Lh Chats with Edie Rodriguez: Women Empowering Women in The World of Luxury Living
Have you ever spoken to someone and after the conversation was over thought to yourself, wow, I feel so inspired?! I love when this happens and it happened to me most recently when I had the great pleasure of interviewing Edie Rodriguez, the queen of the luxury travel industry. Her passion, Edie’isms (read on to learn more!), authenticity, openness, and grace are truly inspiring.
I met Edie Rodriguez briefly at Luxury Daily’s Women in Luxury conference in May of 2018 where she was selected as part of an elite group of women leaders in the luxury business to share their expertise and smarts. The theme of the event was Making History with Her Story and Edie’s story and spirit was among one of my favorites from the event!
Edie Rodriguez is currently the Brand Chairman and Corporate Special Advisor for Ponant Cruises, a role she took on in October of 2017. Ponant is the world’s leading luxury expedition cruise line with destinations to all seven continents. After you hear Edie talk about Ponant’s allure you will certainly want to book your next trip on one of their cruises! Prior to joining Ponant, Edie Rodriguez was the CEO and President of Crystal Luxury Corporation – Crystal Cruises where she orchestrated one of the largest expansions in the history for any luxury brand in the travel and hospitality industry.
“I am very passionate about two things luxury and travel, and particularly luxury travel, the combination of the two,” Edie told me at the very beginning of our call. Her words were the perfect starting place for our conversation.
Love Happens: I’ve read about your passion for travel, can you talk to me a little about how this has influenced and guided your career?
Edie Rodriguez: Passion has been a tremendous influence and guidance in my career. I was told as a young child to really find your passion, get a great education and follow your passion. And I really took that advice to heart as a young child. I had an aunt that when I was about 6 years old went to Japan on a trip and brought me back a beautiful Japanese porcelain doll. I was so intrigued by this and the culture of Japan as a 6-year old that it really was the foundation, I think, of my wanderlust to want to travel and see the world.
So, as many young people, you’re starting your career you’re not sure what you want to do and the only thing that I was sure of was that I was passionate about travel and wanted to travel the world. That passion really led me to a phenomenal career. And I believe that’s what life is about, you should be passionate about what you’re doing in everything – in business, in hobbies, in family, in love. It has been a guiding light in all facets of my life and it is very important to me to this day. I also think that when you are not feeling passionate about something, for me personally, that is an indicator to do something else. The passion has to be alive and ignited, or I want to do something else.
Lh: What has been the biggest coup of your career?
Edie: There have been so many! Certainly, my personal favorite was being part of the executive team that rolled out Queen Mary II. That was pretty historic and iconic for the global and luxury cruise and travel industry. That was probably my favorite and most joyous part of my career. Then I think another coup was being CEO of Crystal and engineering their sale at 14x EBITDA vs the going rate of 10x EBITDA, and the launch of brand extensions for that brand.
Lh: In the Fall of 2017 you decided to make a career change when you left Crystal Cruises and joined Ponant – what led you to that decision?
Edie: I am passionate about the luxury yacht expedition aspect of the industry. When I was working on Queen Mary II in 2001 I remember I had a colleague that came to work with me that said they came from the river industry. Even at that juncture in 2001 as an American wanderlust traveler and as a cruise industry executive I remember saying to this colleague ‘What? Where did you come from?’ Meaning in 2001 river cruising wasn’t very well known to the average American. And here we fast forward 17 years later and the river industry is a very important sector of the global cruise industry. That is exactly what is occurring with the yacht expedition industry today. Case in point there are 32 yacht expedition ships on order.
I had known Jean-Emmanuel, the founder of Ponant, for 10 years and I really believe in their mission. I think there are two paramount ingredients in any company. Number one, a passionate founder and that is what Ponant has. Number two a very robust owner, financially robust, and also concurrently that gets and understands luxury. And in all frankness there is nobody better at that than our parent company, our owner, Groupe Artémis who, concurrent to owning Ponant, owns a myriad of luxury entities including Christie’s auction house, Château Latour, Kering – which owns, of course, two of my favorite brands in the whole wide world Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. I always kid around and say that those Kering brands get all of my disposable income.
It takes a winning combination, no man or women is an island, and no company is built on one thing, and so for me any company that I am certainly going to be a part of has to have those ingredients, a passionate founder, concurrent with an owner that is very well financially backed and understands luxury.
