Interview: A Ken-Do Attitude and How Change Can Lead to Success

first_img“You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice…” Interview By: Joanie Ogg, co-founder and Editor – Travel Professional NEWS®Interviewing: Ken Muskat,CEO – SkySea Cruise Line  While at the recent CruiseWorld event in Fort Lauderdale, Andy and I had the opportunity to sit down with Travel Industry veteran Ken Muskat, CEO of SkySea Cruise Line. I have known Ken for many years and have always thought he was one of the most amazing young men in our industry. I have to share that personally, I was excited to introduce my son, Andy Ogg to this industry leader who has just returned from nearly two years in China as CEO of SkySea Cruise Line. First and foremost, our sincere thanks to Ken for making the time to chat with us and share his experience and insights into his career changes and challenges. As we head into 2019, his message of the realities he experienced during his recent years in Shanghai and how he overcame any obstacles that might have come his way is inspiring. Get ready for a very insightful and meaningful message shared by Ken. Joanie: Ken, can you share with our readers your industry experiences and how they brought you to your role with SkySea? Ken: I have been in the cruise industry for my entire career. I started right out of college and took a position with Royal Caribbean that fit my studies in advertising and communications. I gladly took the job fresh out of college and while at Royal Caribbean for 18 years, I pretty much had my try at everything from entertainment, strategic planning, product marketing and development and sales. My last position was heading up onboard revenue for the Royal Caribbean International brand. I was offered a position at MSC Cruises and was there for 3 ½ years. I was ready for that new challenge and change. They were, at that time, as they still are, very focused on growing their presence in North America. It was a great opportunity to work with a private smaller company after working for a public established company such as Royal Caribbean. Being as well funded as MSC was, allowed them to expand very quickly in this market. I held a number of different positions at MSC with a focus on the sales and marketing side of things. It was great to be a part of their rapid expansion. Joanie: How did the opportunity with SkySea avail itself to you? Ken: SkySea approached me to interview for the position as CEO of their company based in China. The timing felt right for me as my time at Royal Caribbean and MSC had provided me with a wide variety of different experiences. My role would be to run the only smart contemporary local cruise line established for the Chinese market and oversee everything from a major reorganization, strategic planning, operations, marketing and sales. The only things I did not have previous experience in were being responsible for the full P&L and marine operations which ended up being a large and critical part of my new role with SkySea. Joanie: Can you tell us a bit more about SkySea and it’s place in the Chinese market? Ken: Royal Caribbean and had a joint venture to create the only local true Chinese brand for the Chinese market. Celebrity’s former Celebrity Century was refitted and taken over to China and that became SkySea Golden Era, the flagship for SkySea Cruise Line. It was only a one ship fleet, but it gave me the opportunity to run a brand. We reorganized, hired new executive leadership, and set a strategy in place to be successful. The market became very competitive in a short time as other lines decided to enter this growing market with their newest and biggest hardware. The ship was 20 years old so we had to restructure and create a brand that could differentiate from the competition. Spending money on board was never a focus for the Chinese guest, so that became a focus for this ship becoming the brand for MICE business which attracted a younger clientele who came back with their families and friends. We also decided to create a deployment strategy that moved us away from the competition in Shanghai and deployed the ship along the coast of China from different home ports to allow this brand to be unique to the market. Joanie: I would think the language would be a bit of a challenge. Did you speak Mandarin or did you need to learn the language to enable communications while there? Ken: No, I did not know it, nor did I actually ever get the chance to learn it. I really wanted to and had planned to, but realized I was sadly too busy to spend time learning the language. I had to focus on the brand and luckily the majority of my employees spoke English very well. I learned to use Google Translate and translators when needed. It never became an obstacle to success, however, I still wish I could have taken the time to learn it. Joanie: So the SkySea Board of Directors approached you for the role and how long did you have to think about it, interview and accept the position? Ken: The whole process of going over for the interview was amazing. I was on the plane longer then I was in China for the interview itself. I received a call a couple days later and I recall accepting it immediately. I was going to have the chance to bring my years of North American cruise expertise to the China market. It was just a great opportunity and I could not pass up the amazing experience that I would be a part of. I think the whole process happened in 4 weeks and I found myself in Shanghai ready to take it on. Joanie: What was the most challenging piece for you? Ken: The most challenging element was the initial change of relocating, starting in a new company and not knowing where to do the basic things. Where to get groceries, where to get my hair cut, where to go if I hurt myself. It was like having to relearn so many things all at once. My biggest challenge was all of the above along with running a new brand. People told me it would take 5 or 6 months to really adjust to my new reality. Luckily it happened for me in about 4 months, but I admit I was very homesick. I was there alone and did not really have a network of friends and family, so it was a new feeling for me. Joanie: Adapting to change is not always easy and actually rarely is easy at all. Additionally, evolving with change to succeed at what we take on is paramount to success. Travel Professionals are continually faced with market changes, technology, new product and the list goes on. Others may decide to change direction and focus on a new product or niche. All of this is change and can be challenging. How do you embrace big changes and challenges as you did moving to China? What advice would you give our readers about change and turning that change into personal and professional success? Ken: One of the things I wish had existed for me before I went there was some sort of preparation for the impact this would have on me both professionally and personally. I would have loved to see a presenter address this topic. People need to realize it will be scary. It is going to take time to find your groove and direction. No matter how long it takes and how often you doubt your decision, you will make it work. I had two choices – either stick it out and make it work or quit. Quitting wasn’t an option. Now two years later I can look back with pure satisfaction and a major sense of accomplishment. People deal with these big life changes everyday, and when you take it on as an opportunity to grow yourself both personally and professionally, you see it is well worth it. Joanie: Was there a “Ah Ha” moment for you? Ken: Yes. I woke up on March 23, 2017 and I wrote myself a note. It was the first day I said to myself that I’ve got this and I could do this thing and I wanted to remember the exact date. Throughout my life, personally and professionally, I had never doubted myself until the first few months of this overseas experience, and on that date, I felt that I had found peace with my decision and I was feeling so great about it. From that point on I woke up everyday and said “it’s showtime”. Amazing how those simple words helped. Then of course the results starting coming in strong and there was no stopping us. Joanie: Thank you so much for this look into your career and your successes. Is there a final message you would like to share with our readers? Ken: Be patient, stay strong and know that being scared and doubting your decisions is par for the course. You will have that moment when you will get that sale or that successful moment for your business, when you know you made the right decision and you simply won’t look back! To hear more from Ken, follow him on twitter @KenMuskatlast_img read more