Recognizing the Positive Leadership of Carnival Cruise Lines CEO Gerry Cahill

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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The disaster of the failed Carnival Triumph cruise ship has captivated all of us over the last week.

As a frequent cruiser who has cruised Carnival and other lines, I cringed upon seeing the pictures and videos of the squalor and disgusting conditions aboard ship. I sympathized with the passengers who entrusted their safety to Carnival, yet found themselves living a week-long, potentially life-endangering nightmare. Throughout the course of the week, I kept asking myself how well I would cope with being trapped on board with my family. 

Fortunately, the nightmare has ended, now that the ship has docked in Mobile Alabama, with all passengers and crew members safe (albeit hungry and dirty). 

Throughout this disaster, I’ve been watching how CEO Gerry Cahill has conducted himself. Personally, I think he has done an exceptional job – especially compared to Former BP CEO Tony Hayward during the 2010 oil spill disaster that claimed 11 lives and has spewed 100 million gallons of toxic oil into the Gulf of Mexico. – and here’s why:

  1. He has owned this failure, even though there is no shortage of blame for those responsible for this particular vessel.  This is a perfect example that “leadership can not be delegated.”  He specifically says “We failed.” Here is a clip of him owning his failure:

    Compare that to Hayward’s comment:  “What the hell did we do to deserve this?” – speaking to fellow executives in London about the Gulf oil spill disaster.

  2. Cahill has literally worked around the clock to lead his company through this. Compare that to Hayward’s response when Forbes Magazine asked if he was sleeping during the oil spill: “Yeah, of course I am.” 


  3. Consistent praise of the crew throughout this ordeal  by both the passengers and Cahill – even inscribed on the passenger’s bathrobe in the picture above – exemplifies a commitment to passenger well-being, even through a crisis, and Cahill’s commitment to his workers.

    Compare that to Hayward’s comments when he addressed the issue of safety workers cleaning up the oil spill . Several workers were hospitalized from dizziness, headaches, and nausea: “I am sure they were genuinely ill, but whether it was anything to do with dispersants and oil, whether it was food poisoning, or some other reason  for them being ill, you know, food poisoning is surely a big issue when you’ve got a concentration of this number of people in temporary camps.”

  4. Never once did Cahill minimize the impact and severity of the situation. In fact, they have canceled cruises for the next 4 months. 

    Compare that to Hayward who said, “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume…I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to have been very, very modest.” 

  5. Finally, Cahill recognized that the greatest sufferers of this tragedy are the passengers – not the company. His only priority was ensuring their safety and health, even though conditions were beyond his control. 

    Compare that to Hayward who had this to say: “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.” 

Leaders showing up

The thing about leadership with any company is that “stuff” happens. I know first hand that small fires can quickly grow into huge disasters, and I also know first hand how the sickening feeling of helplessness and failure can wash over your body in an instant. 

There are unexpected disasters, challenges, and setbacks. You can not run a business without problems. True leadership doesn’t show up when things are running smoothly. True leadership shows up in the face of disaster, when the CEO is doing everything in their power to lead a company through it. 

Something to think about as we scan the media coverage of this travesty. If you were Gerry Cahill, what would you have done?

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