All Hands On Deck

When CIO Tom Murphy came to Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. in April 1999, the company's IT workforce was as diverse as they come. Employees hailed from more than 40 countries, and nearly half of them were minorities or women.

But IT management was foundering. "I want to be honest with you," President and Chief Operating Officer Jack Williams told Murphy. "IT is screwed up."

"It was a very traditional IT organization: command and control. Everything was locked down; everything was about not spending money," Murphy recalls. "The gentleman who was here before me was a great guy, but very timid, and the CFO basically ran the place.

"It was a traditional '70s data processing shop," Murphy says. Cost-cutting was the mantra. Voice mail was new, and the cruise operator was only dabbling with e-mail. There was no IT strategy for the future and no respect from the business side.

Adam Goldstein, senior vice president of total guest satisfaction, was "vitriolic in his disdain for all things IT," Murphy recalls, and he wasn't alone. "To a person, the business had absolutely lost confidence" in the company's IT department, he says.

"No matter what we did, it was never right," recalls IT Director Percy Lopez.

Internally, the IT group was made up of factions, and morale was terrible. Word around the department was that two opposing "mafias"-Cuban and African-American-controlled the data center and the networking group. "Each department in IT did its thing and didn't want any involvement with the others," says IT manager Dennis Wright.

"It was an emotionless, beaten-down group," says Murphy, who had come from well-oiled, homogeneous IT machines at Marriott International Inc. and Omni Hotels.

Almost three years later, everything has changed. Silos and resentments have disappeared, and the IT group has become phenomenally successful. Murphy personally sold the board of directors on a $180 million effort called Project Leapfrog aimed at pulling Royal Caribbean into the 21st century.

Since then, the firm's IT group has been overhauling the entire IT infrastructure. This effort includes a PeopleSoft enterprise resource planning implementation, a revamped public Web site and additional automation to facilitate shipboard and shore excursion activities.

These days, the IT department is respected by the business and proud. "I never doubted that he would transform the organization," Williams says. "But [Murphy] did it quicker than I thought he would."

Murphy, 39, insists that there's no magic formula for getting a diverse group to pull together. "All I do is try to create the atmosphere and the environment that allow people to be successful," he says. "It has zero to do with where they came from or what color their skin is. You just remove the barriers and watch people blossom."

When pressed on the point, he acknowledges that there's one more thing that contributes to harmony in a heterogeneous workplace. "Integrity establishes a foundation for everything that you do," he says. "If you don't have that, you have nothing."

The folks at Royal Caribbean watch this play out at work every day. Here's their account of how Murphy manages diversity:

Communication. "He communicates all the time, everything to everybody, and that prevents silos," says Leigh Baker, manager of shipboard applications delivery. "Silos still arise around projects or products, but as long as he's communicating the same message and the same goals to everyone evenly, then no one can use information as a weapon."

"You see him almost every day at the cafeteria, just chatting," says IT Director Julie Ponder. "He makes himself accessible."

"He interacts with everybody at the same level," says systems analyst Mike Korbini. "It gives me a warm feeling that he's taking the time to get to know me. And the way Tom interacts with employees, he sets an example. And it gets picked up."

Silo-busting. "Before Tom, there was more 'us vs. them' in IT-'Everything for my group,' " Baker recalls. She notes, for example, that shipboard and onshore IT people didn't mix. "But now we're forced to work in cross-teams to bring out a product, and the result is to break down the silos," she says.

Motivation. "He knows at least 80% of the people in the department, and he adapts based on the person," Lopez says. "He can relate to what motivates them, rally people around him and get the staff to believe in what we're trying to accomplish."

"He's such a positive person, and he instills that," says IT manager Illeana Gonzalez. "You see him with this positive energy, and that goes out to the environment."

Trust. "We don't have to check back every 10 minutes," says Baker. "It used to be 'Don't breathe without getting permission.' Now, it's 'You know the parameters; do what you think is best.' " With authority comes responsibility. "You're held accountable for your decisions," Wright says. "You're going to be helped through the bad ones and recognized for the good ones."

Murphy strikes the right balance between nurturing his people's independence and growth and supporting them. "I never get the sense he's looking over my shoulder," says Ponder, "but I do have the sense that if I look behind me, he'll be there, championing my cause. It's very empowering."

Metrics and time. Murphy has established very specific performance measures to let his managers know exactly what's expected of them. He's also centralized administrative responsibilities to give managers more time for their people.

"We used to spend a lot of time with vendors and [make] arrangements for training and travel," says Gonzalez. "All that was removed and given to other areas so that we could focus more on the people."

Respect. "The change has been profound," says Goldstein, no longer vitriolic. "I give Tom tremendous credit for turning around the organization and making it extremely service- and customer-oriented. Instead of being seen as an obstacle, it's seen as an assist to business."

This new respect makes the IT team proud of itself. "We have a great working relationship with the business now," Lopez says. "They respect us, they look to us, and that raises morale on the staff."

Murphy fosters IT pride with team-building activities. IT staffers paint and do landscaping at the Broward County Children's Society Home, clean up local creeks and help build a house each quarter with Habitat for Humanity.

Fun. "He's a funny guy, and his sense of humor adds to his ability to bring diverse people together," says Ponder. "He's always trying to get us to ease up and relax."

"He's just himself," says Lopez, "and that lets people be more themselves and have some fun while getting the work done."

Leadership. "He's not just a leader; he's a role model," says Ponder.

And he has modeled the concept that everyone leads and everyone works. "If there's work that needs to be done-even at a lower level-he rolls up his sleeves," says Gonzalez. "He'll get in there and help."

For instance, Bernard Gay, vice president of IT, says he once found Murphy moving equipment with a dockside crew to speed up the processing of cruise ship passengers. "Tom is not afraid to help," he says, "and so I have to get down and dirty to deliver, too. There are no excuses here."

"Tom's not a good IT leader; Tom's a great leader," says company President Williams. "People really love this guy. Someday he will be the president of a company, and it will be a great company to work for."

AT A GLANCE: Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd Location: Miami.

Employees: 27,000.

IT employees: 400*.

Net income: $324 million.

Gross revenue: $3.13 billion.

Fleet 23 cruise ships: 47,400 berths.

*For four quarters ended Sept. 30, 2001.

Note: Royal Caribbean is currently in negotiations for a merger with P&O Princess Cruises PLC, a London-based cruise line with gross revenue of $2.45 billion.

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