By: Nancy Parker
New Orleans, 2/11/15 –New Orleans is one of Carnival Corporation’s most popular ports, with 400,000 passengers boarding the Carnival Elation and the Dream every year.
Carnival calls New Orleans the perfect place to board its ships. The man at the helm of the massive Carnival Corporation empire calls New Orleans home.
Arnold Donald tours his old Desire neighborhood.
“That’s where the drugstore and stuff used to be right over there,” he said from the back of a chauffeured car.
A trip back in time to where the corporate mogul’s dreams began.
“This is Louisa Street. This is where I grew up as a little fellow,” he said.
His family home still stands, and Donald says he’d like to see the neighborhood redeveloped. His father built the original house from wiring to furniture.
Arnold’s dad, Warren Donald, was a carpenter. He and his wife, Hilda, raised Arnold and their other four children with very little money but a lot of love.
Arnold said neither of his parents finished high school, but both believed in education. It was education that lifted Arnold from humble beginnings to the top of the largest cruise company in the world.
“We visit over 700 ports a year with our 101 ships and our 80 million passenger cruise days a year,” he said.
For decades, he had earned accolades as a Monsanto executive and served on Carnival Corporation’s board for 13 years. That’s when Miami Heat owner and Carnival Corporation Chairman Mickey Arison tapped Donald to take over as CEO.
The change came in the summer of 2013, a few months after a highly publicized mishap at sea. A fire on the Carnival Triumph in February of 2013 destroyed the ship’s power and propulsion systems, stranding weary passengers for days in primitive conditions.
“No one was hurt, no one was injured, and since that time we’ve spent a lot of time with media with how rare those kind of events are,” Arnold said.
The new CEO charted a course to steer Carnival out of adversity. He learned to tackle challenges as a student at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, where he began as an eighth-grader in 1968.
“When we got here at lunch and at the end of the day they said, ‘Gentlemen prepare yourselves. You’re going to run the world.’ The first thing I learned here was confidence,” Arnold said.
He talked to students on a recent visit to St. Aug about the volatile times of social change when he became a Purple Knight. He said that was the first year they integrated high school athletics and the football teams could play against other Catholic schools. The band was also able to march in Mardi Gras parades.
“There were separate water fountains, separate bathrooms – you couldn’t go into certain places,” he said. “They said forget all that. Forget society telling you you’re second class.”
Arnold played alto sax in the Marching 100.
“We didn’t have a football field, so we practiced on what basically was a school yard. You can see the line marked off the 10 yard lines,” he said.
By the time he was in junior in high school, he had lined up his plan for success. He decided to get two undergraduate degrees because he knew he was going to a prestigious business. Arnold believed that would get him the best job.
He turned down Yale and Stanford to go to Carleton College in Minnesota, where he earned a B.A. in economics in 1976 and met his wife Hazel. A mechanical engineering degree from Washington University and an MBA in finance from the University of Chicago followed.
“My wife and I set up scholarships in Washington University and Carleton College. We specify St. Augustine and St. Katharine Drexel. We’ve had about 20 or 25 students now,” Arnold said.
Zachary Baquet is a St. Augustine grad and earned a Donald scholarship at Carleton. He now teaches Spanish at St. Augustine.
“He gave me an opportunity I never would have had before,” Baquet said
Arnold received a Trumpet Award last month in Atlanta, an honor heralding the accomplishments of African Americans who have succeeded against the odds. Members of his beloved Purple Knights made the trip there to play for him.
Arnold and his wife gave the lead donation for the new Science and Technology wing at the school. His parents’ names are on the side of the building.
“They said, ‘son I’m so proud of you,’ and I said, ‘mom and dad I’m very proud of you.’ It’s a special moment,” Arnold said.
Based in Miami now at Carnival Corporation headquarters, the humble guy from the Desire neighborhood boards a corporate jet to leave New Orleans, the city that gave his dreams wings.
“The world’s your oyster. You have to decide what you want to do with it and apply yourself. It’s just that simple,” he said.