Edwin W. Stephan, a founder and former longtime president and vice chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCL)
, will retire from the Board of Directors following the company's May 20 annual meeting in Miami.
Stephan, 71, guided Royal Caribbean at its birth more than three decades ago. In 1970, when the fledgling cruise line launched Song of Norway with
an expansive pool deck, it was the first ship designed specifically for warm-weather cruising. It revolutionized the cruise industry; previous ships were built for point-to-point ocean transport with far less open space.
Stephan was the cruise line's president from 1969 to 1996, when he became vice chairman of the board of directors. At various times, he served as general manager, CEO, president, and vice chairman.
"Ed is a man of great vision and tremendous warmth," said Richard D. Fain, Royal Caribbean's Chairman and CEO. "He is universally well-liked, and his influence is impossible to measure. Everyone at Royal Caribbean, and the cruise industry as a whole, owes him a great debt. He is a founding father of the modern cruise industry."
Stephan nurtured Royal Caribbean from an idea on paper in 1968 to a fleet of 25 ships with global itineraries and revenues of $3.4 billion in 2002. He previously worked in the hotel business in Florida, following military service in Korea where he was a decorated artillery officer. In the 1960s, he joined Yarmouth Steamship Company and later Commodore Cruise Line.
Stephan journeyed to Oslo, Norway, in 1968 with a dream that would become Royal Caribbean. He had an idea for a ship designed especially for pleasure cruises in the balmy Caribbean. In Oslo, he enlisted the support of three Norwegian ship owners, and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line A/S was born January 31, 1969. He set up a two-room office in a stucco building at 853 Biscayne Boulevard as work began in Finland on the 724-passenger Song of Norway, the largest vessel ever built in Scandinavia. The 17,500-ton ship (one-eighth the tonnage of Royal Caribbean's newest ship Navigator of the Seas) cost $14.3 million and first sailed out of Miami November 7, 1970.
Stephan's "vision" included a glass-walled cocktail lounge cantilevered from the funnel. When he told naval architects he wanted something like the Space Needle in Seattle, they were skeptical. A rival cruise line predicted it would shake right off the funnel. Instead, the Viking Crown Lounge became a distinctive feature on all Royal Caribbean ships.
Under Stephan's leadership, Song of Norway was followed by other ships representing historic shifts in nautical design. Sovereign of the Seas, for example, in 1988, was the first ship with a soaring, five-deck atrium - a feature that has become integral to every ship built in the last 15 years.
"Even as he takes a well-deserved retirement, we will always be receptive to his wise counsel," Fain said.