholders.

Carnival was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2003 as a condition for approval of its takeover of P&O Princess Cruises, which had been headquartered in London.

Analysts, however, said that might not be the whole reason for the move.

"I don't know if you completely discount that [reason]," said Matthew Jacob, cruise analyst at ITG Investment Research. "But I think the timing speaks to some other needs the company felt they had. To make some changes surrounding the last two years seems pretty sensible."

The move to a new CEO comes as Carnival tries to regain its footing following a drop in bookings, a run of bad publicity and harsh scrutiny from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Some of the publicity might have been colored by Arison's ownership of the Miami Heat basketball team and his courtside presence at games during the team's run-up to the NBA championship this year.

"The fact that Micky Arison is a bit of a celebrity CEO -- he owns the Heat and is a known person outside the investment community -- maybe resulted in them getting more outsized coverage from the media," Jacob said.

A new CEO at Carnival Corp., he said, might let Arison escape criticism when he doesn't appear on the scene in the wake of high-profile incidents, such as the fire that crippled the Carnival Triumph in February or the capsizing of the Costa Concordia in January 2012.

Micky ArisonAfter 34 years, Arison also might simply have had his fill of executive duties. While pledging to dedicate his energy to Carnival's future, he told analysts he would focus on shipbuilding and other areas where he has extensive knowledge.

"I'm going to be looking to Arnold to run the day-to-day corporate operation," he said. "And I may even take a couple of golf lessons."

While Donald will oversee all 10 Carnival Corp. brands, the most immediate challenges he faces are at Carnival Cruise Lines.

Carnival positioned the reintroduction of the Carnival Triumph in Galveston, Texas, on June 13 as the pivot point in the comeback of the line, which has a four-part strategy for getting back on course.

The Fun Ship 2.0 product innovations, and upgrades to its fleet's power systems are two legs of that strategy.

In addition, it plans more marketing, including an upswing in co-op spending for travel agents in the second half of the year. And it plans a series of road shows and other measures to reconnect with the travel agent community.

Dickinson said some new blood in the corporate suite at Carnival Corp. could benefit all its stakeholders.

"We have had, up to this time, a finite number of people in Carnival Corp.," Dickinson said. "Up at the top corporate level, the organization has really been defined by two people. Well, now you're defining it by three people, and I think that increase in intellectual capital and drive and determination and youth, relatively, can only bode well for Carnival Corp."

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly. 
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