Meet Holland America Line President Orlando Ashford

Holland America Line President Orlando Ashford has spent his working life leading human resources teams for various companies, so it’s not surprising to hear him say, “People are our most important asset.” How Ashford intends to leverage employees’ strengths to propel Holland America Line into the future is the topic of an interview he conducted recently with Seatrade Cruise News.

This article is reproduced with permission of Seatrade Cruise News and with its original British punctuation, grammar and capitalization.


After the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl loss, at least Holland America Line employees know the boss feels their pain. Because new president Orlando Ashford relocated from the East Coast, there may have been concerns about a potential New England Patriots supporter in their midst.

Those were put to rest early on when Ashford donned a 12th Man (Seahawks fan) jersey on several ‘Blue Fridays’ in the office and at an employee rally.

Coming from a high-flying career in human resources and organizational development, Ashford may lack cruise experience, but he’s certainly got the human touch.

‘People are our most important asset,’ he said. Not every company takes the actions to ensure workers are engaged — feeling a vested interest in the quality of the work they do and their organization’s success. As he explained in his newly published book, ‘Talentism,’ when workers are invested, they are doing their best and reaping more satisfaction from their work.

‘I consider myself a human capital–oriented business leader,’ Ashford told Seatrade Cruise News.

He’s focused on the human capital at HAL, because having a person with the right skill set in a job impacts the guest experience. ‘At Holland America, that’s always been great, but we can make it even better,’ he said. This also will prepare a brand with a 140-year history for the future …

Ashford on the bridge of Nieuw Amsterdam with Captains Van Zaane, left, and Van Dreumel.

Ashford on the bridge of Nieuw Amsterdam with captains van Zaane, left, and van Dreumel.

Ashford is already developing an action plan from the data gathered in an employee engagement survey. He’s also spending a lot of time listening, and he plans ‘coffee engagement sessions’ with small groups.

‘I’m very open. I like to circulate and engage with people,’ he said.

Innovation, Ashford added, comes in ‘small bits, series of small, executable steps’ of putting procedures in place that foster that.

He sees Holland America’s long legacy as a strength, along with being part of a Fortune 500 organization. Loyal guests and loyal employees — some who’ve worked for 10, 15, 20 or even 30 and more years — are assets, too.

‘My job is to leverage, enhance,’ Ashford said. ‘This is not a turn-around, fix-it job. It’s a grow and enhance job.’

To underscore Ashford’s in charge, his boss, Holland America Group ceo Stein Kruse, moved out of the building to a cross-town office housing some Princess Cruises and HAL operations.

Kruse told Seatrade Cruise News he could have tapped into the company’s own deep talent pool for his successor as president but he wanted somebody who could bring a different perspective. In Ashford’s case, that’s expertise in organizational structure, leadership development and human capital development.

In an entity as large as Holland America, with tens of thousands of employees, Ashford’s skills will be ‘invaluable,’ Kruse said.

‘My leadership, and [that of former HAL evp/current Seabourn/Cunard North America president] Rick Meadows, have established a company with incredible core competencies. It’s a well-running entity. What I was looking for in the next phase of Holland America Line was not to replace Rick or myself but to take the organization to another level,’ Kruse explained. ‘Orlando will help revitalize and re-engineer.’

Ashford recently toured the ships and had time to go behind the scenes and meet with officers and crew.

Ashford recently toured the ships and had time to go behind the scenes and meet with officers and crew.

Ashford is not daunted about coming in at the top in a business he doesn’t know. ‘I’ve taken on big roles at big organizations before. I like a challenge,’ he said. ‘The cool thing is I’m inheriting a brand with lots of people around me with deep knowledge of the cruise industry.’

He’ll contribute expertise in human capital — which ‘Talentism’ identifies as creativity and the ability to innovate, factors that fundamentally drive growth today.

Some years ago, Ashford moved his family with two young sons from Atlanta to Istanbul to take charge of the Coca-Cola Co.’s human resources group for 90 countries in Eurasia and Africa. He managed ‘everything from Moscow to Cape Town,’ and interacting with so many different cultures changed his life in terms of personal and professional growth.

Prior to HAL, he was president of the Talent Business Segment for global consultancy Mercer, and living in Connecticut. Previously he served as svp, chief human resources and communications officer of Mercer’s parent, Marsh & McLennan Companies. Before the Coca-Cola job, he was vp global human resources strategy and organizational development for Motorola.

Ashford with the Front Desk team.

Ashford with the Front Desk team.

Born in Bangor, Maine, Ashford grew up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, graduated from Indiana’s Purdue University (coincidentally, Kruse’s alma mater) and has worked in New York, Chicago, Montréal and Toronto, in addition to Atlanta and Istanbul.

Ashford met Carnival Corp. & plc chief executive Arnold Donald through the Executive Leadership Council, whose mission is to raise the number of black executives in senior corporate roles. Before Carnival, Donald led the Council. Ashford served on the board.

Kruse said Ashford had been invited to try for several positions within Carnival Corp. He’d been interviewed by chairman Micky Arison who urged Kruse to meet him.

