Pamela Conover spent 18 years working for the world’s largest cruise ship company, Carnival Corp., before starting her new job as CEO of tiny SeaDream Yacht Club at the beginning of January.
Previously, Conover served as president and CEO of Carnival’s luxury Seabourn Cruise Line from 2006 until 2011, when the brand’s headquarters moved from Miami to Seattle to allow the smaller Seabourn to merge behind-the-scenes operations with larger Holland America Line.
Conover stayed on as brand ambassador for Seabourn, “a pretty good job actually” that allowed her to go on a couple of cruises a year and stay in communication with guests during the transition.
But the move to SeaDream returned the veteran executive to a CEO post in in the industry she first got to know while working in the ship finance division at Citibank, where Carnival Cruise Lines was a major client.
Atle Brynestad, SeaDream’s chairman and owner, had been filling the CEO job since 2009. He also founded Seabourn, in 1987; both of SeaDream’s 112-passenger ships were once in Seabourn’s fleet.
In her Brickell Key office, Conover spoke about her priorities for the company, her history in the industry and what she was looking forward to on her first SeaDream cruise, which was scheduled to sail Sunday from San Juan.Q. How did you get into the cruise industry to begin with?
It was in 1994 that Micky Arison and Howard Frank, who I was dealing with on a joint venture — we were helping them set up in Greece — and they asked whether I would consider joining to go and be president of that joint venture [Epirotiki Line.] So I moved to Athens. I left banking, moved to Athens and never looked back.
It was an industry that I really loved when I was with ship finance. It was so fascinating and it was growing so dramatically that it was certainly something I was very interested in and it was just a great opportunity when I was able to work in it directly.Q. What had been your experience with cruising before that?
Just only sailing on cruise ships. So I really came to it from the financial aspects. Though it’s interesting how life comes full circle because back in 1992, when I was working for Citicorp, one of my clients at the time was Atle Brynestad, who was then the owner of Seabourn. And I helped advise him on the transaction where he sold an interest in Seabourn to Carnival Corp. And then when I was subsequently with Carnival Corp. back in 1998, then I was vice president of strategic planning, I worked on the transaction where Carnival acquired the remaining portion of Seabourn that they didn’t already own. So I’ve had an association with Atle for over 20 years.Q. You’ve now made a transition from the biggest cruise ship company in the world to a niche player. What are the differences and how are you liking this new role?
Oh, I love the new role. I think it is different because we are such a small company and a small brand and I think one of the challenges is we have a fantastic product — that isn’t the challenge. The challenge, as a small brand, is to get the recognition for that without large advertising and public relations budgets, to really build the awareness. Because once people go on a SeaDream Yacht, they tend to come back. The trick is for people to know that it’s an option in the first place. Q. What are your top priorities moving forward with SeaDream?