Lh: So you saw the opportunity to make a move to Ponant and jumped on it?
Edie: Definitely. I get bored very easily and I really had sort of engineered my exit strategy with Crystal six months prior to leaving. I wanted to see through the launch of the airplane and the first new river build and as soon as that was ending I wanted to exit and do something else, on to the next challenges. I wish Crystal continued success, but I am really passionate about what I am doing with the Ponant team and this brand.
Lh: As one of a terribly small group of women at the top of the luxury travel industry, can you tell me what you believe are the top 3 keys to being a successful female leader in the luxury industry?
Edie: First, let me say that I think it is very sad that we are approaching 2019 and this gender issue still comes up. It is sadly still a man’s world and that is a reality so of course, it comes up.
I think there are a couple of factors to making it to the top of any industry as a female.
You have to constantly prove yourself. You have to be willing to work harder and smarter than anybody else, not only the other women in the room but the men. I always say competition is good, it makes us all work harder. You have to stay ahead of your competition in a nutshell. So that is one key ingredient.
Any advice I would give to really any young person, be it my 28-year-old millennial son, or any women, would be that you absolutely positively better be passionate about what you are doing. And you better be well educated about what you are doing and that doesn’t only come in a formal education of degrees, but also keeping yourself current.
I have a lot of these little expressions, I call them Edie’isms meaning they are my little mini-mantras, and one of them is to ‘grow till you go’. So it is very important to me to learn on a daily basis. It is about perpetual evolution, so staying current would be another ingredient. And in that perpetual evolution state of staying current, you have to stay on top of the trends, things that are germane to your industry and also just the global economy in general and the economics of the world. All of these things are paramount.
And certainly I would say it is about relationship building, you have to be able to build good strong relationships, both male and female. If you can find somebody that you respect, that doesn’t have a hidden agenda, and is willing to be your mentor, then that is also a great asset to have as well.
Last but not least, I always say, no man or woman is an island. It is all about creative collaboration. So find your strengths and surround yourself with people that have a different skill set so that you can complement each other.
Lh: What’s your favorite Edie’ism?
Edie: That is like asking the mother of 10 children to pick her favorite, you love them all you just love them differently! That being said, I think my all time favorite is – ‘It is better to dare to fail…Than fail to dare’.
Lh: As a mother of a son, what do you think was the most important thing you taught him about equality?
Edie: That is an excellent question, and I would say that what’s so important for any child in this day and age to understand, not just germane to equality, but to many factors, is respect. Respecting individuals, that it does not matter their gender, it does not matter their sexual orientation, the color of their skin, none of these things matter. What matters is that you respect fellow individuals and colleagues. And I think that is really important from a humanitarian aspect as well. I think that is a key component of life – respect everybody, respect their opinion and agree to disagree. You are never going to agree with everybody – be it a colleague, a partner, people in your life – on everything so respect the differences and know that it’s ok to disagree and that God really did make us all different and individual. That I think is a key component.
Keep in mind I was a single mom from when my son was 5 years old, so certainly as a single mom raising and supporting my child it was critical to me that as a male he especially respected women. I think a lot of things just came naturally to him from watching me. Leading by example is another key factor in life. He had the opportunity his whole life, and to this day, to watch a mother who, while family is first to me, was able to balance.
I was very fortunate with the help of a lot of people in my life, family, nannies, etc., to balance it all, being a single mom while concurrently having a career. And these are choices people make. A lot of women choose not to have a career and I will tell you it is very difficult to manage and balance both. Especially if you don’t have a significant other or the other parent of that child is not helping and assisting. I always say being a parent is the hardest job in the world, being a single parent makes it even tougher.
Lh: It is so inspiring to hear you talk about this, as a working mother I can really relate to this struggle.
Edie: We want it all, it is hard to have it all, hard to balance, I don’t think women should have to make a choice of a career over a child, however, I have many female friends that are executives that did make that choice. I probably have more friends that have made the choice to not have children and want a career and keep the two separate. I do have a handful of very close girlfriends that were very successful at balancing it all but it is difficult, very, very difficult.
There are times when things don’t work out, when you have to go on a business trip and it might be your child’s first volleyball game and so on and so on, and that is what makes it very difficult and more difficult as a single parent. I always said I raised my son on what I called single working mom guilt and when you have to travel for business it makes it even more difficult.
