Cruise Con­trol

A Day in the Life of Tom McAlpin, pres­i­dent and CEO of Vir­gin Voy­ages.

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - What’s Inside - BY FRAN GOLDEN

A day in the life of Tom McAlpin, pres­i­dent and CEO of Vir­gin Voy­ages

TOM MCALPIN, A 30-YEAR CRUISE in­dus­try veteran, is now over­see­ing the cre­ation of a whole new cruise line from the ground up. It’s no small task for the pres­i­dent and CEO of Vir­gin Voy­ages.

The first of the line’s three 2,700-plus pas­sen­ger, 110,000 gross ton ships won’t launch from Mi­ami un­til 2020, but things are cer­tainly al­ready buzzing at the line’s Plan­ta­tion, Florida, head­quar­ters.

New em­ploy­ees are be­ing hired; cre­ative teams are de­liv­er­ing ideas. You might say a big fam­ily is de­vel­op­ing. And big fam­i­lies hap­pen to be in McAlpin’s wheel­house.

LIFE LES­SONS _A f if th- gen­er­a­tion Mi­amian, McAlpin has eight brothers and sis­ters — and most of the fam­ily still lives in south­ern Florida.

“I am num­ber 6, so I con­sider my­self to be in the ne­glected mid­dle sec­tion,” he laughed. “I think my mother has one high school photo of me.” McAlpin said that he loved grow­ing up in a big fam­ily and that he learned cer­tain life les­sons early on.

“I think it teaches you re­ally im­por­tant les­sons — how to get along with peo­ple, how to ne­go­ti­ate and set­tle con­flict, and team­work. Th­ese are skills I brought to Vir­gin Voy­ages be­cause I’m a big be­liever that it’s all about build­ing the right team and cul­ture,” he said. “And, of course, to be com­pet­i­tive.”

More les­sons came from Dis­ney, where McAlpin helped launch Dis­ney Cruise Line. As part of the found­ing man­age­ment team in the role of vice pres­i­dent of fi­nance, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, and shore­side travel op­er­a­tions, he spent the fi­nal five years of his time with the line as its pres­i­dent. Later he was pres­i­dent and CEO of The World ( Res­i­dences at Sea), the largest pri­vate res­i­den­tial cruise ship.

When he came to Vir­gin Voy­ages in Jan­uary 2015, McAlpin headed a team of two. By

“How to get along with peo­ple, how to ne­go­ti­ate and set­tle con­flict, and team­work. Th­ese are skills I brought to Vir­gin Voy­ages be­cause I’m a big be­liever that it’s all about build­ing the right team and cul­ture.”

Au­gust of this year there were al­most 70 em­ploy­ees in Plan­ta­tion, and grow­ing.

At Dis­ney the fo­cus was on the fam­ily ex­pe­ri­ence. At Vir­gin, it’s a lit­tle more fo­cused on adults and cre­at­ing a fun, flex­i­ble, non­tra­di­tional cruise ex­pe­ri­ence. McAlpin finds it en­er­giz­ing.

“This is the most ex­cit­ing job I’ve ever had,” he said. “I love the team we’ve cre­ated. We all get along re­ally well and we share a pas­sion for de­liv­er­ing an epic sea-change.”

THE BR ANSON FAC TOR

_ Vir­gin Voy­ages is a joint ven­ture of Vir­gin Group, which con­trols more than 70 com­pa­nies and is led by Bri­tish bil­lion­aire and ad­ven­turer Richard Bran­son, and Bos­ton-based Bain Cap­i­tal, one of the world’s lead­ing pri­vate in­vest­ment firms.

“Richard’s strat­egy is he hires great CEOs — hope­fully I fall into that cat­e­gory —and he lets them run their busi­ness. He’ll con­stantly be send­ing emails with ideas, but we don’t talk daily right now,” McAlpin said, adding that he does meet with Bran­son a few times a year to bring him up to speed on the busi­ness. In Septem­ber, for ex­am­ple, he vis­ited Bran­son’s pri­vate three-villa es­tate Moskito Is­land, in the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, for a de­sign meet­ing. And in late Oc­to­ber, there was a keel-lay­ing cer­e­mony for the first ship at the Fin­cantieri ship­yard in Genoa.

