22 Mar Adam Armstrong’s Inspiring Story… Step back to go FORWARD
Adam Armstrong – Snr VP & MD Aust & NZ for Silversea Cruise
This article was written during Adam’s Time as the Managing Director for Royal Caribbean Line, Australia and New Zealand
Genuine PASSION can get you a long way… Sometimes a step backwards can be a short stepping stone to Greatness!
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF, WHO YOU ARE? AND WHAT YOU DO?
My name is Adam Armstrong, Managing Director RCL Cruises Australia and New Zealand. I oversee three very distinct brands here in our North Sydney office; Royal Caribbean International, known worldwide for our innovative, adventure-packed megaships; Celebrity Cruises, famous for modern luxury cruises filled with great wine and food, romance and relaxation; and Azamara Club Cruises, renowned for boutique-sized, luxury hotels at sea that stay longer in port.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR CHILDHOOD, WHERE DID YOU GROW UP, WHAT WERE YOUR CHILDHOOD DREAMS? AND WHERE DID YOU GO TO STUDY?
I grew up in a seaside town in Northern England. As one of five brothers from a fishing family, I had a strong affinity for the ocean from an early age. I always wanted to work in travel – my dream was to go to uni, live in a big city and eventually become a pilot. I ended up at Oxford University – a daunting experience at first, being the first in my family to go to university and also coming from a quiet, rural background. Once I got settled in it was exhilarating. It offered so many learning and personal development opportunities and my degree in Geography was broad enough to support a career in the travel industry. Although the course was not particularly focused on travel, I did convince my lecturer to let me write my thesis on a travel topic – airline capacity in the Caribbean region – which was perhaps a prophetic sign of things to come…
WHAT DROVE YOU TO YOUR CAREER IN TRAVEL?
I was always into travel but I got into cruising quite by accident. My uncle took me on a cruise to Alaska when I was 16 and being out on that ocean and contemplating my seafaring background, something clicked into place – I realised I could turn this into a career.
At school, my dreams of becoming a pilot were dashed by a careers counsellor who noticed I was wearing glasses – turns out you can’t be a pilot with poor eyesight! So post-university, still intent on forging a career in travel, I joined tour operator Thomson Holidays as an Assistant Product Manager, working on our Cyprus and Egypt portfolios. One fateful day I saw an ad for an analyst role at P&O Cruises in a graduate magazine; my dream job at the time. By that point I was a full-blown cruise geek, religiously following cruise news with a head full of cruising stats, so this was a perfect fit. My role was to monitor competitor activity and pricing, and I stayed with P&O for 3 years in UK, before I was transferred to their Sydney office. Then, 9 years ago, I was asked to “jump ship” to a new role at Royal Caribbean, taking charge of sales, marketing, PR, deployment and revenue management. Two years ago, I became MD.
WHAT MISTAKES DID YOU MAKE AND DID YOU FEAR ANYTHING?
When I left the University of Oxford, I made the mistake of thinking a top degree from a top uni would automatically get me a decent job and the offers would start flooding in. The reality is, success is about much more than education; it’s about having a genuine passion for what you’re doing, being able to articulate why you’re there for the interview, and about being prepared for some quite arduous knock-backs along the way. I learnt this very quickly.
I did initially fear moving to Australia 14 years ago, having never been here before, but it was a fairly calculated risk so I just jumped into it. Then I was pretty cautious about jumping ship from P&O to RCL – two major rivals – to join what was basically a start-up operation. I had grown up with P&O and they were essentially my second family so it was a big decision to join a small office that was just getting off the ground.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST WIN SO FAR?
There have been a lot of commercial successes along the way: smashing targets and winning awards and so on. But I’ve probably taken the greatest pleasure from introducing a modernity and size of cruise ships to this region that was never before contemplated. That thrill has been repeated each time we’ve brought another newer, bigger and better ship to Australia – and culminated in the arrival of our billion-dollar, factory-fresh megaliner Ovation of the Seas in Sydney in 2017.
WHAT OPPORTUNITIES CAME EASY AND WHAT ONES DID YOU HAVE TO PUSH FOR?
My first role at P&O came fairly easily – my academic background aligned perfectly with my obvious passion for cruising – so the hiring process was very quick. I then had to really push for my move to Australia – there wasn’t a local opportunity for progression at that time, so I had to push the organisation to find opportunities elsewhere, even if that meant moving to the other side of the world. In general though, once you’re in a role and doing well, the phrase “work sticks to good people” applies: if you do good work then more of it comes your way.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST HURDLE YOU HAVE OVERCOME IN YOUR CAREER OR LIFE SO FAR? AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN?
Half-way through my career with Royal Caribbean, I was offered the role of International Commercial Director which I did for 18 months. The constant travel, changing time zones and working by conference calls was incredibly draining. On top of which I had a demanding boss with fairly superhuman expectations! Staying focused and productive in that environment was a major challenge which took a lot of mental energy to overcome. I learnt so much from that role, particularly how to manage up. But as much as I enjoyed that job, and I felt like I hadn’t completely “nailed it”, it really was unsustainable in the long-term as I just couldn’t maintain a healthy work/life balance.
