Holland America President Counsels Students

Posted by Joseph M. Phillips on Thursday, February 21, 2019 at 10:48 AM PST

On February 19th, Orlando Ashford, President of Holland America Line (HAL), visited campus for the Albers Executive Speaker Series.  His theme was,The Power of Authenticity in Leadership,” and he used the occasion to share some key insights from a book he is working on.

Ashford was appointed president of HAL in 2014, and while he had a wealth of experience in human resources, he had never been on a cruise ship before.   That changed five days after he started the job, when he took his first cruise! As president, he leads the award-winning cruise line's fleet of 15 ships carrying approximately 850,000 guests annually to all seven continents.

Prior to joining HAL, Ashford was president of the Talent Business Segment for Mercer, the global consulting leader in talent, health, retirement and investments. Previous to Mercer, he had high level HR responsibilities at Marsh & McLennan, Coca-Cola Company, and Motorola.

Ashford was named to Black Enterprise’s 2017 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America and was also named to Savoy Magazine’s list of “Top 100 Most Influential Blacks in Corporate America.”   Last month, he was recognized with a 2019 Executive Excellence Award by Seattle Business Magazine.

The first concept that Ashford shared was that one needs a Personal Board of Directors.  These are people who have served as mentors and provided trusted advice.  He said that his mother was the chair of his board – sounds like a board appointment that many of us should make!

Second, he said there should be a clear line between the work you do and its impact on the business.  If that is not clear, change your job or what you do in your job to make sure it is.

Third, work beyond the scope of your job.  Don’t be afraid to go beyond your job description.  Be proactive and take things off the plate of your boss.  That is a way to prepare for promotion and a more influential role in the organization.

Meetings are a platform to demonstrate competence.  Many people view meetings as something to endure and not look forward to.  Ashford said to see them as an opportunity to prove your capabilities to others.

Fifth, rely on the collective intelligence.  Tap into the genius of the group.  A group will always outperform the individual, and a diverse group will outperform a homogeneous group.  This is a theme he returned to several times during the talk.  He told a story of inheriting a very hierarchical culture at HAL, which can be traced to strong ties with the Navy.  When a 22-year company veteran briefed him on a particular issue early in his tenure, he had to push the employee for a recommendation, saying, “I’ve been here for two weeks and you have been doing this for 22 years.  You have more insight on this than I do!” 

Sixth, be an authentic leader and show up as your true self.  People need to see you as being open, honest, and genuine.  Moreover, a leader should work to create an environment where everyone feels they can be their true selves. This will lead to higher functioning organization and ultimately make you more successful.

In the Q&A that followed, Ashford said that the crew is the “secret sauce” of HAL.  They are highly trained with the goal being to make every passenger (all 850,000!) believe that it is all about that passenger!  Since there are 17,000 employees working on the ships, this is an epic challenge, and it only makes sense to have someone with a deep HR background captaining the ship!