The appointment of Michael Bayley, an insider with 30 years of company experience, as Celebrity Cruises’ new CEO is a good indication there will be no management shake-up at the premium cruise line.
Before being named CEO of Celebrity last week, Bayley, a native Briton, had spent three decades working his way up through the ranks of the cruise line’s parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL).
The choice could indicate that RCCL Chairman Richard Fain wants to maintain the trajectory established for Celebrity by Bayley’s predecessor, Dan Hanrahan.
Hanrahan, who had worked at both Reebok and Polaroid before joining Celebrity, stepped down last month after 13 years with the company, seven of them as president and five as CEO.
Interviews with RCCL employees indicate that Bayley, who over his career has worked onboard ships, shoreside and in positions that had an impact on all three of the company’s brands — Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity and Azamara Club Cruises — is well-liked and respected.
“There is another dimension to Michael that is truly exceptional: his unique ability to relate to people in a genuine and personal way,” said Rod McLeod, a consultant with McLeod Applebaum & Partners and former executive vice president at Royal Caribbean International. “Michael is a very smart guy, n accomplished businessperson with a deep, firsthand cruise industry knowledge base who truly has the ‘genuine nice-guy gene.’ The Celebrity brand is in great hands.”
Dondra Ritzenthaler, Celebrity’s senior vice president of sales, cited Bayley’s “passion and drive to get results.”
“He has created a vision and culture that will continue to mold the Celebrity brand for a very successful future,” she said.
The choice of Bayley could also indicate that he is expected to further increase Celebrity’s global audience. He very recently spent four years as executive vice president of international operations, where he was the architect of the successful international expansion of all three RCCL brands.
But Bayley said in an interview last week that was not necessarily the case.
“Dan [Hanrahan] did a phenomenal job of building the brand into a really good position,” he said. “Certainly it has a huge American-centricity to it, and I don’t see that changing. It’s a heavily U.S.-sourced brand, and it appeals nicely to our customers here.”
As he spoke last week, not 24 hours into the job, Bayley said he had no immediate plans to do much more than understand the nuances of the Celebrity brand.
Among his first actions as CEO, he said, would be to initiate a dialogue with the line’s travel partners. Bayley is well aware that among current cruise presidents, Hanrahan stood out for taking an active role with travel agents and for being a regular presence at trade events.
His first day on the job, Ritzenthaler had already arranged for Bayley to meet with Celebrity’s top-producing agents.
“One of my key missions is quickly developing relationships with our trade and travel partners and making sure I understand how they view us,” Bayley said. “I’m particularly interested in getting feedback on the Celebrity brand and how they see it, and how we can improve it and what we can do and how we can prioritize.”
Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president for sales and trade support, said that having spent his career in the RCCL organization, Bayley “always understood the value that the travel agent brought to the equation.”
And while Freed agreed it would be hard to fill Hanrahan’s shoes when it came to dealing with the agent community, she said Bayley would not be “invisible” to the trade.
“He will be out there and alongside Dondra,” she said. “He gets it and understands this business. There couldn’t be a better selection, in my view.”
Bayley’s breadth of experience has long suggested that he was being groomed for a top position at an RCCL line.
He began his career with RCCL in 1981, spending his first decade in various positions, including hotel director, on Royal Caribbean International ships. He has served as the line’s senior vice president of hotel operations and as chairman of Island Cruises, a cruise line launched in 2002 by RCCL and British tour operator First Choice Holidays.
In March, Bayley was appointed executive vice president of operations for Royal Caribbean International.
McLeod noted that each of these “management missions” was “challenging and complex and becomes even more so in an organization that has the size, scope and complexity of RCCL.”
“I have a fairly broad and comprehensive understanding of the business we’re in,” Bayley said. “And I have an incredible passion for the industry. I love the cruise business, and I feel like it flows through me.”
Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw.