Cruise Con­trol

A day in the life of Torstein Ha­gen, chair­man of Vik­ing Cruises

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - Contents - BY FRAN GOLDEN

TORSTEIN HA­GEN, CHAIR­MAN OF VIK­ING CRUISES, IS

im­pa­tient be­cause he’s sit­ting on the Rhine aboard the 190-pas­sen­ger Vik­ing Hild (one of two state-of-the-art Long­ships his com­pany launched this year) and he’d rather be do­ing any­thing than an­swer­ing ques­tions from a pesky writer.

Sit­ting to his right is Richard Mar­nell, the com­pany’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing and the ge­nius be­hind its spon­sor­ship of PBS’ Mas­ter­piece (pro­mos that ran with the show Down­ton Abbey are cred­ited with putting Vik­ing River Cruises on the map).

This in­ter­view is about Ha­gen, but Mar­nell is there to make sure his icon­o­clas­tic 74-year-old boss stays on point — that a frank man doesn’t get too frank. Told that the writer is do­ing a story about him, Ha­gen gives an in­cred­u­lous stare. When it comes to sub­jects, he is prob­a­bly his least fa­vorite. But he has quite a story to tell.

THE V IKING’ S WAY _ Raised in Nor­way, with a de­gree in physics from the Nor­we­gian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and an MBA from Har­vard Univer­sity, Ha­gen got into ship­ping, then cruises, was the CEO of now-de­funct Royal Vik­ing Line in the early 1980s, and then, in his words, “lost prac­ti­cally ev­ery­thing.”

Twenty years ago he emp­tied out what was left in his bank ac­count, pur­chased four river ships, and started tak­ing tourists through Rus­sia. To­day, Ha­gen’s pri­vately owned em­pire con­sists of 62 river ships, with nearly half of all North Amer­i­cans who take a river cruise in Europe do­ing so with Vik­ing. Then there’s the new and grow­ing fleet of 930-pas­sen­ger ocean ships; the three launched so far are some of the most ac­claimed ships the cruise in­dus­try has ever seen.

A very pri­vate man, Ha­gen lives in Lucerne, Switzer­land, away from his busi­ness fa­cil­i­ties; the com­pany’s global mar­ket­ing head-

quar­ters is in Los An­ge­les with the op­er­a­tions cen­ter in Basel, Switzer­land. He spends about 120 days a year in L.A., al­ways stay­ing at the same beach­front ho­tel where he says he’s got­ten to know the staff. “It’s my fam­ily,” Ha­gen says. So what’s his typ­i­cal daily rou­tine?

“When do I wake up? First time, sec­ond time, or third time?” he laughs. “I travel so much I am more or less per­ma­nently jet­lagged.” He notes that his L. A. days be­gin around 6 a.m. with a work­out on the beach with his per­sonal trainer. “We do as brisk a walk as I feel com­fort­able with, and then I go back to the ho­tel and do a lit­tle bit of weights and stretches. That’s an hour, five days a week,” Ha­gen says.

On his drive to the of­fice, he’s on the phone with Basel and specif­i­cally Tony Hof­mann, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions for the river op­er­a­tion.

“It’s just to chat,” Ha­gen says. “As H. R. McMaster said, things are ei­ther fine or we have a prob­lem. And nor­mally we don’t have a prob­lem.” Plus, he adds, “What else can I do? I have a 35-minute ride.” Which begs the ques­tion: Why doesn’t he buy a place closer to the of­fice? “I don’t like things. I like to keep things sim­ple,” Ha­gen huffs.

