Cruising to Success in HR at Royal Caribbean Ltd.

Jill Yarberry-Laybourn Human Resources, Issue 16 - March/April 2015 Leave a Comment

Global CHRO Maria Del Busto lends insight as to how leading a 460 person department can go so swimmingly.

As the saying goes, some leaders are made and some leaders are born. Whether born or made, there are a number of attributes and abilities that seem to be inherent in most great leaders: among them, being a good communicator, transparent and trustworthy, able to delegate, a visionary and inspirational.

It is a bit of a mystery whether Maria Del Busto, Global Chief Human Resources (HR) Officer for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., was born a leader or made a leader. What is clear, though, is that she exhibits all of the aforementioned attributes and abilities. It is something different that makes her an extraordinary leader. It isn’t complex; in fact, it is quite genius in its simplicity. It is her ability and desire to cultivate relationships.

If You’ve Got It, Maximize It

Del Busto started building professional relationships early. While in high school, she worked part-time.

“It was a wonderful experience because I got to see what a number of people did in a financial institution,” she said.

Del Busto loved numbers and thought that accounting was her calling, but she quickly ascertained that “adding machines, general ledgers, pencils and erasers” weren’t for her. “I said, ‘No way, I cannot do this day in and day out.’”

She was working in the Personnel Department at the time, doing some recruiting and policy administration, and stumbled upon her passion. “I really fell in love with that function, dealing with people, interviewing folks, getting to know them and learning their skill sets, and helping put the right people in the right jobs.”

She also learned from the leaders in that institution, in particular Ofelia Tabares-Fernandez. “I respected her. She was a Latin woman who had earned her master’s degree, which was unheard of at the time,” Del Busto said. The rising star watched and learned that women could be bold and make high-level business decisions. Just as importantly, she developed the belief that “a woman does not have to be a man.”

She realized, too, that women have an innate ability to nurture relationships. And that instead of being excessively aggressive and intimidating to try to prove their leadership capabilities, they need to utilize their inherent ability to connect with people. “Women are good at that,” Del Busto noted.


An Economic Family

It isn’t often that people discuss business and psychology in the same conversation, and even rarer is finding a person with a double major in Business Administration and Psychology. Del Busto did just that, and it makes perfect sense considering her work is focused on the HR portion of the business.

“I use my background in psychology a lot in employee relationships, negotiations. It is fascinating to see how human beings work. No two are alike,” Del Busto said. “It is exciting working with folks and learning from them.”

While at Fortus Health, Del Busto witnessed the effective use of psychology as she learned from the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Glendon Johnson. “He was an amazing leader. That man had a knack for knowing every single employee’s name,” she said. “He connected emotionally with everyone, and he spoke from the heart.” Del Busto also learned from him that a business isn’t just a business, rather “an economic family.”

Different Is Good

Royal Caribbean Cruises, a company with more than 67,000 employees worldwide, is continuing to grow rapidly, and Del Busto is putting that knowledge to work. The HR Department alone has 460 employees on ship and shore, and she has six direct reports to help handle the HR functions, including training and development, leadership development, succession planning, benefits and compensation, recognition, talent acquisition, HR systems and union negotiations. In addition to all of the traditional HR functions, Del Busto also leads the workforce planning and scheduling function for Royal’s six brands.

“All my direct reports, they couldn’t be any different—their styles, their personalities,” Del Busto said. “My goal is to make sure we leverage all of their skill sets and that they all shine.”

Another way she builds relationships with her team is through flexibility. For Del Busto, it is important to adapt and to engage.

“You tell me how to lead you,” she said. “You tell me what you need from me.”

Likewise, she and the team, along with the corporation as a whole, share in one another’s values. “We value differences,” Del Busto acknowledged. “We are here to make this a better organization, to make our employees happier, keep them engaged and make them think twice before going to another company. The mission is being the best employer in the vacation industry.”


Building Relationships & the Business

Building relationships with thousands of employees from 130-plus countries and 75-plus cultures seems like a daunting task. To address it, Del Busto introduced and implemented the idea of having an HR Manager aboard each ship. While this idea was met with some resistance, “I am happy to say, 13 years later, they can’t live without them.”

Not only has she earned a lot of trust and respect from her team, but she has proven her value to the business—one that is riding on the interactions and connections between employees and customers. “[Vacationers] won’t come back unless they have an emotional connection with the crew,” Del Busto said.

With that idea and others, she earned a seat at the business team’s table. “Instead of being a necessary evil,” the HR Department has been contributing to the overall success of the organization. When she first started with the company, “no one [from HR] was sitting with the leadership team, thinking about the future and how they are handling employees, how they are attracting the best talent, how the company is learning to work with the next generation. No one was working with leadership in a holistic way.” Now there is a “solid line” from her to the business partners and brand presidents, and they are all “sitting around the table looking at the business’ needs.”

It doesn’t matter whether Del Busto was born a leader or made a leader through experience. What does matter is that her interpersonal skills and her love for what she does has led to great success—success that has been substantiated by award after award, including recognition in the Top 25 Most Influential Business Women, Royal Caribbean Cruise’s award for The Top 50 Most Engaged Workforces, and Employee Voice Awards from 2008 to 2014 from Quantum.

“It has been a wonderful ride,” Del Busto said. And for Royal Caribbean Cruises, a company whose business is all about relationships, they couldn’t ask for a better HR leader.♦




Favorite Quote… “This too shall pass.”

Books I recommend… “The Speed of Trust” by Stephan Covey and “Quick & Nimble” by Adam Bryant

Things I carry with me… Cell/Galaxy, business cards (always recruiting great talent) and lipstick

Apps on my phone I can’t do without… Facebook, music, email and Instagram

I can’t start my day unless… I have my coffee.

I don’t consider my day done unless… I say “goodnight” and “I love you” to my children and husband.

I start my day by… By exercising.

Favorite leaders… Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa (many call me this)

My definition of retirement… Traveling the world and giving back to the community.

I unwind from my day by… Having a glass of red wine, listening to music and talking to the family about how the day went.

One of the best lessons I’ve learned in my career is… Be yourself wherever you are—at work and away from work—and not take things too seriously, as we all die and nothing is worth stressing over.

It’s 5:00 on Friday, and my drink of choice is… Red wine

Maria's Key Partners:
Avila Rodriguez Hernandez Mena & Ferri LLP (Immigration & Nationality Services)

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