Norwegian Cruise Line’s CEO, Kevin Sheehan, spoke with Travel Agent about his much-anticipated debut on CBS’s Undercover Boss, where the executive delved into disguise to discover the inner workings of the nautical giant.
Sheehan, who joined NCL only two years ago, was eager to further understand and appreciate the underpinnings of his company, but initially wasn’t sure that he wanted to participate in the exposé-esque program until a friend of his appeared on the show himself.
“The opportunity first came up when a guy I knew who had a relationship with the show called me and said, ‘you’d be perfect for this,’” Sheehan said. “He described it, but it was early in the year and I’d only seen one episode. But, I was intrigued, so I did a little homework. One of the shows I saw was with 1-800-Flowers and I knew the founder of that company [Chris McCann] and his brother. I watched what they were doing and Chris said he was able to uncover a lot of things that he didn’t expect to be what they were. ‘What a great opportunity,’ I thought.”
Sheehan explained that since he joined NCL, which boasts 11 cruise ships and more than 16,000 staff members, he has harbored a serious interest in bringing together the “ship side and shore side,” closing the gap between the corporate staff and the oftentimes overlooked employees of the ships.
“I wanted to make everybody more appreciative of the hard work that our crew does,” said Sheehan. “This opportunity afforded me the ability to go behind the scenes and really see the whole balance of work, life, and the social side of being on the ship—it’s very hard, they are away from home for long periods of time.”
Sheehan spent one week aboard the Norwegian Epic and one week aboard the Pride of America, disguised in a series of roles from a maintenance man swabbing decks, to serving as an assistant waiter to bolstering the nightlife crowd as part of entertainment staff. The CEO quickly discovered that each and every job came with a long list of daunting tasks — some physically exhausting and some downright embarrassing.
Although Sheehan was reluctant to describe exactly what jobs were particularly arduous or blush-inducing so as not to ruin the pending show, rumor has it he donned angel wings to rev up the crowd for the ‘White Hot Nights’ party, leading more than 1,000 party goers in a synchronized line dance.
“I looked like a goober in most of the situations,” laughed Sheehan. “Everything was more intense than I expected. I took on a role in the entertainment side of things and it was quite outside my comfort zone – you have to see it. I can’t even dance and I had to lead people! I’m a bit of a stiff so it was hard for me – I had to spend the entire afternoon learning it.”
In a particularly exciting turn of events, Sheehan was recognized and “outed” by an employee for the first time ever on the highly touted reality show. The unintentional whistle blower is rumored to be a waitress named Silvia aboard the Norwegian Epic in the Manhattan Room restaurant.
“My disguises had to get a lot more serious right after that particular episode,” explained Sheehan. “She screamed out my name and I was ‘uncovered’ – it had never happened before in such a blatant way. The production team and everybody regrouped and we came up with a way to make it work; she had to come undercover with me and we shared the experience.”
While Sheehan insists that by and large the undercover experience only fostered a further admiration and respect for his crew and company, he did imply that following his adventures, some alterations to Epic’s procedures will be implemented. He explained that because Epic is the newest addition to the fleet, it is also where they try out new and interesting elements, but not everything is successful as one hopes or offers the same “caliber of uniqueness” that Epic is typically marked by. What “changes” will occur? You’ll have to tune in to find out.
“This experience reminded me we need to make sure that everyone in the organization on the corporate side really takes the time to value and be respectful in changing policies and procedures because there is a human cost,” Sheehan said. “It reinforced a lot of what I knew and opened my eyes to a lot of new things as well. Typically, everyone knows who I am and suddenly I was just a regular Joe. And at the end of the day it’s a nice thing for our industry – it’s a great product and proposition – potential customers get to see our ship and how fun it is.”
Sheehan’s episode by will air Jan. 2 at 9 p.m. EST on CBS.
PHOTOS: Above right - Sheehan helps clean the deck
Above right - Sheehan leads the 'White Hot Nights' line dance in angel wings