Nonetheless, no one ever said life was easy and it is all about figuring out what your goals are. And I will say this, I had opportunities much earlier in my career to become a president and CEO and I turned them down because I couldn’t take on that responsibility. In my mind, I chose not to accept that responsibility while my child was still young. When he went away to college it was fine, all bets were off, bring it on, particularly as a single parent.
Lh: What are your thoughts on mentoring and empowering other women?
Edie: I mentor a lot of different women. I always say, ask and you shall receive. I have had a lot of colleagues and different women through the years ask if I could help them. So what I say is I try to give really unbiased neutral advice. Meaning when they come to me for advice, I am happy to help them and just try to give them a perspective.
You have to sort of be part psychologist, and I did not major in psychology in college so I am not intimating that I am any of that. You have to sort of let them come to there own conclusion and ask them the right sets of questions so they can think about how they would handle a situation. And at the end of the day, I might say, well, my suggestion might be this, have you thought about this, and really just give them a lot of food for thought to come to their own sort of answers, or guidance, or suggestion. That is mainly predicated on, I believe another key ingredient in life, and career, in everything, is to be your own authentic self.
My son asked me once, Mom, forget the degrees and experience, and all of that, if you had to just pick one success factor, what led you to your greatest success in your mind? I said you know what, Max, I think it is a great question, and my answer to that would be above my IQ, my degree, my whatever, it was simply my personality and the ability to build relationships. I think that is the key ingredient to work and life.
So that would be it and that is the advice that I give to anybody who asks, but particularly young women starting out. You have to really have an ability to get along, respect and not judge, and voice your opinion, but respect ultimately which direction the company wants to go in, etc. And by the way, when you don’t and that’s not working for you, that should be an indication that it’s time to move on and do something else.
With expedition travel demand on the rise, in 2021 Ponant will launch the world’s first luxury icebreaker which will go to destinations such as the North Pole.
Lh: You have an extensive amount of experience in the luxury industry, what do you see as the top 3 demands of affluent consumers?
Edie: Well I think like anything else the luxury consumer has evolved through the years. Particularly now as the world is getting wealthier the luxury consumer has evolved as well. Demands will change based on geography, as an example, a nuvo-riche mainland Chinese person might have a completely different perspective than a young American self-made billionaire. So there are differences geographically, etc., but in general, what I would say is that what they are looking for are authentic experiences. More so than materialistic things, they want experiences and of course, luxury travel can meet that need.
Then, as the world is getting wealthier, particularly in luxury travel, they want new destinations. So as an example, in 2021 when Ponant launches the world’s first luxury icebreaker which will go to the North Pole, that would be an example of new experiences, new destination.
The other thing that they want is things expeditiously, meaning one-to-one, what they want, when they want it, in the flavor they want it. Real-time, they don’t want to wait.
And then they want access, they want access sort of like a backstage pass at a concert. They want access that nobody else has, so these one-off type experiences. Whether that is moving to the top of a waitlist for a Birkin bag, a custom designed piece of jewelry, they want that sort of access. Like having a pair of custom Louboutins made, you know it is like a 6-month wait to even get in there if you are willing to spend the thousands. So how do you get that luxury access to the sort of insider tips, insider scenarios?
Lh: I am totally enamored with Ponant! In your words, why should someone take a Ponant voyage?
Edie: Luxury to me means intimacy, and that to me means roughly 270 guests or less. So first and foremost, why they should take Ponant is because of our size, it’s smaller, it’s more intimate. We have the newest hardware. We have the best safety record.
Our understated chic elegance and the size of our ships allows us to get into the most unique, creative ports and itineraries around the world. And if you ask somebody why they plan a vacation, or why they are going on a cruise, any cruise, the number one answer is always going to be the destination. The wealthier and the more well-traveled people are the more they want new exciting, different destinations, and that is what our itineraries bring to the table.
So size, meaning you’re not traveling with 10,000 of your newest friends in human gridlock getting into a port where five other ships of 3,000 plus guests are docked. And the way we deliver the experience – small, intimate, beautiful. I just love everything about our brand, again back to passion, if I didn’t passionately believe that, I wouldn’t be here.
I hope Edie Rodriguez’s words are as inspiring to you as they were to me! Cheers to women empowering women! Oh yes, and taking one of Ponant’s cruises is most definitely on my list of to-dos!
All photos courtesy of Edie Rodriguez and Ponant Cruises.