Returning to my previous role in Australia felt like a step backwards but ultimately it was a short stepping stone to becoming Managing Director.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU LOVE YOUR CAREER AND WHAT YOU DO?
I can’t wait to get out of bed and into the office; it’s a cliché but that’s the reality for me. And on evenings and weekends, I don’t begrudge spending a couple of hours working away on bits and pieces.
WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST CAREER MOMENT SO FAR?
Voyager of the Seas arriving to Australia for the first time. It was the beginning of “megaship” cruising in Australia, really kicking the local industry up several notches. Our Australian team were on a harbour cruiser in Sydney when she rounded the heads – and that for me that will likely remain the proudest moment of my career; being out there with my team, watching the most magnificent ship arrive to our home, which we never really thought would ever come to Australia.
HOW HAS THIS CHANGED YOUR LIFE?
It made me realise that anything is possible. Everything seemed to be working against us – the port didn’t think they could cope with a ship of that size, Head Office didn’t think we could fill it, our guests said it would be too big, everyone kept saying is couldn’t and shouldn’t be done. Today the whole process is so efficient, you wouldn’t even know she is in town and our guests love her. Methodically working through all the barriers, we managed to finally convince people that this was totally achievable.
WHAT DO MORE BUSINESSES NEED TO DO DIFFERENTLY? AND WHAT CHANGE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE INDUSTRY EMBRACE?
My view on the cruise sector is that we need to recruit more people from outside the travel industry – people who bring in a fresh set of eyes, a new way of doing things, and who challenge the status quo.
Those of us who have been in the industry for a while could probably also benefit from a few years outside the industry! We also need more diversity in leadership roles. Historically, cruising has been very male-dominated although we’re getting better. Celebrity Cruises has the first female CEO of a publicly-traded cruise line, we appoint more female captains than any other cruise line, and we’ve taken the number of female officers on the navigational bridges of Celebrity ships from 5% to 20% in the last 2 years – but there’s still a long way to go.
WHAT IS THE NEXT BIG THING ON THE HORIZON FOR YOU OR WHAT IS ONE UPCOMING PROJECT?
All three of our brands are bringing on a new ship this year. Royal Caribbean is launching the newest and biggest ship in the world in March, Symphony of the Seas; Azamara Club Cruises will be joined by its third ship Azamara Pursuit in August; and, perhaps most exciting of all, Celebrity Cruises launches Celebrity Edge in December – a whole new class of designer ship that will change the face of cruising.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED?
As my parents drove me to university for the first time as an 18 year old, we were just 4 or 5 miles from home and my father turned around and said something very simple – “just be yourself”. It’s really not complicated but it can also be very difficult. I don’t think I was wholly myself to begin with in my career, but as I’ve grown more comfortable in my own skin I’m getting there – it’s just taken longer than I thought.
WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE LIFE GOAL?
I’d like to be able to work hard for a while longer and retire at an age early enough to be still active enough to see all parts of the world – South America and India are at the top of my bucket list.
WHAT IS ON YOUR INSPIRATION BOARD RIGHT NOW?
I have a picture of a Formula One racing car having its tyres changed in a pitstop on my desk. It shows a big team of people who all have to complete their job quickly, accurately, and safely. It says so much about effective teamwork, leadership, knowing your role and sharing a common goal.
WHAT DAILY TASKS WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO EMBRACE?
Two basic things. Firstly – make a task list every day so you get some satisfaction from ticking things off when you turn the lights off at the end of the day. Secondly – leave the office for lunch, go for a walk, and try avoid eating at your desk. It’s really important to have a break and clear your mind for a bit.
WHAT IS YOUR TOP TIPS FOR LIFE?
- Don’t try and change too many variables in your life at the same time. Family, work, home and partner are all major things – so changing more than one simultaneously could mean a whole lot of pain!
- Do what you love and if you don’t love it, there’s probably something else out there you will love so start looking. You don’t have to move today, you just need to take that first step and do your research on what else could be out there.
WHAT LIFE QUOTE DO YOU LIVE BY?
My team hears me say “It is what it is” quite often. This quote certainly doesn’t apply to everything but, in many cases, you just don’t have the power to change something – so just accept it, don’t waste your energy on making the unchangeable changeable, and move on to something else.
WHAT IS ONE THING OUTSIDE OF WORK THAT YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT? OR IS YOUR HOBBY?
I have a fairly niche passion for the German classical composer Richard Wagner. His music is lengthy, complicated, powerful and beautiful. I’m slowly working through everything he has composed and occasionally we get to see some live performance in Australia. His most famous work is The Ring Cycle – an epic, four-part, 20-hour Opera – and I was fortunate enough to see my first “Cycle” in Melbourne in 2016. Not for everyone and not for the faint-hearted!
TIPS FOR SUCCESS?
- Work hard: it will be noticed and good things will naturally come to you
- Surround yourself with talented people
- Know your numbers
- Get a coach or mentor from outside your business, better to be independent
- Treat everyone as you’d like to be treated yourself
- Research a company before you turn up for an interview!
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