The cruise line’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee is made up of three in­di­vid­u­als (two from Bain, one from Vir­gin) who meet monthly, in per­son.

“They are re­ally valu­able thought part­ners who add enor­mous value to our work,” McAlpin said. “They help con­nect us with peo­ple who can help us on our jour­ney as well as chal­lenge us to de­liver some­thing truly dif­fer­ent.”

Vir­gin Voy­ages’ tem­po­rary of­fices in Plan­ta­tion will soon give way to per­ma­nent of­fices in the same com­plex, in­clud­ing space for a big call cen­ter. Even­tu­ally, when all three ships are op­er­at­ing, close to 400 peo­ple will work in the space.

As be­fits a line that is go­ing after “youn­gat-heart” trav­el­ers, the of­fice is be­ing de­signed to be open-space, co­op­er­a­tive, and dif­fer­ent. A cus­tom-made shuf­fle­board ta­ble has al­ready ar­rived and a pool ta­ble is on its way. In­spi­ra­tional say­ings, such as “To build the most ir­re­sistible brand,” dec­o­rate the walls and the dress code is ca­sual all the time.

“I think we all need to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of this busi­ness and the very high ex­pec­ta­tions on us, but we also need to have some fun. We don’t take our­selves too se­ri­ously,” McAlpin said.

E X ERCISING THE MIND AND BODY

_ Be­fore he heads to the of­fice, McAlpin ex­er­cises, usu­ally at the gym on an el­lip­ti­cal ma­chine.

“I do some of my best think­ing when I’m ex­er­cis­ing,” he said. “Your mind is just kind of free and you’ve got a lot of oxy­gen in your blood, and for me it’s very sooth­ing.”

Dur­ing his 25-minute com­mute, he gets his news from NPR. “I lis­ten to pub­lic ra­dio be­cause I feel I get a more bal­anced per­spec­tive, and it’s also quite ed­u­ca­tional,” he said.

At the of­fice, the boss grabs a cof­fee, says hi to ev­ery­one, and gets to work. His days are full. McAlpin fires up the lap­top he car­ries from home, and launches into a se­ries of meet­ings. On Mon­days, it’s with the se­nior lead­er­ship team, where the dis­cus­sion in­cludes strat­egy, gen­eral up­dates from Fin­cantieri, and what’s go­ing on in the busi­ness. On Tues­day, the prod­ucts and ser­vices team meets over lunch to talk key de­ci­sions, pro­gram el­e­ments, and de­sign of the first ship.

“This is where the big de­ci­sions that im­pact ev­ery as­pect of our ‘sailor’ ex­pe­ri­ence get made,” McAlpin said. “Every­thing from how we are go­ing to op­er­ate on board the ship with con­ces­sion­aires to de­tailed de­sign re­views of in­di­vid­ual spa­ces. It’s the most im­por­tant meet­ing we have.”

McAlpin views his job as over­see­ing the process and mak­ing sure the right de­ci­sions get made at the right time. It’s a col­lab­o­ra­tive style that he learned at Dis­ney.

“We’re build­ing that cul­ture of en­trepreneur­ship where ev­ery­one thinks ev­ery day about how are we go­ing to be dif­fer­ent, how are we go­ing to set our­selves apart from the in­dus­try, and how are we go­ing to re­ally build the busi­ness around what our cus­tomers want,” he ex­plained. And Vir­gin Voy­ages’ fu­ture sailors can only look for­ward to 2020 to see the ini­tial re­sults of McAlpin’s hard work.

Op­po­site page: Tom McAlpin with Bain Cap­i­tal man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Stephen Pagli­uca (left), at the first ship’s steel-cut­ting cer­e­mony; Below: McAlpin and Richard Bran­son at a me­dia event in Mi­ami

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