Q: Where were you born? Where did you go to school?A: I was born and raised in Argentina, in Buenos Aires. I majored in accounting and I worked on what in the U.S. would be a CPA. I worked at an accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, for a while. And then I transferred to Chicago with that firm and at the same time … I did my MBA at the University of Chicago.
Q: After Arthur Andersen, did you join the cruise industry?
A: Actually, after I left Chicago, I was working for a holding company in Milan. And Costa Crociere was looking for a CFO for a joint venture they were doing in South Florida [in 1993]. The company was called American Family Cruises. … This was my first experience with the cruise industry. I didn’t know about the industry then; I was just a finance guy. Unfortunately, the execution was very poor, so Costa decided to wind down the company after a few months, and they offered for me to go to Genoa [in Italy] to run the revenue-management department. So that’s the way I started my career in the cruise industry.
Q: When you went back to South America, what did you learn when you went to work for MSC?
A: In South America I learned a lot of things. The power of offering a good value to the market. The difficulty of dealing with some government bureaucracies. Perhaps the most instructive thing I learned in South America was the value of a private company. The difference in working for a company like MSC is having the cellphone [number] of the CEO and being able to call him at any time with a proposal, and after two or three questions he’ll give me the green light to go ahead. That was invaluable. I don’t think that MSC would have grown as it did in South America if we had to do a 10-page report to deploy more capacity. The decisions were made very quickly, and the company was very responsive to the needs of the market, and I think that’s what makes MSC different.
Q: What do you think is your strength as a manager?
A: I think my strength is in developing people and helping them to try to get to their full potential. I like to think of myself as a facilitator and company coach. One of my proudest achievements is that any time I left an executive position, my second-in-command took over.
Q: What will be the division of roles between you and Sasso as MSC grows?
A: There will be the usual division of chairman and president. Rick will look after government issues, and I will run the company on a day-to-day basis. I will have the luxury of having such a legend of the industry as a privileged adviser on major issues, but the decisions, good or bad, will be my responsibility.
Q: In the past, MSC has had some favorable terms for travel agents. What can they expect in this area?
A: We’re always going to do what’s best for the business, the company and the partners. We live by our travel agent partners and recognize that they are critical to our success. We won’t be able to get to 5 million passengers without their help. So we will continue to prioritize our partners and make it as easy as possible to work with us