Tourism & Cruises

Carnival Cruise Lines CEO Gerry Cahill retiring

Gerald R. Cahill, Carnival Cruise Lines speaks during the Cruise Shipping Miami conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center, March 12, 2013.
Gerald R. Cahill, Carnival Cruise Lines speaks during the Cruise Shipping Miami conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center, March 12, 2013. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Carnival Cruise Lines announced Thursday that Gerry Cahill, who has steered the Fun Ship fleet through disaster and into recovery, is retiring from his position as CEO.

Cahill, 63, will leave the post on Nov. 30 but has agreed to remain in an advisory role for an unspecified amount of time. Doral-based parent company Carnival Corporation, which owns nine brands including the namesake unit, has not named a replacement.

In an interview Thursday afternoon, Cahill said he told his top bosses — Carnival Corp. president and CEO Arnold Donald and chairman Micky Arison — of his retirement plan at the beginning of the year. He said they tried to get him to reconsider.

“They thought I would change my mind,” he said.

Plans for retirement are vague, but they include spending more time at the home in the mountains that Cahill owns with his wife, Isolde, and taking vacations where they can do plenty of biking.

“And then I’m going to kind of wait and see,” he said. One celebratory activity he won’t be taking part in: a retirement cruise.

“When I’m on a cruise ship, my mind never stops,” Cahill said. “I think when you run a cruise line, that’s what happens to you.”

A corporate finance executive before taking over the world’s largest cruise line in 2007, Cahill joined Carnival Corp. in 1994 as vice president of finance and became senior vice president of finance and chief financial officer of the company in January 1998.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to lead Carnival Cruise Lines for the past seven years and to work for this great company for 20 years,” he said in a statement. “Deciding when to retire is not easy, especially when you love what you do. I feel the time is good for me personally, and the company and brand are in a good place.”

In an announcement about the retirement, Carnival hit some of the high points of Cahill’s tenure as CEO: introducing four new ships and the new Dream class. He also oversaw the introduction of the $500 million Fun Ship 2.0 initiative, which added new entertainment, food and bar options on new and older ships.

“Gerry has been instrumental in taking Carnival Cruise Lines to new heights as one of the preeminent brands in the cruise industry,” Donald, the CEO, said in the statement. “He and his team have delivered new innovations to cruising while growing the business year after year.”

But Cahill also navigated troubled waters, most notably in early 2013 when fire broke out on the Carnival Triumph and left the ship with only backup power for days as towboats brought it back to land. Passengers and crew had no air-conditioning, working toilets or hot water, and the voyage known as the “Poop Cruise” dominated cable news and headlines.

In the aftermath, Carnival announced improvements to prevent such fires from happening, to put them out faster and to make sure every ship had sufficient backup power to keep guests comfortable. Efforts to regain customers’ trust by offering a money-back vacation guarantee followed, as did new dining concepts, a concert series and a program for kids featuring Dr. Seuss characters.

“We have done a lot together in the past several months to regain customer trust and rebuild brand loyalty,” Cahill wrote in a letter to employees Thursday. “We faced a difficult situation, but thanks to each of you, and your incredible dedication and passion for our company and helping make sure our passengers have a great vacation experience, we are now in a much better place.”

In the interview, Cahill said the thought of retiring after the incident crossed his mind.

“But honestly, I couldn’t leave them,” he said of the company’s employees. “We took a pretty good hit from what happened with the Triumph, and I felt it was really important to get the brand back on track.”

Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research in San Francisco, lauded Carnival for allowing Cahill to stay in his position through the emergency and beyond.

“He was not forced out the day after these problems,” Harteveldt said. “I think its shows very good management discipline at Carnival Corporation as well as Carnival Cruise Lines that he’s had the time necessary to see things through beyond the immediate crisis and hopefully in this time take steps to identify potential leadership, restore morale within the organization and position the company, hopefully, to enjoy future success.”

Carnival Corp. spokesman Roger Frizzell said in an email that Cahill and his team “have done an impressive job with the implementation of a multimillion dollar fleet investment program and the addition of many new ship features that has led to a return in performance and brand reputation.”

In a statement, Arison — who stepped down from his post as CEO of the parent company last year — thanked Cahill for his “tireless efforts” over the years.

“While we would always feel his retiring is premature, we understand and support his decision,” Arison said. “His leadership and passion, along with his honest and frank views will be missed, and we will always have a deep appreciation for Gerry’s tremendous contributions to Carnival Corporation.”

The company will look at both internal and external candidates to fill the job, Frizzell said.

“They have a pretty deep management bench,” said Jaime Katz, equity analyst for Morningstar in Chicago, in an email, “so there should be good talent to draw upon.”