Former Holland America Line president Orlando Ashford was named Azamara's incoming executive chairman, the "incoming" to be dropped once Royal Caribbean Group closes the sale of the line to Sycamore Partners.

Ashford will remain a senior advisor to Sycamore, a private equity firm, which last week agreed to buy Azamara for $201 million.

"My role is to serve as a bridge between Sycamore and Azamara," he said. 

Ashford, who took his first cruise three months before joining Holland America in 2014, said that his subsequent experience there makes him "perfectly positioned" to make sure Azamara harnesses expertise from Sycamore while elevating the value of the cruise line, something already happening with the purchase of the Pacific Princess. 

Orlando Ashford
Orlando Ashford

"I use bridge on purpose," Ashford said. "Sycamore has not traditionally been in the cruise space so having someone like me on staff to help bring some of that insider expertise allowed them to get comfortable with an acquisition like an Azamara."

Ashford emphasized that it was not his intention to get in the way of Azamara president Carol Cabezas and her team.

"My job is to be supportive and helpful and not get in the way," he said, adding that he has no plans to "Holland Americanize" Azamara.  

"That is not the goal," he said. "What we will do is look at what's working and all the things that make Azamara great, and if there is opportunity to do some new and different things, whether it's my idea, someone else's idea or Sycamore's idea, we want to continue to have a collaborative environment where we look at the best ideas to help create the best guest experience and most efficient, effective and profitable company. That is my ambition." 

Ashford left Holland America in May after five years at the helm of the Carnival Corp.'s premium cruise line. While there, he spearheaded a brand revitalization through an emphasis on onboard entertainment, live music and culinary experiences. He became a strategic advisor to Sycamore Partners in September and has been working with Sycamore to evaluate investment opportunities in the broader leisure and hospitality space.

Ashford said that in zeroing in on Azamara, they found value in everything that came with it, "Carol and the team, the ships and the history."

Cabezas said that was made clear to her immediately.

"A brand is not three ships, a building or an asset," she said. "A brand is the people that make the brand what it is -- that's what Sycamore wanted. To buy this brand as it is with that value proposition and the mission that we have and the team that makes that happen."

Cabezas also said that Sycamore's commitment to growing the brand was demonstrated with this week's announcement about adding a fourth ship. 

"Actions speak louder than words," she said. "And this kind of action really demonstrates they want to grow."

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