During the interview process, Kruse said Ashford gave valuable input on the structure of the Holland America Group and plans to create a shared services team.

The shared services concept takes a page out of Arnold Donald’s corporate playbook about ‘leveraging our scale,’ Kruse said. ‘Orlando was supportive of that idea.’

Within days of joining HAL Ashford was aboard his first cruise, a Centurions sailing for top-producing travel agents. He enjoyed jumping in to ‘experience the product and spend time with our travel agent partners and understand the critical role they play.’ He even gave a talk about one of the themes in ‘Talentism,’ the role technology will play in connecting people and jobs.

Some of the agents have invited him to speak to their organizations.

Early on at Seattle headquarters Ashford had been introduced at town hall sessions where employees had the opportunity to ask questions. A video was sent to the ships and overseas offices.

‘He’s very gregarious, very outgoing, with a great sense of humor,’ Kruse said. ‘He laughs a lot. I have a feeling he will be out and about a lot, interacting.’

Sally Andrews, vp public relations, described Ashford as ‘very visible,’ dining in the company lunchroom and talking with everyone. But the biggest thing was his wearing the Seahawks jersey.

Ashford is the first African-American president of a cruise line, adding to the Holland America Group’s already diverse leadership team. When it comes to people of color, gender or sexual preference, ‘I’m completely colorblind,’ Kruse said. ‘I believe in diversity. It creates its own set of positives and enhances operational excellence.’

And the message this sends to employees is that ‘we as Holland America and Carnival Corporation are a place where people of any background can succeed … There are no limits in our organization.’

That sounds like a page out of Ashford’s book.

To read the article on Seatrade Cruise News, click HERE.

STAY TUNED FOR MORE FROM ORLANDO: Check in on HAL’s Facebook and Twitter feeds next week and look for some special itinerary recommendations from Holland America Line President Orlando Ashford. If you read his profile, it will be pretty clear why he especially likes cruises that originate from or include … check back to find out.


Join the Discussion


  1. Melanie Saunders Verona August 19, 2020 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    I was booked on a cruise that was canceled in May. I have been requesting my refund every week since May 7th. I was initially told 60-days and I would be reimbursed. I am greatly disappointed in the responsiveness of the customer service team and keep hearing that I would get my refund in 60-days from May 7th. It is now well over 90-days and I still do not have a refund, nor any explanation of why. Each time I call, I feel that I am wasting your time. Holland America was quick to take my money for the cruise but no so quick on returning it due to a cancelation that was beyond my control. This is unacceptable and concerns me that I will never get my refund.

  2. Roger Boyd May 29, 2020 at 12:34 pm - Reply

    We had booked a cruise which was canceled by you due the virus. I had filled out the online document requesting a full refund some time ago. Having not heard or received anything I contacted customer service last week. Basically was told that a supervisor would be contacting me. After a week of not hearing back from anybody I called customer service again. This time I was told that I had requested a cruise credit on the form and the lady that I spoke with had sent in a form to change that request. The form I sent was for the refund. Until today nobody has said anything to me about my choosing other than full refund. You folks are the only line that we have ever cruised, I hope that will remain so in the future. I want my money returned asap. Thank You, Roger Boyd.3 star mariner

  3. C.B. "Cork" Motsett November 25, 2019 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    My wife and I took our first cruise on HA back in 2009 on a Trans Atlantic from Ft Lauderdale to Rome. I can’t begin to tell you how impressed we were with the crew and their constant smiles. We even asked one of the crew members to explain why everyone smiled so much and were informed it was part of the interview and training program.

    I strongly suggest you keep this up. It is one of the truly distinguishing differences that separates HA from your competition.

    We also were treated so well by other members of the crew, especially the Beverage Manager, Mr. Walter Schmuckenschlag who went out of his way to assure we had an enjoyable cruise. He invited us to a wine tasting event and special dinner that was without question one of the best my wife and I have ever enjoyed. There were so many others on-board from the Excursion Booking Manager, the Hotel Manager and so many others I just can’t begin to name them all. But they made such an impression that we now only book on Holland America for our cruises.

    It’s not the ships or the destinations that make the difference. It’s your people. They are truly outstanding in every way.

  4. peter frangenheim June 1, 2019 at 3:47 am - Reply

    I have an item of significant historical interest to HAL given by them in 1906 to my Grandfather who was a naval architect. Can you give me the name/email address to whom I can direct my communication to.
    Thank You
    Peter Frangenheim

  5. allen citera February 16, 2019 at 5:33 pm - Reply

    As four star mariners, we are impressed by the new pinnacle class ships.
    If possible, please bring back the Atlantic
    Adventure and Grand Med round trip
    Port Everglades itineraries.

  6. Dominic Grady January 5, 2019 at 11:37 am - Reply

    People are indeed the most important part of any organization. My wife and I have been happy Holland America cruisers for several years so it is with considerable disappointment that I feel compelled to point out what has become a serious issue for me with Holland America, the online check in process. Let me explain: we have a trip scheduled on the Osterdam in February and the printing of boarding passes and luggage tags has been a real nightmare.

