Ann Sherry AO is a captain of change. She became the first woman to head a bank and is credited as the impetus that saw paid maternity leave introduced to Australia. Mary-Anne Dibbs speaks with the force that rocketed big ship cruising into the modern era and was recently named Australia’s most influential woman.
Ann shERRy jumped from a successful banking career to take the helm of Carnival australia in 2007. Shortly after, she shared her goal at an industry conference: by 2020 one million australians will go cruising each year. Collectively the mostly male audience scoffed at her audacious target.
“I was enraged that day as I watched the eyebrows raise,” Sherry remembers. “So I just said that’s where we’re going and you’re either with us or you’re not. one by one they’ve all come on board.”
Sherry’s goal was realised six years ahead of time in 2014. this year Carnival alone will host one million passengers and Sherry has set a new goal: by 2030, three million australians will be cruising.
“I think big goals are really important because they make people think differently,” she says.
Choice cruising Carnival has enjoyed 20 per cent growth each year since Sherry joined. australians are also reaping the rewards because big ship cruising now offers ‘boutique’ options.
Sherry believes partnerships are the key to business sustainability. along with her team, she works closely with governments in countries such as Papua new Guinea, Vanuatu, new Caledonia and the Solomons to create infrastructure. now Carnival’s fleet visits remote places that were once the domain of small expedition ships.
“We also work with the local communities. We treat them with respect and we help them build businesses,” Sherry says. “Cruising helps these communities build the things they want for their long-term future.” the win for australian cruisers is choice. “Some people are happy to enjoy the pristine beaches, others want more engagement,” Sherry says. “the people in these communities live very traditional lifestyles and they invite our guests to go fishing and into their homes. they have opened their doors to australian tourists in a way everyone said wouldn’t be possible.”
When names like ‘shared value’ and ‘authentic leadership’ were being coined, Sherry just got on and did it, partnering with australia’s celebrity chefs, winemakers and food providers to up the ante on Carnival’s offering. again, it was ‘win win’.
“now they feel cruising is part of their growth story as well,” she says.
Dare to try Sherry always honoured australian cruising’s rich history, but never felt constrained by it. She partnered with police to ensure onboard safety, lobbied to open new ports in australia and brought more brands under the Carnival banner. today it embraces Cunard, fathom, holland america line, P&o, Princess, Seabourn and Carnival.
Sherry’s voyage to the top is fuelled by a stunningly simple leadership philosophy: be yourself and be true to yourself. She lives the way she wants business done and essentially that means doing the right thing – for the company, for others. She has a great sense of humour, and of empathy. Both are integral to her leadership style, but perhaps the greatest clue to Sherry’s success lies in her childhood, growing up in the Queensland town of Gympie.
“In the country you grow up with very few boundaries and I think that’s an advantage because I don’t look for them,” she says.
“I think we’re raising our girls to be perfect rather than brave. as kids we’d fall over, pick ourselves up and learn from our mistakes. It’s the same in business. You don’t have to be right all the time – no-one is. So my advice is to be ready, be robust, have a go and ask yourself: ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’.”
Sherry is many things: Ceo, mother, wife and ‘hokey’ gardener. She sits on numerous boards and is interested in philanthropy and in community.
“I love all those things; why give them up just because I’m a Ceo?” she says. “there are 24 hours in a day and I don’t waste many of them.”