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Dietmar Wertanzl: Dining room steward to CEO

Dietmar Wertanzl in his first shipboard job as a dining room steward on Vistafjord and now as president/CEO, Anglo-Eastern Leisure Management
Many people who began their careers at sea have gone on to cruise industry leadership positions shoreside. Dietmar Wertanzl started out as a dining room steward and ended up as a CEO.

Leading up to Seatrade Cruise Global's Tomorrow's Talent Today, a daylong program April 8 that will explore cruise career opportunities and how the business can evolve to attract the next generation of talent, this is the first of a series of mini-profiles of industry executives who got their start on the ships.

Dietmar Wertanzl, president/CEO, Anglo-Eastern Leisure Management

Past shoreside roles: President/CEO, CMI Leisure Management; EVP hotel & commercial operations, FleetPro Leisure; president/CEO, Cruise West; COO Tauck World Discovery; SVP fleet operations, Celebrity Cruises and managing director, Xpeditions; SVP hotel operations, Crystal Cruises; VP hotel operations, Celebrity Cruises; director hotel operations, Crystal Cruises

How did you get your shipboard start and what did you do on board?

After finishing hotel school in Austria, I wanted to travel and see the world. My first job was as a dining room steward on Vistafjord, then I worked on Sagafjord for two world cruises with Norwegian America Line. At that time I thought my cruise line stint was over.

I went to Switzerland to further my education and experience in hotel management. I wanted to be a hotel GM. I was working as front office manager in a five-star hotel in Switzerland when I saw an ad in a hotel management magazine for a concierge on board Royal Viking Line. 

Ulrich Bauer, VP hotel operations at RVL, was an innovator who came up with the idea of the position to help solve any problems that came to the reception desk in addition to doing what a concierge does in a five-star hotel.

I got the job, I guess, because of my experience on Vistafjord and Sagafjord. I had training from RVL in San Francisco before embarking. 

I was the first concierge on Royal Viking Sea and the first in the cruise industry. 

It was a great opportunity to problem solve daily. Royal Viking Line cruised worldwide, in world-class style. I didn't want to just work in the Caribbean. I wanted to see the world. I could apply my English skills and hospitality education and I went on to become chief steward (F&B manager) and then hotel director, one of the youngest.


One of the youngest hotel directors

How did you get the opportunity to work ashore, and what was your first shoreside role?

When NYK first started Crystal Cruises, the Japanese owners hired people from the best companies. At that time, Royal Viking Line was the Cadillac of the cruise lines. They hired Erling Frydenberg from RVL, and he hired me.

I was the opening hotel director for Crystal Harmony and put the team together. It was one of the most exciting times in my career. We were starting a brand from scratch.

By then, I knew I liked this industry. I could travel the world and there was plenty to learn. I thought why not become a specialist in the floating resort business and work my way up to the corporate office? I wanted to be like Ulrich Bauer. 

I got a call from one of our concessionaires who I became friendly with about Celebrity Cruises, which was looking for a VP of hotel operations. I flew from Alaska to Miami and was interviewed by the shipowners. That set me on a path to leadership roles in different areas at various lines, with both large ships that are like Las Vegas floating resorts and small ships that are like boutique hotels. The work also involved destinations and tours.

A cruise ship is the most complex hotel travel and leisure vacation out there. You get immersed in all kinds of experience delivery.

What key things did you learn at sea that have fueled your career?

Everyone counts. You have no replacement when you're out there. You learn to be relied upon. There's nobody else who does your job.

Orientation and training are important because they set people up for success. In the organizational structure, everyone has to understand their role, play the role, and be the best at it.

I learned the complexity of planning ahead when you're only provisioning every two months.

You become a cultural ambassador, meaning you learn people skills.

I'm really glad I had this opportunity. In our business; it really does help you.

Any advice for people aspiring to a cruise career?

The ship is the stage, the framework. The cross-training offers you so many job opportunities, and it's a fast-moving world. For anyone of a certain age, it's a base foundation, a very relevant experience.

People can move up the ladder much faster shipboard than shoreside. It's a growing industry. There's upward mobility. You can work on the ship and then go to the corporate office for a more administrative job as I did.


With his team on the ship — it's like a United Nations on board

To further your hospitality career, a stint on a cruise ship is a wonderful experience. The lifestyle teaches you humanity and tolerance, a global perspective. It's a United Nations on board.

Working on a cruise ship covers the whole hospitality textbook — different restaurants, entertainment, event-planningsales and marketing — the whole hospitality craft.

Information on Seatrade Cruise Global's Tomorrow's Talent Today is here