FORT LAUDERDALE — Norwegian Cruise Line went outside the travel industry in its hire of President Drew Madsen because the company wanted "a clean sheet of paper," said CEO Kevin Sheehan.

Madsen's previous position was at Darden Restaurants, parent of the Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse chains. Sheehan suggested that an outside hire could help balance institutional industry knowledge.

CruiseWorld - Kevin Sheehan“We were working with a game book that was just inside the cruise industry," he told an audience at the CruiseWorld conference here. "So we said, ‘Hey, let's step back, let's get a clean sheet of paper, let's make sure we're doing this as smartly as we can. … In certain areas, we wanted to bring in some different people."

Executive hires are in the spotlight in the cruise industry. The top spot at Royal Caribbean International has been vacant since Adam Goldstein was promoted to president and COO of the parent company.

On the first day of CruiseWorld, Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald talked about finding a leader for Carnival Cruise Lines who would "resonate" with the brand. The line’s present CEO, Gerry Cahill, is retiring at the end of the month.

CruiseWorldSheehan said he had searched for a president, off and on, for the past four years, but earlier this year the company got serious about the search.

"We attracted so many really good people," he said. "They'd come in and interview, and then we'd take them on one of the ships and they'd say, ‘Wow, this is a fun business.’"

He added to audience applause: "You guys work in the most fun industry, it’s amazing."

Norwegian Cruise Line's deal to acquire Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises will close later this month, and Sheehan talked about possible changes and synergies between the three lines.

On the operational side, for example, he expects to realize increased purchasing power in ports and with suppliers.

On the product side, he talked about marketing the upscale Haven area on the Norwegian ships to Oceania and Regent customers who desire to “take the kids and the grandkids” on a multigenerational family vacation.

"You guys don't need to look at any of the other brands,” Sheehan said to the agents in the audience. “You can just find a solution with us."

View a video recap of Day 3 of CruiseWorld.

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