March 22, 2010
We Are Cunard
Posted in: Queen Elizabeth
Countdown to Queen Elizabeth – 202 days
As many of you know, the Captain and four other senior officers for the set up for Queen Elizabeth have been named by Cunard. I promised I would interview each of them, so I am delighted to share an interview with Queen Elizabeth’s first Hotel Manager, Robert Howie
Robert studied in historical Edinburgh, Scotland, graduating with a degree in Hotel Management. He began his career working in various positions in hotels, bars and restaurants throughout Edinburgh.In 1990 the desire to travel brought him to Princess Cruises. Starting as a Junior Bar Steward, Robert rose through the ranks to Bartender before joining the Princess New Build Team. Over the following eight years, as Senior Bartender, he brought five Princess ships in to service and through their inaugural seasons. In 2000 he became Food & Beverage Manager within the New Build Team, and then Food & Beverage Director. In 2003 he was posted to Nagasaki, Japan with the responsibility to oversee the construction of the galleys, dining rooms and bars on the Diamond and Sapphire Princess.
In October 2004, Robert joined Cunard Line and Queen Mary 2 and was proud to have been “at the helm” during some of her most iconic voyages. Robert then took responsibility for much of the preparations in the build up to the launch of Queen Victoria in December 2007, bringing her successfully into service and through her Maiden World Voyage. In early 2009, he was asked to join the Queen Elizabeth Project, which involved project managing all aspects of the hotel for Queen Elizabeth, including recommending any operational improvements, coordinating with suppliers, interior designers and the builder, as well as developing new concepts alongside the Cunard Product Team in Southampton.
When not at sea, Robert returns to the peace and quiet of his home near St. Andrews in Scotland, working continually on renovating his 170 year old cottage, situated in a village where there are less inhabitants than the total amount of crew on board Queen Mary 2.
Interview With Hotel Manager, Robert Howie
Firstly, congratulations on being appointed Queen Elizabeth’s first Hotel Manager. How do you feel about taking on such an important role?
Thank you. It is always a privilege to be asked to bring a new ship into service, and I am very excited about the challenge of taking Queen Elizabeth through her delivery and easing her into service.
You have been very much involved with Queen Elizabeth from quite an early stage in Southampton. Could you tell us some of the projects you have been involved with?
We have many ideas; some which we would like to keep as a surprise for when Queen Elizabeth enters service! Working very closely with the Cunard Product Team we have looked at how we can enhance the crew and guest spaces and have reviewed what we currently have on board our other two ships. For example, we realised our Britannia Restaurant china was different on both ships so we have decided that from Queen Elizabeth all our ships will have the same. This is more than just deciding which looks best, you also have to take into consideration the durability, supply, the chip resistance as well as the weight of each plate as our Waiters have to carry up to 12 of these at any one time. I have worked closely with Jean-Marie Zimmermann, our Corporate Executive Chef and Edward Dieusaert, Food and Beverage Product Manager for Cunard, on the new evening dining concepts within the Lido Restaurant. I have also worked closely with Teresa Anderson and Giacomo Mortala, the Interior Designer and Architect for the ship, to look at many areas of the ship. I am now working on the ship’s manning and training requirements with our Fleet Personnel department, to ensure that Queen Elizabeth’s crew have the knowledge and expertise to bring the ship successfully into service. I am about to start placing orders for the ship’s first fit, so let’s hope we have thought of everything!
Have you been to see Queen Elizabeth in Monfalcone yet? When will you be going there full time?
I have visited the yard twice for meetings and took the opportunity to have a look around Queen Elizabeth. I was amazed to see the progress between my two visits. I will be in Italy this month to visit some of our furniture manufacturers to view samples of the furniture that has been selected. I will be returning to Monfalcone in the middle of May, and will then remain with the ship through to her delivery.
What are the biggest differences in the Hotel Department between Queen Elizabeth and her sister?
The biggest difference is that we will have a Britannia Club Restaurant, which will be in the space currently occupied by the Chart Room on Queen Victoria, and it’s going to be a beautiful area. There are 39 additional staterooms on board Queen Elizabeth compared to Queen Victoria, making Queen Elizabeth the second largest Cunarder ever built, behind Queen Mary 2. The interior décor will also be different, with blues and greens incorporated into many of the public spaces. Blue was the original colour theme of the first Queen Elizabeth in the 1930’s. The design theme is more art décor with more use of metals and woods throughout the ship.
You’ll have the biggest department on board, how will you be choosing your team?
This can be a daunting task! I have worked with many people during my time at Cunard and I will be drawing on that experience. There are so many people I would love to take, however it’s not fair on the other two ships so those with previous experience of introducing a new ship into service will obviously be given the option if they wish to join, and we will ask if others have a particular desire to join the ship.
What is the most frequent question you get asked – and how do you answer it?
“How do you stay so thin in your position?” My response is; “At times with great difficulty!” But seriously my job involves gaining an overview of the whole operation both front and back of house, and the only way of getting that is by doing my daily rounds of the ship, and using the stairs helps. And besides if you have been in shipyards as often as I have with no lifts working, it’s easy to keep trim! Mind you I also like cycling when I get a chance. Here I am with Personnel and Training Manager, Brian Lynch on a cycle ride in Aruba.
What does “We Are Cunard” mean to you?
“We Are Cunard” has become a very powerful statement, especially amongst our crew. As you know Alastair, you and I were there when this was first introduced at the delivery of Queen Victoria in 2007. “We Are Cunard” instils a sense of pride within our crew, that they are part of what we as a company are delivering. I strongly believe our crew are the key to everything that we, as a brand, do. They are part of a family, and it is great to see people with such longevity with the company. We are now starting to see second and third generations joining that same company; tell me who else has that? It is what makes us Cunard.
Where would you like to go in the world where you haven’t been yet?
I have been extremely fortunate to have visited many countries. There are a few places on my list that I would like to return to spend more time such as China, Australia and Peru. This is a picture with Rie Sanda, my Personal Assistant on Queen Victoria’s maiden call to Sydney in 2008.
Do you have any unfulfilled dreams?
I achieved my dream and career goal much more quickly than I ever expected when I was appointed Hotel Manager on Queen Mary 2. Personally, my dream was to travel the world and whilst I have almost achieved that, I would like to do it with a friend or two at my own pace and absorb the countries and cultures more.
When you are at home; what is your perfect night?
At home I live very quietly, in stark contrast to my position at sea, and by that I mean out of the limelight. I spend as much time with my family as I can and make sure I have dinner every evening with them when I am at home. I usually go on holiday with friends as well for a week or so; there is just so much fun and laughter amongst us as we rarely manage to catch up. Time with family is always valuable and it’s great when they are able to travel with me. Here I am with my brother in front of Queen Mary in Long beach.
What is your favourite quote and who said it?
I recently came across one anonymous quote whilst working on our new Commodore Club bar menu, which I particularly liked, and in fact we incorporated it in to the menu;
“Life is not measured in breaths that we take, but in places and moments that take our breath away.”
What a great interview; thank you Robbie. I’m looking forward to working with you again in Italy this summer; it’ll be a bit like déjà vu and certainly promises to be an amazing time. My next interview will be in a week or so, with the Staff Captain of Queen Elizabeth, Hamish Sunter. Meanwhile I’ll be back on Wednesday with a Blog about our fascinating visit to a winery in Adelaide a couple of weeks ago. Then on Thursday I’ll be back with some new pictures from Hong Kong. Cheers for now Alastair.