Andy Stuart, a well-liked Norwegian Cruise Line veteran, took over as president and chief operating officer of the brand Wednesday following the resignation of his predecessor, who started the job less than five months ago.
Drew Madsen, formerly president and COO at Darden Restaurants, took the Norwegian job in October as the Miami-based company was entering a period of upheaval.
In November, parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings acquired Prestige Cruise Holdings, which includes Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Parent company CEO Kevin Sheehan, who hired Madsen, abruptly resigned in January. Frank Del Rio, who had been CEO of Prestige, stepped into that job and has been making organizational changes.
“I’m tremendously excited,” Stuart, 51, said in an interview Wednesday. “We have a bright future, we have exciting capacity coming, and we’re all going to learn a lot from each other between the three brands.”
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A company spokeswoman said that under the new structure, brand presidents were directed to focus more on sales and marketing.
“Given the recent restructuring of the role and job responsibilities, Drew has decided to step down. We thank him for his contributions and wish him well,” Del Rio said in a statement. “As we continue to build the newly merged organization, we are tapping into the tremendous company and industry knowledge that Andy has, along with the strong relationships he has built with our travel partners.”
In a note Wednesday, Wells Fargo analyst Timothy Conder wrote that the announcement would likely sit well with investors who had questioned the hiring of an executive from Darden, which had been undergoing its own turmoil when Madsen was hired.
“The shift is in line with Mr. Del Rio's management philosophy of maintaining a flatter, leaner organizational structure by merging sales, marketing and operating responsibilities for the Norwegian brand into one role, reporting directly to Mr. Del Rio,” Conder wrote.
Stuart said the surprise move caps a busy stretch for Norwegian.
“It’s been such a period of, I guess, excitement and change that I can’t say I predicted myself into anything,” he said. “It’s been a whirlwind.”
Stuart joined Norwegian in the United Kingdom in 1988 as a business development manager after working in the hotel industry for a couple of years.
“I didn’t expect to be here 27 years later,” he said.
Since starting as a novice who “didn’t know anything about cruising,” Stuart has held roles in revenue management, marketing and public relations, passenger services and, most recently, as executive vice president of sales.
The company credited him with helping to build the company’s revolutionary “Freestyle Cruising” model that allows passengers to choose from a variety of dining and entertainment choices on their own schedule. He also forged strong relationships with travel agents through the Partners First program.
“Andy and Norwegian are virtually synonymous,” Del Rio said in the statement.
Mike Driscoll, editor of the trade publication Cruise Week, said in an email Wednesday that “no one is more qualified” for the president and COO job than Stuart.
“He is beloved by the trade like very few others, in part because he's so personable,” Driscoll wrote. “He has people skills, business skills and an empathy with the business lives of retailers that is seen as being very real.”