Tom McAlpin, president and CEO“I think Virgin Cruises will be very good for the industry,” said Tom McAlpin, president and CEO of the start-up cruise line by the British Virgin Group, founded and led by entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.

Speaking to Cruise Industry News, McAlpin said: “We will bring new people (passengers) into the industry. We will develop the experience around what our customers tell us they want. The approach is much more scientific than anything that has been done before, and we will be focusing on a niche market.” But he would not reveal what that niche market would be.

In the process of building his executive team, at press time aboard with McAlpin were Nirmal Saverimuttu, chief commercial officer; Nathan Rosenberg, senior vice president and chief marketing officer; Dee Cooper, chief designer; Stuart Hawkins, senior vice president of marine and newbuildings; and Frank Weber, vice president of operations.

“I am very excited,” said a relaxed and suntanned McAlpin, having a 30-year track record in the industry. “I have been talking with Virgin for some time. I am excited because we can create something from scratch – something new, tailored to the customer, like we did for Disney Cruise Line.

“It is also about putting in a lot of blood, sweat and tears; there are tremendous risks involved; there are a lot of unknowns. I tell the people I recruit they must be comfortable with the unknowns. That is part of the excitement and the fun. I have not been this inspired in eight years.”

Having been in corporate America his whole life, McAlpin said he still had an itch to do something else and had been talking with Virgin, which first started to consider introducing its own cruise brand back in 2006, if not before.

“With a small fleet of ships under the Virgin brand umbrella, the business cannot be anything but successful,” he added.

McAlpin said the product must be right – “what you deliver and how it is different. “You have to get it right; you have to listen to your customers.

“And the crew is key, because at the end of day they are the ones delivering the product. You have to build a culture around success; everybody must have the same motivation, the same philosophy ‘to exceed guest expectations.’ I call it ‘aggressive hospitality’ – going out of your comfort zone to accommodate the guests.”

He talked to all the crew at Disney, attended every single orientation class, and he wants to be able to talk to and motivate every single crew member at Virgin.

Before joining Virgin in January, McAlpin was president and CEO for the World for five years, and before that spent 14 years at Disney Cruise Line where he was part of the founding team and later served five years as president. He started his career with KPMG and was also eight years with Royal Caribbean where he was director of corporate planning and analysis.

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Summer 2015