And al­though many ex­ec­u­tives might glance at email be­fore they even get to the of­fice, not Ha­gen. “I check my emails when I am ready to deal with them,” he ad­mits. “I don’t let them run my life. It may be late in the day, but why let them bother you?” OFF ICE S PACES AND PE R S ONAL P L ACES _ At the head­quar­ters, the boss’ of­fice is done up in con­tem­po­rary, light­wood fur­nish­ings and a blue car­pet, sim­ple and un­der­stated. “It’s very Vik­ing-style,” says Mar­nell. “I have a pic­ture of Man­fredi and me,” adds Ha­gen, a ref­er­ence to Man­fredi Le­feb­vre d’Ovidio, chair­man of Sil­versea Cruises and one of Ha­gen’s best friends — so much so that there is a name­sake Man­fredi’s restau­rant on each of the Vik­ing ocean ships and a Tor’s Ob­ser­va­tion Li­brary on Sil­versea’s new­est ship, Sil­ver Muse. The two ex­ec­u­tives talk once a week. In the L.A. of­fice, Ha­gen at­tends monthly ex­ec­u­tive meet­ings and oc­ca­sional ad­di­tion- al meet­ings. “I don’t have a daily rou­tine,” he says. “I’m chair­man.”

Mar­nell in­ter­jects to call Ha­gen’s lead­er­ship style “very col­lab­o­ra­tive, con­sen­sus-based de­ci­sion mak­ing.” Ha­gen re­sponds, “I don’t de­cide any­thing.”

At home, he may watch TV for news and, in his spare time, he de­vours busi­ness books. “I used to read a cou­ple of books a week. Now I’ve been busy,” he says wist­fully. But he still finds time for his other pas­sion, clas­si­cal mu­sic, es­pe­cially Mozart, and es­pe­cially Mozart’s Clar­inet Con­certo in A ma­jor, Köchel 622.

“It comes with age,” he says, adding that when he was a kid, he tried to play clar­inet, but ad­mits he didn’t show tal­ent. To­day, his com­pany spon­sors the Los An­ge­les Phil­har­monic at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl.

When it comes to travel, Ha­gen says he doesn’t do plea­sure travel and that he’d rather be home in Switzer­land pur­su­ing his keen in­ter­est in sci­ence. In fact, he be­comes an­i­mated as he tells how he ended up in busi­ness, rather than as a sci­en­tist.

“The story is al­most true,” he says. It goes like this: Two guys from Nor­way are vy­ing for one grad­u­ate spot at Cal­tech. “My best friend and I tossed a coin,” Ha­gen says. Ha­gen lost, so he in­stead headed to Har­vard to get his MBA. His friend ended up an ex­pert on quarks (sub­atomic par­ti­cles). Ha­gen ended up turn­ing the river cruise world on its head.

Nev­er­the­less, Ha­gen says that his sci­ence back­ground has been help­ful. “I think as a com­pany we are very fact based and nu­mer­i­cal,” he says. “At the same time I am a lit­tle bit strange and have quite a few ob­ses­sions.”

You can see man­i­fes­ta­tions of th­ese ob­ses­sions on Vik­ing ships. For ex­am­ple, trash­cans in the cab­ins are square be­cause Ha­gen finds it eas­ier to throw pa­per into a square. “When I see th­ese per­fectly round ob­long, oval trash­cans, I just won­der why would any­body do a thing like that?”

Chairs in the din­ing rooms are square­backed so a man can hang his blazer, and Ha­gen al­ways wears a blazer. “It’s my man purse,” he says. “Ev­ery­thing is in the pock­ets.” Speak­ing of which, Ha­gen pretty much al­ways wears the same out­fit: a col­lared shirt, jacket, pants with hidden elas­tic waist, and the same shoes. “I have 12 pairs of th­ese,” he says, lift­ing his leg. “They are the per­fect shoes.”

In­deed, Ha­gen likes all things con­sis­tent and per­fect, in­clud­ing his ships. “When you have some­thing that’s per­fect, how can you make it more than per­fect,” he asks. “Don’t

per­fect.”• even try. Th­ese ships are pretty darn

Ha­gen’s pri­vately owned em­pire con­sists of 62 river ships, with nearly half of all North Amer­i­cans who take a river cruise in Europe do­ing so with Vik­ing.

Op­po­site page: Torstein Ha­gen ob­serves the con­struc­tion of a Vik­ing Long­ship. Be­low: Aboard Vik­ing Star, the com­pany’s first ocean ship

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