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EVP David Kelly leaves a legacy at American Queen Voyages

David Kelly, center, with, from left, VP Hotel Operations Rodney Bailey, former HR chief Christina Hobbs and at right, Director of Vessel Services Sarah Fury and American Queen Voyages founder John Waggoner
David Kelly, EVP vessel operations, left American Queen Voyages after his position was eliminated in a restructuring.

AQV and its parent Hornblower Group are 'flattening layers' as they take a look at all areas of the business. Some additional positions in HR and recruiting, mostly shared with Hornblower, were eliminated as well.

Integral team member

Kelly has been 'such an integral member of our team and helped us grow these last 10 years and we wish him all the best in all his endeavors. We could not be more grateful,' the company said in a statement to Seatrade Cruise News.

Kelly joined John Waggoner's HMS Global Maritime in late 2011, just after it acquired American Queen, the largest paddlewheel steamboat ever built, and was instrumental in its renovation and introduction in 2012. He went on to help grow American Queen Voyages into seven vessels including river, coastal and expedition.

American Empress in the Pacific Northwest came in 2015, then American Duchess (a conversion from a gaming vessel in which Kelly was deeply involved in the design) 18 months later on the Mississippi. American Countess (built from cutting and extending an existing vessel), which Kelly called a 'crown jewel,' was introduced during the pandemic. Meanwhile, two coastal vessels, now Ocean Voyager and Ocean Navigator, were refurbished/upgraded, and the company expanded into expedition cruising with Ocean Victory in 2022.

'Part of a team'

Kelly called it all a 'great adventure' and views his legacy as 'being part of a team' that built the vessels and designed and executed the experience, to carry out Waggoner's vision. He'll be cheering on President Cindy D'Aoust and the 700 to 800 members of the shoreside and shipboard team as they keep Waggoner's vision going.

'Our very loyal staff have been with us through thick and thin,' Kelly said. He expressed the confidence there will be continuity and 'everyone will be fine' as additional responsibilities to cover his duties are assumed by Rodney Bailey, VP hotel operations, and Jethro Beck, VP marine operations - rivers. He hired both of them.

Joy in mentoring

Kelly found great satisfaction in mentoring talent — people like chef Paul Wayland-Smith, who advanced to the company's culinary director, and Sarah Fury, who rose from chief purser to director of vessel services. He credited the HR team for a 'tremendous job' of sourcing American crew, and acknowledged the hard work of Bill Annand, VP vessel operations, and Pam Navis, expedition manager.

Dietmar Wertanzl and his CMI Leisure team were key partners in designing and delivering the hotel experience for the coastal and expediton vessels, Kelly said, and Vikand Solutions enabled AQV to restart during the pandemic as the first cruise line with a full vaccination mandate.

'The orchestra has many components to it. Everyone pulled together,' Kelly said.

'No rush to find a job'

He's 'in no rush to find a job,' and plans to take a few weeks off, visit family in the UK and muse about possibly opening a restaurant in Miami's South Beach, or a boutique hotel or even a doggie daycare business — he thinks that would be fun.

And Kelly said he looks forward to following American Queen Voyages' continued growth, seeing the guests have a good time and the team continuing to deliver.