Soak Up Information – Barbara Kallay, VP of HR at Royal Caribbean

Andrea Hammer Human Resources, Issue 02 - Nov/Dec 2012 Leave a Comment

Barbara Kallay, Vice President of HR at Royal Caribbean Cruises, has two watchwords: “listen” and “learn”.

By Andrea K. Hammer

When Barbara Kallay interviewed for her job as Vice President of Human Resources (HR) with Royal Caribbean Cruises, she had a secret: She had never taken a cruise because of severe seasickness. Now six months into her role, Kallay is cruising.

“I have been on cruises now and am fine. Our ships are so big that I don’t even notice it,” she said, recalling an “amazing” experience on Oasis of the Seas. “It’s the world’s largest passenger cruise ship, and it is phenomenal. It goes out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with a capacity of over 6,000 guests.”

Floating Hotels & Cities

To work in the cruise industry, Kallay thinks that employees need to be passionate about customer service. They also need to possess high integrity and appreciate complexity.

“You’re running floating hotels—floating cities actually. You’re providing everything that a guest will need,” she said. “To adapt in this culture, I think you need to deal with ambiguity, a fast pace and diversity. We have employees who come from over 100 countries. When you’re dealing with crew members from 100-some different countries, you’re really testing your globalization skills.”

Through her work, Kallay has gained a more extensive understanding of daily life for more than 50,000 workers across Royal Caribbean’s entire fleet. Many are fulfilling multiple-month contracts, working and living together. Their environment is radically different from the corporate office, where employees return home after a day’s work and perhaps more neatly separate their work and home lives.

“These individuals are their coworkers, and family, friends and social network, for several months at a time physically living together,” Kallay said. “That has some challenges and complexities, especially when you consider the many different nationalities and cultures.”

Communication & Conflict Resolution

According to Kallay, communication is the key in these situations. HR members on board deal with most of the daily issues that arise, with the corporate team there to support the shipboard operations. Many avenues allow any crew member to escalate issues up the chain of command, which includes the chairman and chief executive officer.

“The more open you are to taking risks in your career and life, the more doors open up for you.”

“Usually, when there’s a conflict, it’s due to communication problems,” Kallay stressed. “If you want to know a solution, it’s usually communication.”

To assist with conflict resolution, Kallay suggests relying on clear policies and procedures, which are fairly and consistently applied across the workforce. A strong supervisor and leadership team who can engage and motivate employees is essential.

People Solutions & Business Results

The role of a successful HR leader, according to Kallay, is functioning as a subject matter expert and sound business partner.

“When it starts to feel too much like ‘work,’ it’s time to get out and make a change.”

“You must build your credibility, trust and respect of others,” she said. “You gain that trust by showing a sincere interest in that individual’s part of the business, role and impact. You also gain trust and credibility by delivering results. Delivering what you say you will, and making an impact.”

Kallay also thinks that good HR professionals become great if they translate their functional skills into providing people solutions in real business situations. Some examples include programs to improve employee engagement, assistance with organizational development, and establishing of a pipeline of leaders for the future. Kallay still follows the advice of a mentor who recommended operating as a business person who happens to have functional expertise in HR.

Global Growth & Risk Taking

For businesses that are growing globally, Kallay suggests building a strategy that identifies top talent internally and then giving those individuals more worldwide experience earlier in their careers. She believes that preparing leaders to think and act globally is vital to the success of a worldwide growth strategy. At Royal Caribbean Cruises, a new Global Management Development Program targets master’s of business administration graduates who have been educated in the U.S. but have worked in international operations.

“People should not be averse to risk taking,” Kallay said, recalling her own experience working for PepsiAmericas Inc. in Budapest. “The more open you are to taking risks in your career and life, the more doors open up for you. Be open to new opportunities and new challenges to help you grow and learn.”

“Life is too short,” Kallay added. “Whatever career you choose, make sure it’s something you love to do and can be passionate about. … When it starts to feel too much like ‘work,’ it’s time to get out and make a change.”

Andrea K. Hammer, a freelance writer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Comments, thoughts, feedback?