Raise Your Hand! Celebrity Cruises CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo Discusses Navigating Your Career

At Twomentor, we like to share thought leadership from phenomenal executives and social entrepreneurs focused on: a diverse skilled workforce, social impact entrepreneurship, mentoring cultures, sponsorship and elevating women in STEM careers. We got the chance to talk to Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, CEO of Celebrity Cruises, and we were so inspired by her dedication to elevate women and to drive diversity. We are delighted to share her wisdom and advice with you today.

Julie@Twomentor: You have worked your way up the ladder for over 30 years, and have been the President & CEO of Celebrity Cruises for the past 2 years. Who do you look up to? How have they affected how you look at your career and the role you play with others? 

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo: The people that I look up to believe in diversity and equality. Rosa Parks, Gloria Steinam, Susan B. Anthony. Women who fought against racial and gender discrimination. They blazed the trail that we are all now walking on.

I believe we have an obligation to work every day to ensure that what they have all done is not in vain and that we don’t take any steps backwards. Diversity makes for a stronger and better world and business results. Conversations are better. Decisions are better. Results are better.

Women like Malala Yousafzai, who will be the godmother for our new ship, Celebrity Edge and the Malala Fund we have partnered with over the next two years is another hero of mine. She has made it her global mission to advocate for girls to have 12 years of safe, quality education. She is heroic as the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner and a recent UN Ambassador of Peace recipient.

All of these people have affected how I view my role and responsibility. I do the absolute best I can to “pay it forward” so others have opportunities as I have had and so that I can use the power, voice and position I have to help others who need it the most.

Twomentor: What accomplishment are you most proud of so far?

Lutoff-Perlo: Just after I was appointed to this role, one of the first things that I did was to promote Kate McCue to become the first American female Captain of a cruise ship, and the first female Captain ever for Celebrity Cruises. She was more than qualified, had a stellar track record and it was her time. She called her father and told him on Father’s Day, and he cried with joy. That was a proud moment.

It was also a very proud accomplishment to just reveal our new Edge Class of ships to the world. The reviews and reaction are overwhelmingly positive. We worked for over two years to design a transformational ship, so to get the reaction we did was a very proud moment for me.

I just had another proud moment related to Edge and that was announcing that Celebrity Cruises was partnering with the Malala Fund to help advance education for young girls around the world. We were honored that Malala Yousafzai agreed to be the godmother of Celebrity Edge.

I am extremely fortunate to be in a position that enables me these and so many more proud moments.

Twomentor: Going from have 3% of women on the bridge to 20% is amazing. How did you get there? Did you face any resistance or obstacles along the way?

Lutoff-Perlo: As you know, the maritime industry is predominantly male. But it doesn’t HAVE to be. I have made it a personal goal to bring more women into leadership roles in the Marine part of our business. But I can’t do it alone, and, luckily, I work with an amazing man who shares this goal and we have made great progress.

The head of Celebrity Marine Operations is an incredible leader and has been a driving force, right beside me, to raise the ratio of women on the bridges of our ships. He has done an incredible job, and in just eighteen months we’ve gone from 3% women on the bridge to 20% women. We’ve come a long way and will continue to grow!

Twomentor: You say that women need advocates and also need to “opt in,” what does this mean? What advice do you have for women who struggle to opt in?

Lutoff-Perlo: I am a big believer in having an advocate. Someone of influence who can sponsor you and help you achieve your career aspirations. It is important to find advocates so that you can more easily navigate your way to the place you want to be. You can’t do it alone, and you can’t count on people noticing how terrific you are. You’ve got to work it, and you have to have help.

I also encourage women to “opt in” to roles that they want. My team and I would love to hire more women in both the Marine and Hotel leadership roles that we have on our ships. However, we don’t have enough women raising their hands and opting in. I speak to many groups around the country and in different facets of business, and I always tell them that there are so many opportunities for them, but they have to declare that they want them. You have to go after what you want with a passion and commitment.

I am a good example of that. I was turned down twice for this position before I got it. Even when I didn’t get what I wanted the first two times, I made it my purpose to prove that I was the best person for the job. The third time, it was a “yes”. All it takes is one “yes” to change your life. I am living proof of that.

Twomentor: What lessons or advice would you share with other women who might also be (or want to be) at “the helm of the ship” in a male dominated field?

Lutoff-Perlo: I believe it is a wonderful time for women to enter into male dominated fields. Diversity and Inclusion are becoming more and more important to all companies. If women want this (back to my “opt in” commentary) then they should go for it. Decide what field you want to be in and figure out your path to get there.

A few rules I live by might help:

Don’t put limits on your dreams or aspirations

Never Give Up

Find a sponsor or advocate

Find a Way or Make a Way

I believe our only limits are those we put on ourselves.

Twomentor: You said that all 15,000 employees know who you are and they would know that you care about them. How did you create this culture? And how do you maintain it?

Lutoff-Perlo: That has been very purposeful on my part. I believe very much in discretionary effort. It is priceless. It makes great companies even greater and it only happens when people know you care about them, support them and have their backs. I am in a business where our employees are all over the world at any given time, so I rarely get to see them in person, which is why culture and actions are so important. I have a core set of leadership values that I hire against. Competence is a requirement to get any job. However, competence without the values that I believe set us apart is not good enough. I interview for and hire leaders that I know share my values and that helps create a culture of caring. I also believe that every action I take as a CEO shows employees who you are, so I do my best every day to ensure those actions enable our employees to know that I care about them. One of my leadership values is “walk the talk.” I model my values every day and that sustains the culture that is so near and dear to me.

Twomentor: What drives your passion and gets you excited about the work you do every day?

Lutoff-Perlo: A lot of things drive my passion and get me excited about the work I do every day. Helping others accomplish what they want. Promoting and advancing diversity and inclusion of all kinds. Building beautiful new ships that are transforming our industry and changing how people think about cruising. Working with a team of people that share a vision and a set of values that set us apart from the rest. Providing vacations to people that create memories that last a lifetime. Traveling the world and experiencing different people and cultures. I have the best job in the world!!

Twomentor: So many times women are shy about their accomplishments. We love that you take pride and own everything you have done. Is this something you have always done or you had to teach yourself do to?

Lutoff-Perlo: It’s something that I have learned to do. And believe it or not, I am shy about them. Doing interviews and getting to talk about them is really wonderful because I often don’t talk about what I do or my accomplishments. Forcing myself to talk about them is a good thing, so I want to thank you very much for that opportunity. I need to get better at doing this more often so that as a female leader I can set an example for all of us to not be shy about the things we have done.

As CEO of Celebrity Cruises Lisa Lutoff-Perlo is a champion for diversity, education and for young women to “raise their hand” as the next leaders of our world, Lisa leads by example by standing-up for what she believes in while encouraging others to do the same. As a leader, innovator and smart disruptor, Lutoff-Perlo raises the bar on all diversity and inclusiveness, removing barriers so that all may thrive. One of her first bold decisions as President and CEO was to hire the first American female captain of a cruise ship, and challenging leadership to raise the men/women ratio on the ship’s bridge, crew and global staff.