Team building at Royal Caribbean group

Building innovative ships is a team effort. Jon Ingleton speaks with Paris Swann and Sascha Lang of the Royal Caribbean group about their collaborative approach

Team building at Royal Caribbean group
“We realise that the sky isn’t really the limit,” says Sascha Lang

The Royal Caribbean group has a rich pool of shipbuilding talent, led by the champion of cruise industry innovation, Richard Fain, and featuring executives Harri Kulovaara and Kelly Gonzalez. We spoke with two more of the team’s star players – Paris Swann, associate vice president, architectural design for Celebrity Cruises and TUI Cruises, and Sascha Lang, vice president architectural and design at Royal Caribbean International – to find out about the group’s collaborative approach.

Lang and Swann recognise their good fortune in being part of a great team: “Our most valuable asset for innovation is Richard Fain. He’s a visionary who demands that we continuously strive for higher standards,” says Lang. “Through Richard, Michael Bayley and other members of the executive steering committee, we realise that the sky isn’t really the limit and that knowledge motivates creativity and excellence.”

Swann agrees: “Our chairman is our designer-in-chief, he and Lisa Lutoff-Perlo are both incredibly passionate about design. The entire leadership team are deeply engaged in every phase of a build or revitalisation project, including the selection of every last detail. But they also trust in the team and in our process.”

Swann and Lang are both quick to deflect attention from their own achievements in favour of the group.

“We collaborate with every department in the business and everyone makes a valuable contribution. Of course, we have a particularly strong connection with hotel operations so that we’re aligned on what the product is meant to be, how it works and how it speaks to our guests,” says Swann. “But nowadays we have regular reviews through the building cycle with every team. With the marketing department, for example, we need to know that our design fits within their notion of what will improve the guest experience and differentiate our ships from the rest of the market.”

Lang has a similar outlook: “We are all equal partners in these projects, working as one team towards a common goal.”

A key milestone in the design process is finalising the vision, says Swann: “Once we’ve established our ambition and coalesced every stakeholder behind this common objective, it becomes much easier to tie in all of the nebulous parts of the project, develop a concept design and move on to a master plan.”

External alliances are typically formed around the relationship with the shipyard. “For newbuild projects we work closely with our three big shipyard partners and their supply chains. Our role is more focused on evaluating and auditing outfitters and suppliers to support the yards and make sure that the vendors chosen meet our high standards,” says Lang. “We have a wide network of trusted partnerships, built and nurtured over many years.”

Swann says: “There’s a very clearly defined split between what the shipyard has to provide and what the owner will specify. We don’t procure everything that you see on the ships, much of it is part of the product that the yard provides. We’re still working with them on vendor selection, product quality, shop drawings and the budget for each line item by venue.”

Swann points to the experience of building Celebrity Edge. “I visited Milan six times to see and test chair prototypes and members of my team made many more visits than I did,” she says. “It took over a year to go through all of the products that we eventually selected for Edge. We don’t leave anything to chance.”

Revitalisation projects take a different approach. ”Fleet modernisation programmes are deeply managed internally – we have key relationships with dry docks, designers and outfitters and all of the procurement work is through our department,” Lang explains.

The corporation takes a similarly fastidious approach to every new partnership, as Lang explains, “We’re thorough because we’re looking for long-term partnerships and we invest heavily in onboarding new people and companies because it’s essential that every member of the team understands our brand, our market segment, our audience and our vision.”

New design partners are expected to get to know the brand intimately. “Our brand book shares important information but spending time on our ships is a key onboarding component,” explains Lang. “Personal research and talking to different stakeholders within the company gives a more rounded personal experience to inform good design.”

Appreciating the team dynamics is another shift up the learning curve. “On Edge, we defied our historical formula to recruit designers that were new to marine and new to our group. Typically we’d look for a team that comprises one-third foundation, one-third evolution and one-third revolution,” explains Swann. “We probably hit 80 per cent revolution for Edge. We often find that if you bet big, you get big!”

All big build projects have challenges relating to the scale of the task. “The complexity of a cruise newbuilding is immense,” says Swann. “This big challenge can only be overcome with clear and precise communication and proactive collaboration among everyone, working across multiple time zones.” “The supply chain is huge so everyone must be precisely tuned into the process and share the same vision, every step of the way,” adds Lang.

Patience is a helpful trait, too, with years of work required before efforts are fully rewarded. “There’s a eureka moment, maybe two to three months out from delivery on a first-of-class ship, when everything really comes together. We draw a parallel with a flower that finally decides to reveal itself to you,” Swann describes. “It’s only at this moment that you know it’s all worked. You can suddenly see all of the beauty in what you’ve created and that’s a magical moment.”

This article was first published in the 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Interiors for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.

Share this story

Jon Ingleton
By Jon Ingleton
02 July 2020

Theme picker