31 Jan Jennifer Vandekreek’s Inspiring Story, bringing Carnival Cruise to Aus
JENNIFER VANDEKREEKE – Vice President Aus/NZ – Carnival Cruise
CREATE EXPERIENCES that leave you in AWE as they will be the HIGHLIGHTS of your LIFE
That Aussies are now able to have the time of their lives aboard a Carnival cruise is due in no small part to the determination of Jennifer Vandekreeke.
The cruise line’s vice president and general manager Australia uprooted her life, moving her young family from Miami to Sydney, to make the cruise line’s Australian debut a reality. Get her talking about Carnival Cruise Lines, cruise and travel and you’ll literally feel the energy and passion radiating from her, as Jito found out when we caught up for a chat.
LOVE WHAT YOU DO
Jennifer fell in love with travel at an early age, having lived in three countries by the age of five. “The first time I got on a plane, I would have been five or six,” she recalls. “I saw the flight attendants and fell totally in love.” She looked at her dad and announced that she was going to be a flight attendant when she grew up.
“But he looked at me and said, ‘No, you are going to be a pilot’,” she laughs.
Her ambitions had evolved by the time she was eight however, and her new goal was to become an international businesswoman. The call of overseas adventure saw her head abroad for school and again for college.
HELP OTHERS ACHIEVE THEIR DREAMS and you will achieve yours
Jennifer’s first job in travel was as a guide for a bike tour company from England and Holland looking after teenagers. “I learned a really, really tough lesson,” she says. “I was not that great at it as I was more worried about what the teenagers thought of me than I was about them enjoying the journey.” While she admits that, back then, she was not a great leader, she identifies the experience as a “huge learning curve”.
“Leadership is not about you, it is about focusing on the growth, development and engagement of the people you are leading,” she explains. “As soon as you spend more of your time on their success, that’s when you become a successful leader.”
There are MANY CHAPTERS IN OUR LIVES don’t get lost in the one you are in now
When Jennifer graduated from college, it was the middle of the recession and so jobs were scarce. She applied to do her International MBA and at the same time applied for a job with Club Med. Lo and behold, she was offered both. “Talk about crossroads,” she says. “I was standing in the kitchen with both letters of acceptance in my hand going, what do I do?”
She checked out the courses for the MBA and was unexcited by the list – accounting, international finance and trade. Nonetheless, she decided to go for it, and now describes that as the “best decision” that she ever made. “I say that not just because I met my husband while studying for my MBA,” Jennifer laughs. After she graduated, she went to live in Colombia, an experience she remembers as “amazing”.
Then, after working for an advertising agency there for two and a half years, she moved to Miami where she was offered a job with none other than Club Med as director of marketing. “It was one of those beautiful ways that the world comes full circle,” she reflects.
Never let go of YOUR DREAMS
“It was such an amazing company – it had 80 resorts in 40 countries,” she tells Jito. But then she fell pregnant with twins. “I tried to be superwoman while I was pregnant,” she says. “But I ended up on bed rest and they were born two months early.” After they were born, Jennifer remembers trying to decide whether or not she would go back to work, when she got the call from Carnival about a position as director of advertising wielding a US$60 million budget. “I decided I was going to give it a go,” she says. “A week after I decided to say yes, Lehman Brothers crashed and I don’t know if that job would have been there if I waited another two weeks – so I got in to Carnival at exactly the right time.”
ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT and BE PREPARED to get it
There’s no doubt that Jennifer enjoyed the role. But it wasn’t enough. “It was a great experience but I was bored after two years. The chief marketing officer wasn’t going anywhere so I walked into his office and said what do you have on your list that is eating your lunch?” She was game for any project, particularly the ones he simply didn’t want to do, and promised to take it over and report back every week.
Funnily enough, he did have an international project that he didn’t want to handle and, of course, Jennifer was keen to take a look. “I remember someone saying why don’t you hop on a plane and go check out Australia?”
If you do not GO AFTER what YOU WANT you will never HAVE IT
The rest, of course, is history. Jennifer flew into Sydney on September 26 2010 for the very first time. “I remember it very clearly,” she says. “I took a run around the Botanic Gardens, I got on the Manly ferry and walked to Shelly Beach and back.”
