A new ship project like Project Sunshine is a remarkable phenomenon. The physical ship won’t be ours until well over three years from now. Yet we already live with an unending series of deadlines that drive our team as the customer for the project. The shipyard, Meyerwerft in the case of Sunshine, metes out these deadlines so that our actions support the successful completion of their incredibly complex undertaking to create a state of the art cruise ship on time and on budget.
Since I cannot divulge anything about the new ship concept, I will write a little bit about the process. If you know anything about our company, you know that our Chairman & CEO Richard Fain is intensely interested and involved in all of our new ship projects. The only reason I use the word intensely is because I cannot think of a more intense word to use to describe his level of attention, fascination with and contribution to our new ships.
We have a specialized department at the company for these mega-projects called Newbuild. I think the real name is Fleet Design & Newbuild but everyone just says Newbuild. The short-hand is a misnomer because the department is involved in much more than new ships including our Royal Advantage revitalization program which has Radiance of the Seas in the dry-dock in Victoria, British Columbia getting a make-over as I write this. But the new ship design and construction process is the key involvement that Executive VP Harri Kulovaara, chief designer Kelly Gonzalez and the rest of the Newbuild team focus on the most. Harri’s number one responsibility is to make sure the ships come out as amazingly as Richard has in mind for them to do.
Our design process is immersive for our Marketing and Operations teams. We believe that the teams who have responsibility for understanding consumer desires and delivering the products and services should be directly involved in the Newbuild creative and design processes. This may sound obvious but I believe different cruise companies have different opinions about who to involve and when to involve them. In our case, there is an Executive Steering committee for Project Sunshine that is led by Richard, Harri and myself that oversees all aspects of the effort. Most of my leadership team participates on the committee. We meet every month, usually for a full day, to go over critical aspects of the project.
Another typical aspect of our company’s approach to new cruise ship design is to utilize a roster of design firms under our central direction. There is no one master designer who takes the project and runs with it. Harri and Kelly are constantly working with the designers on the various ship features and then the designers regularly must present to the Steering Committee and receive our feedback. This interaction is always interesting. To paraphrase former football coach Bum Phillips, there are two types of designer/architects you never want to have on your team – the ones who always push back and the ones who never push back. In fact, we are extremely fortunate to have an incredibly talented roster of creative and committed professionals who are determined that their particular assignment will add something very special to Project Sunshine. Many of these designers have been with us on previous projects and know the drill well.
The Executive Steering committee normally meets in Miami which requires a number of people to fly regularly from the shipyard in Papenburg, Germany to our headquarters. However, in May the Miami-based committee members traveled to the shipyard and held our monthly meeting at Meyerwerft. We might do this once or twice per year and in this case we had a very successful session that has the team even more enthused about Project Sunshine if that is possible. It certainly underscores the reality of the project when you go to a working shipyard and go through everything in detail. Shipyard CEO Bernard Meyer advised me that the larger of his two enclosed building halls is either the largest building in Europe or second to the building hall for the A380 airplanes.
Before we left, Richard, Harri and I took a quick tour of the nearly completed Celebrity Silhouette, our sister brand’s 4th of five Solstice-class ships. We have a long way to go on Project Sunshine before similar finishing touches are applied. But rest assured that behind the scenes, a lot of dedicated and knowledgeable people are propelling us towards the finish line in 2014. Eventually, we’ll tell you all about it.