    1. Tried to check in using my iPad with wireless connection to a new HP printer. Would not print boarding passes or tags. Called Holland America and was told system is not compatible with iPad use Windows desktop computer.( It would be helpful if I knew this before wasting a lot of time.)

    2. Went through the process again and had the same result. Was told to turn off pop up blockers still no printing.

    3. Finally solved printing issue on my own by downloading the documents to my computer and printing the files using Adobe Acrobat.

    I truly hope this is an isolated incident but I do think you need to know about this problem.

  7. Vincent vignola March 27, 2018 at 10:53 am - Reply

    Sailed with you many times however chose princess this year for my transatlantic cruise. The main reason is that they have more activities. Specifically pickleball! It’s becoming very popular,Costs nothing to offer,(put it on the basketball court) and older passengers love it. Will consider you again next year for our transatlantic cruise and our world cruise in 2021 if you include pickleball. Looking forward to hearing from you.

  8. Gloria Barr February 17, 2018 at 11:04 am - Reply

    I especially appreciate the fact that all HA cruises have a Catholic priest on board to celebrate Mass. This is an added bonus for many of us who wish to attend daily Mass.

  9. Barbara Schultz February 6, 2018 at 7:54 am - Reply

    VERY disappointed! Holland America lost my luggage. Yes, it was properly tagged and given to the H.A. porter. And yes, we immediately reported that my (brand new purple) suitcase was never delivered. Day after day at Customer Service/Guest Relations, the response was to be patient. When it was “dress up dinner” I had no dress. My brand new dresses were in that case..which also meant that I did not have them for subsequent Christmas parties, or my birthday. That alone is a loss well into the hundreds! After filling out multiple reports, I tried to be patient, but finally called H.A., only to be told they didn’t have my claim on file! I wrote a letter to the president, but NEVER received a response!

  10. Dwight Frey December 17, 2017 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Mr Ashford my wife and I will be sailing on the 22nd. We annually take a Holiday cruise on HAL and look forward to meeting you and your team/family and sharing our experiences on HAL hopefully.

    Happy Holidays
    Happy Kwanza

  11. Phyllis Ross December 15, 2017 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    I am a travel agent, Cruises “R” Us, and my husband and I plus my daughter and son-in-law are traveling to Cuba man the Veedam January 17, 2018. I just received the information about the regulation from the government about disembarking the ship in Cuba. Unfortunately, we booked the cruise on June 17, 2017, which is one day short of the requirement. My husband is a veteran and my son-in-law is a recent retired colonel. Is there any way an exception can be made? They were looking forward to coming and going off the ship on their on. We have sailed on Holland America 3 times and are looking forward to the cruise very much. Thanks for your attention to this matter.

  12. Joseph Hollifield December 8, 2017 at 10:56 pm - Reply

    Why do you not do cruise logs anymore? Bring them back!!!!

  13. Jan van Ampting November 23, 2017 at 5:48 pm - Reply

    Hi Julie, thank you so much for the help of you and the HAL staff to still surprise my friends.
    Thank you very much!

  14. Jan van Ampting November 20, 2017 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    My two best friends will board a cruise to new zealand today, November 21, 2017 in sydney (Noordam). They have personally had a few months and weeks behind them. I want to surprise them with a gift. After two emails still no response from HAL. Can mr. Ashford mean something?

  15. Khemraj Singh October 17, 2017 at 8:39 am - Reply

    Dear Mr Ashford,
    I have had the pleasure of cruising with HAL only once so far on your Alaskan cruise and I was very impressed with the level of service received.
    I cruise with my immediate and extended family a lot, some of our party have used HAL several times and as a group, following the Alaskan cruise, we have already booked in excess of 10 rooms with HAL again for the Baltic Jewels cruise scheduled for next June.
    We are always treated exceptionally well as individuals and as a group by your crews and I wanted to extend my thanks for this publicly as I believe it is as much to do with your management style as with the exceptional calibre of personnel that work for HAL both onshore and aboard your vessels.
    In light of this I wonder if it might be possible for us to connect personally so that I might be able to provide feedback and comments future cruises with HAL with a view to helping you maintain and improve the excellent standards offered.
    Please feel free to reply to my email address if you can and let me know if you think our connecting will be beneficial for you.
    Kind regards and best wishes for continued success.

  16. Jerry Gray July 22, 2017 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Hello Orlando,
    My name is Jerry Gray, I am employed by the Minnesota Vikings and played in the NFL for 9 years and I just got off the Holland America Cruise to Alaska; and I wanted you to know it was the best week of my life. I love all the adventures and the daily sessions. I would love to do it again.
    If I could do anything for you please email me.
    Thanks again
    Jerry Gray

  17. Gervais Harry April 27, 2017 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Is Mr Ashford’s family from Jamaica?
    I’m Jamaican myself and the name sounds familiar.
    The question is one of curiosity, ONLY.

  18. David Yuhas September 21, 2015 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Thanks, DY

  19. […] Source: Meet Holland America Line President Orlando Ashford […]

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