She remembers thinking how lively everybody seemed – like they were having a good time. And she was struck by all the families spending time together, by the dads pushing strollers, by the “beautiful family togetherness”. During that day out, Jennifer decided two things, she tells Jito.
“As we were developing the Carnival product, we had looked at the people who had enjoyed the experience the most – they were people who are open-minded, social and gregarious, that love to try something new,” she reveals. “I was walking around the Corso in Manly and I was like OMG, why are we not here? This makes so much sense.”
The second decision was a little more personal. She called her husband and told him they were moving here. “So, I went back to my boss and said Carnival has to be in this market and by the way I should run it and that is what happened!” she laughs.
WORK HARD in silence and let SUCCESS make the noise
It sounds a lot easier than it actually was. Once on the ground, she had to learn sales, negotiating contracts, revenue management, finance, P&L and guest operations – no small task. “You cannot design a more complicated business than cruising as you have navigational issues, you have pilot issues,” she says. “I knew about 25% of the business I needed to be operating in.” Help came from Jennifer’s father.
“I made a list titled “All The Things I Don’t Know How To Do”. And then my dad said ‘change the title of the list to ‘All The Things I’ll Learn’,” she recalls. “These are important words I have never forgotten and all females should take on this advice.” Running too has been an enormous help for Jennifer. She sneaks in her run before the family wakes up at 5.30am and generally goes for an impressive 10kms. “It’s the best time to get all my ideas,” she says. “Your brain will make connections during this time you would never make at the desk.
“When you are running, you have the time and the clear headspace to really think through issues and challenges from a variety of angles.”
There is no elevator to SUCCESS you have to TAKE THE STAIRS
As well as setting things up from scratch, Jennifer had to select a team of people that were the right fit to work alongside her. “I have this high energy so I have had to choose people that can work with me and can handle my high energy,” she explains. “I can moderate it for an hour when I go into a meeting with someone I know can’t handle my energy, but that’s painful, so I hire people who thrive in that environment.”
Also part of her hiring strategy is her requirement that the candidate knows their area of expertise better than she does. “They have to have a sense of humour and they can’t have an ego – I find that works really well,” she says.
CREATE EXPERIENCES that leave you in AWE as they will be the HIGHLIGHTS of your LIFE
Then, with the team in place, all they needed was for the ship to arrive. When newly “Aussified” Carnival Spirit sailed into Sydney Harbour, Jennifer was “so proud”, she remembers. And it didn’t take long for sales to take off. Now more than 560,000 people have sailed with Carnival. “Our secret to success was and is being crystal clear about who we are and who we are for – fun, free-spirited and family-orientated cruising,” she explains.
“Despite being told what we should do, like we should be going upscale, we stuck to our core of doing middle class Australian travel.” The little details are also crucial – like the burger guy who makes “killer burgers”, she laughs. “160,000 plus guests sail with us every year and I am grateful for every one of them,” says Jennifer.
If your ACTIONS INSPIRE others to DO more, DREAM more & BECOME MORE… YOU are a LEADER!
Jennifer reflects on the importance of great leadership which she believes is critical to any organisation’s success. “It is really helping your team grow and ensuring their success,” she says.
She invites her team to challenge her and promises to back them 100% even if she doesn’t think their idea will work.
“I love it when they prove I am wrong,” she says. “It is about trusting your team.”
Jennifer’s advice for those looking to make the same impact:
- Just say YES… Nine times out of 10 you are not going to know how to do everything but just do it anyway.
- We are capable of so much more than we believe.
- Everyone has another gear – you will be so excited when you actually engage it. But you can’t engage it if you don’t take on those tasks, projects and roles that scare you.
- People love to talk about what they do, so ask lots of questions, you’ll learn something new and they will feel knowledgeable.
- Acknowledge that success is not linear – be prepared to go backwards, sideways etc.
- Let people in your team who are passionate about something prove you right or wrong – either way it is a win/win.
CONNECT & INSPIRE
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