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One year in, Ritz-Carlton Yacht CEO focused on 'flawless' Ilma intro

Jim Murren is marking a year as CEO of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection this month. He added the role to his executive chairman duties in May 2023
A cruise leader who followed Viking's IPO especially closely is a relative newcomer to the industry but an old hand at taking companies public — Jim Murren, executive chairman and CEO, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection.

Marking a year as CEO this month, Murren is gearing up for Ilma's July 12 delivery, with ample time built in before the first revenue cruise on Sept. 2. The company chose not to open August dates for sale 'given the troubled birth of Evrima, and the fact we only have one chance to make a good first impression,' Murren told Seatrade Cruise News.

Instead, Chantiers de l'Atlantique partners will sail, then three shakedown voyages are scheduled in August. This means 'We're going to be humming at a very high level by Sept. 2,' Murren said.

Major product news about Ilma is coming soon. (Watch this space.)

Viking IPO showed investors' appetite for quality

Murren called Viking a 'phenomenal company,' one he greatly admires, and he rooted for the success of its IPO. The listing showed the 'appetite investors have for that kind of quality experience,' which is relevant to The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection.

As he told Seatrade Cruise News last autumn at Ilma's float-out, going public is the eventual plan.

First RCYC needs to reach a certain scale, with six or seven ships operating and a couple in development, which Murren thinks would make it 'very attractive' in the public markets.

He's taken several companies public. At MGM Resorts International, where he was first CFO then chairman and CEO, this included creating MGM Growth Properties and MGM China Holdings, which handles the company's Macau operations.

And Murren drove the creation of MGM CityCenter, a massive Las Vegas urban project that began as a joint venture between MGM and Dubai World. Before MGM, he spent 14 years on Wall Street as an analyst and banker.

Beyond Ilma and Luminara

Meanwhile, to grow beyond 2025's Luminara, which is fully financed, RCYC needs to raise capital and has had some 'preliminary discussions' about the best way to structure that.

According to Murren, 'Our priority now is to deliver Ilma beautifully, and Luminara, and continue R&D work on ships 4 and 5 and beyond.'

It's not decided whether they'll be Ritz-Carlton yachts or sail under another Marriott Luxury Collection brand.

'It wouldn't be hard for us to imagine having a much larger fleet over time with multiple brands,' Murren said, adding a strong preference to stay in the luxury segment.

A decision about the next brand extension and future geographic market focus likely will come after Luminara's mid-2025 launch.

'White-hot' industry

At Seatrade Cruise Global, it became clear to Murren that the industry is 'white-hot,' with many lines having ambitious growth plans and only a handful of shipyards to handle the kind of complexity, quality and scale required.

He doesn't want a gap of multiple years between Luminara and the next yacht so 'We have to be thinking today about 2027, 2028 and 2029 if we're really going to be competitive with the other cruise companies that also have slots.'

Loyal to Chantiers de l'Atlantique

RCYC holds options for two additional newbuilds at Chantiers de l'Atlantique that could be converted into different types of vessels from the Ilma-Luminara platform.

'I love this yard I hope we work with them the rest of my career,' Murren said, describing a 'collaborative, constructive relationship ... We are so incredibly pleased with the quality of the construction and the timing and really the transparency and personality of the men and women that work at Chantiers de l'Atlantique.'

Staying in the super-yacht space

The platform may change but one thing's for sure: RCYC will stay in the super-yacht space.  

Murren's watching what Four Seasons, Aman and Orient Express are doing, adding they have a different approach.

'We admire the competition. It's flattering that other people want to be in the space we created. We did the proof of concept, the bleeding edge,' he quipped. 'We think it's great for us because they're going to be delivering high-quality experiences at very high price points. And that will be beneficial to us financially.'

RCYC is pleased with Ilma and Luminara's size, scale and space. Murren doesn't expect to diverge into other categories any time soon, 'even though they're very interesting to us, like the expedition space, for example, or the ultra-luxe small yacht space or the sailing space.'

50% of customers are new to cruise

Fifty percent of RCYC customers are new to cruise, 75% are Marriott Bonvoy loyalty members and 80% are North Americans. The North American focus may shift with growth; Asia Pacific has been identified as an area of great potential.

Already 20% to 30% of passengers are repeaters, and guest satisfaction scores are some of the highest in the Marriott family.

Robust hiring 

Murren's core leadership team is in place with the recent hiring of Gaby Aiguesvives as chief marketing officer and Lakshmanan 'Lak' Duraisamy as SVP information technology.

'Across the organization, every department is expanding,' the RCYC chief said, noting shareholders approved a 2024 budget with robust hiring plans and substantial investment in sales and marketing and IT.


Gaby Aiguesvives, left, recently joined The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection as chief marketing officer and Lakshmanan 'Lak' Duraisamy as SVP information technology

Aiguesvives joined from Saks/Hudson’s Bay Co., where she led marketing strategy, analytics, personalization, loyalty and insights functions. Earlier she spearheaded growth and performance marketing for all of Hudson Bay Co.’s brands, including Saks, OFF 5TH, Lord & Taylor and The Bay.

Duraisamy brings more than 20 years of technology leadership experience, having played pivotal roles in driving digital transformations for Amazon, Carnival Corp., Walt Disney World and Open Text Corp., among others.

Another digital marketing pro was just hired, and SVP Global Sales Kristian Anderson is expanding his team. Duraisamy will be 'hiring very aggressively in IT' where the company has ambitious plans following an analysis by Accenture that highlighted opportunities. President and CFO Ernesto Fara is building up financial capabilities, and the legal team has grown.

Shipboard roles have proven super-enticing, with Chief People Officer Rachel Moosa having to turn away tens of thousands of applicants for Ilma's 500 positions.

Passionate team

Murren loved his time at MGM and expressed pride in the 'high-quality men and women who work there, many in jobs I put them in.' But he's never been involved in an organization that has such a 'high consistency' of talent, with 'passion, intellect, experience and integrity up and down the ranks' as The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection.

'I'm humbled by it, and it inspires me,' he said. 'I wake up feeling very blessed that I'm given an opportunity to work with this team.'