Christine Duffy, 56, graduated from Frankford High School and immediately wanted to join the travel industry as an airline attendant — but she was too short.
So after a brief stint at Rosenbluth Vacations’ offices in center city, she walked into Norbert McGettigan’s travel bureau to interview as a travel agent, and at 22 was promptly hired by the man himself — with just a high school education. The Philly native has risen all the way to president of Carnival Cruise Line, and she’ll speak at an event called “Walking on Broken Glass,” at the Union League of Philadelphia on Thursday, March 15.
“I grew up in Northwood. My husband’s father and my father worked together at Singer Sewing Machine. My husband of 36 years went to [Father] Judge [high school].”
Duffy, whose mother is French, grew up bilingual, which was an instant advantage in the business.
“We spent summers in France, and I would go and hang out with my cousins and go wherever they were going for their four weeks of vacation. So I got the travel bug pretty young. I’ve always loved traveling, and ideally I wanted to be a [Pan American World Airways] flight attendant because that was a very cool and glamorous job back then. I made it all the way to the final interview at Pan Am in New York, but you had to be at least 5 feet 4 inches without your shoes on, and I was not!”
After McGettigan sold the successful corporate events business in 2001 to Maritz Travel Co., Duffy stayed on and rose to the role of president, and a few years later, “Steve Maritz asked me to come and be president and CEO of Maritz Travel Co., which is still the largest corporate meeting event and incentive travel company in the world. I was the first woman president, and I had an amazing experience at Maritz,” she told an audience in Center City last month organized by Haverford Trust as part of its Speaker Series for Women.
The commute between Philadelphia and St. Louis every weekend, however, was a killer. Her husband, Andrew Duffy, and her high school-aged children moved to be with her.
“But the challenge was that I was never home, and my family ultimately moved back to the Philadelphia area to finish out my kids’ schooling. That was a tough period.” Her daughter and son, Danielle and Sean, are now in their 20s.
In 2011, Duffy left Maritz to become the first woman to run Cruise Lines International Association, the lobbying group for the cruise industry in Washington.
“The commute was much better,” she added. “I also learned that it was important to have political contacts there before a crisis happens.” That’s because a year after she joined CLIA, the Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground and capsized, becoming one of the worst disasters in the history of the modern cruise industry. That experience, however, galvanized the cruise industry into global regulation, which prepared Duffy to become head of a global cruise company.
In 2015, she was recruited for the top job at Carnival Cruise, a travel, leisure, and cruise company that includes brands Carnival, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn Cruise Line, Cunard, Costa Cruises, AIDA Cruises, P&O Cruises (Australia), and P&O Cruises (UK). The company in 2017 posted earnings of $3 billion on revenues of $18 billion.
The Duffys still have homes in Philadelphia and Cape May, but Duffy and her husband live and work full time in Miami, where Carnival’s corporate headquarters are based.
What does she think of the recent #MeToo movement in the workplace?
“I just learned the word ‘adulting’ and ‘man-splaining’ recently,” she said with a laugh. “Every job I’ve had was due to male mentors. People want to work with people who are fun. You can’t let that stuff get to you. Life’s too short for that.”
How does Carnival hope to attract demographics such as young millennials to cruises, which have historically attracted either families or seniors?
“Carnival is about being social, and for people who want to talk to other groups and engage with the cruise director, and bring their kids to the 24-hour ice cream and pizza….
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