From Madison Avenue To The Heat Of Miami

Thursday, June 15, 2000
Since beginning his cruise industry career as Royal Caribbean's first ever marketing director — Roderick K. (Rod) McLeod has been an instrumental force in the cruise industry. He now heads up what is arguably the world’s most watched cruise ship newbuild program. Having a discussion with Rod McLeod is like talking to an old friend that you haven't been in touch with for awhile. Even though you may have not spoken for months — or even years — you always manage to find enough to talk about. That was the case when McLeod recently spoke with MR/EN regarding his current endeavors as president and COO of AMCV, as well as his past experiences — both professionally and personally.

Initially elected as president and CEO of Project America in February 1999, most of McLeod's career has dealt with some aspect of the cruise industry. McLeod tells of his involvement with AMCV that began with a meeting between he and the company's CEO, Phil Calian, while McLeod was at Carnival Corp. Although he thoroughly enjoyed his job as senior vice president of marketing at Carnival, (he cites the line's president Bob Dickinson; and Micky Arison, Carnvial's CEO as two of his closest allies), McLeod "was itching to get involved with the daily operations of a cruise line." Wanting to still be involved with the corporate side, as he was at Carnival, McLeod desired to meld that together somehow into a position that would enable him to work on both sides of the industry.

About three years ago this December, AMCV was beginning to lay the plans for its Project America Line, which has since been renamed United States Lines, and was seeking out other major playing cruise lines to join with them in constructing the first cruise vessels on American soil with an all-American crew — something that no other line had attempted in the past 40 years. Even though Carnival didn't express interest in collaborating with AMCV, McLeod himself was taken by this project, because something about it set bells ringing in his head. "I've been involved with the design and creation of many ships, which is something I value," McLeod said. "When I looked at the U.S. Lines project, I saw something special — it's not just about building two more ships," he added.AMCV unveiled its new logo in October at a press luncheon in New York, standing firmly on the fact that these new vessels will be known as America's cruise line. With the first two 1,900 passenger vessels costing $950 million, the total $1.4 billion deal grants AMCV an option for a third vessel as well. Scheduled to be completed by Ingalls Shipbuilding in 2003 and 2004, the new line will inaugurate its first vessel on December 9, 2000 as ms Patriot. Separate from the Ingalls deal, Patriot, formerly known as Holland America's ms Nieuw Amsterdam, will provide weekly excursions to the U.S. Hawaiian Islands. The vessel was acquired from the line by AMCV last August for $114.5 million.

Since assuming his position as spearhead of the project, McLeod was elevated to president and COO of AMCV this past November — increasing his responsibility to include the parent company's other brands — Delta Queen Steamboat Co.'s paddle wheelers and American Hawaii's S.S. Independence. McLeod will also supervise the construction of the two 226-passenger U.S.-flagged vessels currently being built at Atlantic Marine that will make up the new Delta Queen Coastal Voyages fleet.

Upon his arrival at AMCV, McLeod knew a very big question loomed before him: "What is an American cruise line and how do we go about making it an American cruise line." Since this was what attracted him to the position in the first place, McLeod incorporated his years of marketing, sales and all-around managerial expertise into answering his own question. These components, mixed together with a group of dedicated ambitious people led to McLeod's successful U.S. Lines strategy. "Good people — it's that simple, it's that difficult," McLeod said. "So many skills go together in creating a successful cruise product. The job gets easier when you have a hard working team that feels challenged."

"I like working with people who enjoy their job — clock-watchers drive me crazy," he added. Evolvement of an Executive Born in New York City and raised on Long Island, McLeod left behind his big city roots to attend Hope College in Holland, Mich. Graduating with a degree in liberal arts/business, McLeod knew what field he didn't want to go into — medicine — but alas, he did not feel strongly about anything else beyond that. He pondered going into accounting, law, or basically any field where he could make a lot of money.

His fears were soon eased, or so he thought, when he was recruited out of college by AETNA Insurance. The next two years of his life were spent in Hartford, Conn. undergoing training for a profession, which totally bored him. Once again, McLeod returned to New York to work for Scott Tissue, a job that was as unglamorous as it was unsatisfying — McLeod basically went from one end of Brooklyn to the other selling toilet paper. "In a nutshell that's (the job at Scott) what I did, he said. "I just wanted a decent job where somebody would hire me and pay me a decent wage."

Not desiring a career in the toilet paper business, McLeod left Scott and decided to try his hand in New York's whirlwind advertising mecca on Madison Avenue. His path finally cleared when he was granted a spot in Young and Rubicam's (Y&R) Account Management Development Program — a program that is known for cranking out future executives — such as Y&R's current president. While at Y&R, McLeod handled consumer accounts dealing with everything from potato chips to a major airline. He remained there until 1969, when he left New York again, this time for the heat of South Florida to join an ad agency in Miami, where he eventually landed the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL) account. It was a favorable match for both McLeod and the client, who in 1972, asked him to join the cruise line full time as its first marketing director. McLeod had a daunting task ahead of him, since in the 1970s cruising was known as a fledgling industry that was near death. McLeod remained at RCCL for the next 25 years, except for a two-year period when a took a break from RCCL to help Norwegian Cruise Lines with its declining balance sheet, literally taking a company that was $6 million in debt in August 1986 to a gain of $20 million when he returned to RCCL in October 1988 as executive vice president of sales, marketing & passengers services — a position he would hold until his resignation from the line in 1996.

Following his departure from RCCL, McLeod, who could not work for another cruise line due to a one-year non-competition agreement that he had with RCCL, was tapped by his good friend, Carnival CEO, and NBA Miami HEAT owner, Micky Arison, to serve as the team's senior vice president of marketing. Comparing his stint with the HEAT to a "refreshing scoop of sorbet between dinner courses," McLeod enjoyed his time with the team during its 1996-1997 season.

After the expiration of his non-competition agreement, his good friend Arison made him an offer he couldn't refuse as senior vice president of marketing for Carnival Corp. McLeod went back to the industry where he found his niche, working with Carnival's senior management groups to develop cross-marketing opportunities. Proud To Be An American Besides working to further U.S. Lines' strong sense of patriotism to potential customers, McLeod, who is very hands-on in dealing with customer satisfaction, still has many goals to accomplish before retiring, such as expanding U.S. Lines' excursion base to beyond Hawaii, to destinations in Alaska and the South Pacific.

Patriotically, not politically speaking, McLeod has one specific goal to meet before he reaches the last stop on the ports of call in his career. "The day that I leave, I want to be able to walk out that door knowing that Phil (Calian) and I created an organization that gives customers the opportunity to experience a U.S.-flagged passenger vessel calling at a U.S. port with an all-American crew," he said. "I want to customers to experience this by giving them this new option."

"This is the end of the line for me," he added. "I'll make one more stop though — for a cup of coffee on my way to the first tee."

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