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Arnold Donald: From 9th Ward New Orleans to Carnival Cruises CEO

Arnold Donald was born in 1955 in the Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana. The neighborhood is one of the oldest and poorest areas in New Orleans. Arnold grew up in a modest house that was built by his father, and he was watched over by his mother and older sister. The Ninth Ward has long been a neighborhood beset by crime but Mr. Donald credits his strong family structure for keeping him on the straight and narrow. He said his sister Yvonne always wanted to be a teacher and she started to teach him at an early age to read, write and do arithmetic, so by the time he was in kindergarten they thought he was some kind of genius. Growing up in the turbulent era of the Civil Rights Movement and being told he had little chance to succeed, Mr. Donald laid out a detailed plan to prove the naysayers wrong.

Part of Arnold Donald’s plan was to one day be the general manager of a Fortune 500 global company that focused on the sciences. He started executing his plan by getting two undergraduate degrees, one in liberal arts and one in engineering. Realizing the two degrees would really set him apart, he first got an economics degree from Carleton College, then went to Washington University for an engineering degree. With his two degrees in hand, Mr. Arnold decided to top off his credentials by getting a graduate degree in business from the University of Chicago. With his education secured, Mr. Donald landed a job the agricultural giant, Monsanto. He worked his way up in that conglomerate for almost 20-years, to the point where he was able to join a group of investors, who bought the Equal sugar substitute brand from Monsanto. He spent three years running the Equal division which, became Merisant, before moving on to his next professional endeavor.

In just two years as the CEO of Carnival Cruises, Mr. Donald has grown the company’s market cap from $25 billion to $37 billion. He said he’s been able to raise the profitability of the world’s largest cruise company by listening to what the customers want, by listening to what his employees say about delivering that service, and by understanding what the company’s shareholders want in order to be satisfied. Mr. Donald said his ability to succeed wasn’t because he worked harder than everyone but because he enjoyed the hard work that it took to get where he’s reached. His biggest key to success is to be “thankful to the power above. That’s the first and last thing I do every day.”


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