Four tips on how to build working relationships from Orlando Ashford, the first African-American president of a cruise line

BY Preta Peace Namasaba June 20, 2024 5:49 PM EDT
Orlando Ashford. Photo credit: Business Wire

Orlando Ashford is the Chief People Officer of Fanatics where he manages global human resources and directly oversees the HR team within Fanatics Holdings. He is the former President of Holland America Line, the first African-American president of a cruise line. Ashford was in charge of 14 premium vessels carrying over 900,000 guests annually across all continents. He was responsible for more than 18000 employees.

Before that, he was a managing partner and president of the Talent Business at Mercer. He served as Senior Vice President, Chief Human Resources and Communications Officer at Marsh & McLennan Companies. Ashford also worked in human resources at The Coca-Cola Company and Motorola. He received the 2004 CEO Award for Outstanding Performance for his contributions to Motorola’s global human resource strategy.

Ashford was born on 14th September 1968 in Bangor, Maine and attended Franklin High School. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s in organizational leadership and industrial technology from Purdue University. He is the author of Talentism: Unlocking The Power Of The New Human Ecosystem and How Did You Get That Job?

These four tips from Orlando Ashford will help you efficiently work with and lead people.

1. Engage and listen
Ashford went aboard his first cruise within a few days of joining the Holland America Cruise Line. He fully immersed himself in the experience, spent time with the company’s travel agents, and got to understand their role. He also introduced himself at the headquarter’s town hall sessions where employees were allowed to ask questions. Ashford had ‘coffee engagement sessions’ with small groups and spent a lot of time listening to their feedback. He transformed the business that had been flat to negative in growth the past seven years into a profitable undertaking.

2. Utilise data
Ashford carried out an employee engagement survey in his early days with the cruise line. He used this information to develop an action plan. He then worked hard to improve the crew’s living arrangements, pay, meals, free time, and communication channels. As a result, employee engagement improved by eight points within the first two years of Ashford’s presidency. This approach alongside understanding guest’s needs significantly grew the company.

3. Enhance innovation
He leveraged innovation to bolster human capital development at Holland America. He gave talks on themes such as the role of technology in connecting people and jobs. Ashford considered loyal guests and employees as assets and fostered innovation through a series of small and executable steps. He moved the company to an open floor plan to allow for more communication, collaboration and connection. Employees in groups created more innovation. He created room for a modern twist to protect the enduring legacy and status of the cruise line as a Fortune 500 organization.

4. Interact with diversity
Ashford grew up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, graduated from Indiana, and has worked across America. He moved his family from Atlanta to Istanbul when he took over Coca-Cola’s human resources group for 90 countries in Eurasia and Africa. His interactions with diverse cultures have enabled him to grow personally and professionally. At Fanatics, Ashford focuses on expanding and advancing Inclusion, Diversity, Equality, and Advocacy principles. He also executes philanthropic initiatives throughout the global workforce and is in charge of the Fanatics Foundation.