cruise industry was stunned last week by the news that Vicki Freed,
Carnival Cruise Lines' longtime head of sales, was defecting to
Carnival archrival Royal Caribbean International.
Freed, one of the most
well-known executives in the cruise business, had spent three
decades with Carnival, and along with former CEO and president Bob
Dickinson, she had been the face of the line to travel
Freed last week assumed
the role of senior vice president of sales for Royal Caribbean, its
top sales position, four days after informing Carnival that she was
The move created an
avalanche of speculation among travel agents and the close-knit
cruise industry as to what could have prompted Freed to leave after
almost 30 years with Carnival, including 15 as one of its most
"She's been an enormous
asset, and Carnival must be disappointed they lost her," said
Richard Sasso, president and CEO of MSC Cruises USA. "Royal
Caribbean must be thrilled."
Only six months ago,
Carnival's top ranks were stocked with executives who had been with
the company since the 1970s.
Since then, Carnival
has experienced a sea change, starting with the retirement of CEO
and 35-year company veteran Bob Dickinson last summer. Carnival
Corp. CFO Gerald Cahill replaced him and promptly brought in Ruben
Rodriguez, a former vice president with the Boston Consulting
Group, as the line's first executive vice president of marketing
and guest experience.
Bringing in Rodriguez
changed Freed's role at Carnival. For 15 years she served as senior
vice president of sales and marketing. Under Cahill she became
senior vice president of sales and guest services, and for the
first time someone with a loftier-sounding title ranked between her
and the line's president. According to some industry insiders, that
fact alone perturbed some longtime Carnival executives.
"She's been with the
company forever and is a major reason for so much of its success,"
a former cruise executive said. "It was a tactical error. This is a
relationships industry. Those things matter."
Travel agents also took
note of the changes.
"She should be the top
gun. She earned the top gun," said Jeff Kivet, CEO of Cruise Value
Center in East Brunswick, N.J., who said he was blindsided by
Freed's move. "She's a lady who has all the credentials. She's a
powerhouse. Royal Caribbean must be jumping for joy. She's the
person to get."
In an interview shortly
after her resignation, Freed would only gush about her former
employer, and she insisted that none of those changes affected her
decision to leave.
She did say that she
always thought she would retire with Carnival.
"In my mind I never
thought I would leave Carnival, but this was a great opportunity in
the right time and the right place, and change is good," she said.
"We all have to grow."
President and CEO Adam Goldstein, observing the uncharacteristic
executive changes at Carnival, saw that for the first time in her
career Freed could be ripe for the taking.
"We have competed
against them almost since our inception," Goldstein said. "For the
most part, they have been an extremely stable company in their
management makeup. And that hasn't been as true lately."
Goldstein knew that
with Dickinson's departure, one of the industry's dynamic duos
would be broken up.
"It gave us the thought
that it might be worth an attempt," he said of pursuing
Dickinson, who in his
retirement has focused on raising money to fight homelessness in
Miami, said he was as stunned as anyone to hear the
In hindsight, he said,
there was at least one major signpost along the way: Lisa Bauer,
Royal Caribbean's former senior vice president of sales, was
appointed Royal Caribbean's senior vice president of hotel
operations in December.
"That was the black
swan," Dickinson said. "At the time I didn't think it was Vicki,
but my antenna was up. It struck me that it was very curious,
because Lisa had done such a bang-up job."
Goldstein said that
Bauer would have moved to operations regardless of Freed's
decision. But the conversations with Freed were happening in
tandem, and everything fell into place at the same time.
In Bauer's former
position, Freed will essentially do the same job she did at
Carnival. She will report to Goldstein and head up the company's
345-person sales force, along with managing Royal Caribbean's trade
support and services division, which includes reservations, group
sales, customer service and loyalty programs.
On the other side of
Miami at Carnival headquarters, the team was obviously caught off
guard by Freed's resignation, and it was uncharacteristically quiet
to the press. Carnival released a short statement saying that Freed
was going to "another company" and thanked her for her long career
"We thank Vicki for the
many contributions she has made to the Carnival organization over
years and the very valuable role she has played within the
company," the statement said. "She is wished well by all within the
Carnival organization as she moves to the next phase of her
As to who would replace
Freed, Carnival did not say and as of press time likely did not
One Carnival employee
said that the thought of Freed leaving was so far-fetched that
thinking of a successor for her had never occurred to anybody.
In an internal memo,
Cahill told the company, "I want to take some time to think about
the organization of our company before deciding on a replacement
for Vicki. In the interim, the sales and guest services department
heads will temporarily report to Ruben Rodriguez."
The memo prompted some
speculation that perhaps Rodriguez would take Freed's place at the
helm of sales. But the name that surfaced most often among travel
agents and other cruise industry insiders was Maurice Zarmati,
Carnival's vice president of sales, who was once Freed's boss but
never attained the top sales position at Carnival.
of an era
Reflecting on his
relationship with Freed, Dickinson said, "One of the smart things
I've done in my life was hiring Vicki. She's a go-to person. She
never let me down. She is the consummate industry
He noted that as a
professional team they were totally in sync. "She could speak and I
could finish the sentence, and I could speak and she could finish
the sentence," he said.
This end of an era
feeling was echoed by many who spoke of Carnival losing both
Dickinson and Freed.
Sharon Euliss, owner of
All About Cruises in Burlington, N.C., Carnival's agency of the
year in 2007, was one of them.
"First Bob, then Vicki,
you feel like you're losing part of the family," she said. "I've
known [Freed] forever, and its always been really nice to know that
you have people like her in that position. She is a hands-on,
approachable person. She just really cares about us, about travel
Euliss said that she
booked mostly groups and that Carnival had a strong groups
department, an area Euliss and other travel agents have identified
as a weakness at Royal Caribbean.
To contact reporter
Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].
more on Vicki Freed, see Jainchill's "In the Hot Seat" interview.