Weinstein enters Carnival CEO role, ready to confront cruising's big challenges

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Josh Weinstein, at the time the president of Carnival UK, signs a silhouette of the P&O Cruises ship Iona at its steel-cutting ceremony in 2018.
Josh Weinstein, at the time the president of Carnival UK, signs a silhouette of the P&O Cruises ship Iona at its steel-cutting ceremony in 2018. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Carnival Corp.

Josh Weinstein walked into his first interview at Carnival Corp. with jeans on.

It was 2002, and the attorney had never been on a cruise before and knew zilch about the company. All he knew was he wanted to run away from his job handling mergers and acquisitions at a law firm and craved a sense of satisfaction in his work.

But the day after Weinstein applied for a job as an in-house attorney, Carnival's general counsel called him, insisting he interview that day despite being dressed for "casual Friday." Unprepared and hesitant, Weinstein obliged. He said he got such a good feeling from the people he met at the interview that when they offered him the job on the spot at a 40% pay cut from what he was making, he took it.

Twenty years later, Weinstein is now the CEO of the world's largest cruise company. As the leader of Carnival Corp., he oversees its nine cruise brands -- Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Cunard, Seabourn, Costa, Aida, P&O and P&O Australia -- more than 100,000 employees and the company's mission to make people happy. He began on Aug. 1.

With Weinstein's promotion comes challenges beyond navigating a comeback from the pandemic: Carnival Corp.'s stock price is in the tank, opening at $9.51 on Aug. 24 compared with hitting $51.90 in January 2020; its debt load is high; and inflation, fluctuating fuel prices and staff shortages dog the industry.

Weinstein, 48, steps into this role replacing outgoing CEO Arnold Donald, a gregarious businessman tapped in 2013 to lead the company out of a different kind of crisis, mostly one of public and travel agent relations, after a fire on the Carnival Triumph and the Costa Concordia disaster. Donald led Carnival Corp. forward as the face of the company and helped repair damaged relationships with travel advisors.

In contrast, Weinstein is admittedly a numbers guy who considers himself well-suited to navigate the company out of its financial woes. He was most recently COO, and prior to a stint as president of Carnival UK spent a decade as the corporation's treasurer. He doesn't see himself so much as the guy in the spotlight but the man behind the curtain.

On the Record

 Cruise editor Andrea Zelinski and Weinstein discuss financial challenges, Covid-19 protocols and more.

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"We have nine brands with really strong brand presidents who really are the face of those brands and the commercial leads for each of those strong organizations," Weinstein said. "My job is to make sure that they are doing what they need to do, inclusive of working effectively and collaboratively with their trade partners. I think everyone will get more value of me making sure that's happening versus the focus being on me."

Weinstein spent most of his career working with numbers and complex operations rather than as a sales guy who shines in the spotlight. He considers himself down-to-earth, inquisitive and someone who likes to engage with people.

"It doesn't matter what level they are, it doesn't matter what they do. Good ideas can come from anywhere, frankly," he said. To that effect, he sees travel advisors without distinction from team members employed by Carnival Corp. and said he is planning to meet with a broad range of travel agent partners.

During a Zoom interview, he exuded a comfortable, dad-like demeanor (he is, in fact, a father of three). Behind him was a collection of sports paraphernalia, including a signed Miami Heat basketball, a New York Jets mini-
helmet and a Syracuse football from where he grew up.

Financial challenges

While Weinstein stressed the importance of a supportive work culture, he pointed to the company's looming debt and the need to generate cash to pay it down as a major focal point.

"We will rebuild our financial fortress," he said.

He has his work cut out for him. The cruise industry is still in a challenging environment as it works to recover from the pandemic, and Carnival Corp. is no exception. While the company reported in July that booking volume has been higher than 2019 levels since April, advance bookings were at lower prices. The company expects losses to continue for 2022 as inflation, fuel prices and staff shortages impact the company's business.

Patrick Scholes, an equity research analyst for Truist Securities, said that the Carnival brands are still shaking the negative press from early in the pandemic, when its ships were associated with major outbreaks. Beyond that, the company has a lot of competition and will need to consider how to go about refinancing debt, raising equity or selling brands to raise cash.

"I'm not sure I envy his position," Scholes said. "Their brands experienced a lot of trauma in Covid. They have a lot of debt coming due. They're still losing money, and interest rates are much higher than pre-Covid. Those are all factual, and if I'm going to be the bad guy for saying it, you can't argue with that."

Donald, however, said in an interview in July that he believes Carnival Corp. is "at an inflection point coming out of this pandemic."

"Things are pointing in a very positive direction," he said. "There is plenty of work to do still. [Weinstein] is going to have challenges, and the team will have challenges going forward, but things are pointing in the right direction."

Johanna Jainchill contributed to this report.

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