Jamaica | Vice President, Global Ports and Caribbean Government Relations for Carnival Cruise Lines
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Maya Angelou
Marie McKenzie has risen through the ranks at Carnival Corporation, the largest travel and leisure company in the world, since she started at the company in 1996. Today, the Jamaican native is vice president of global ports and Caribbean government relations, leading a family of eight cruise brands in engaging Caribbean governments and local and regional organizations. She also guides strategic infrastructure and operational developments in the region she once called home. Her former titles at Carnival have included V.P. of global financial planning and analysis and V.P. of fleet accounting.
What inspired your interest to get involved in tourism?
My background is accounting and finance and I feel like it created a solid foundation for me, career-wise. I really have a passion for engaging people and the idea that I could work in an industry that I love, which is travel, where we provide great vacation experiences to our guests and do that while focusing on the Caribbean is, for me, the perfect marriage. I am a true island girl at heart and going into this area of the business was a no-brainer. So what inspired me to be here is just purely a love for travel and, more importantly, the Caribbean region.
What would you consider to be some challenges you’ve faced in the industry?
I think to really grow in life you face your challenges head-on and over time it just becomes more suited to where you’re meant to be. I can’t think of any one big challenge that I’ve had, I think every day presents some form of a challenge and I just take it head on and grow from it. Yes, some are bigger than others, but face challenges head-on with the idea that you’re going to get through it and grow from it.
What would you consider your greatest career strength to be?
There’s so many ways that you can sit back and think about what you think is your strongest, but I’ll go with the feedback that I’ve received. One is interpersonal skills and the ability to work across various cultural organizations. In the role that I’m in today, I sit in a position where I have to listen to our internal stakeholders, but equally important, I have to understand the needs and the interests of the Caribbean stakeholders as well. Somehow I have to bring both together so that there’s clear communication.
Ultimately, I tell everyone that I feel I’m uniquely positioned to close gaps, in terms of communication or understanding each other, and just making sure that we end up in a win-win situation. It requires a skill to really understand, listen and bring people together to one common place or one common ground.
What would you like to see change in the current political or social atmosphere? How do you plan to be a part of that change?
Not necessarily political, but it’s really just about people understanding each other. And I think over time we have gotten to a place where, after almost two years of not really being able to interact in person but really trying to understand each other through this pandemic, I feel that we learned more about each other and we got closer because we realized we’re really one world with common interests and just trying to do the best for our communities, families, companies, employees, etc.
And if we’re really focused on the fact that we truly have one common goal, I do believe that over time the world will get there. I believe this pandemic revealed the importance of coming together, more than anything else. So, how am I a part of that change in terms of listening and working together? It’s really making sure that I somehow bridge the gaps between where I serve today in my company and the fact that I’m focused on serving in the Caribbean.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment or contribution to Carnival?
I think it’s yet to be. I hope to leave a legacy where in this role I have truly made a difference not just in the company, but in the Caribbean region and the idea that I would speak to having accomplished that implies there’s isn’t anything else to be done. So I don’t want to stay “this is my greatest accomplishment” when I feel like I still have more work to do.
What two or three books would you recommend that people who admire you should read?
If you asked me what my favorite book is, it would be “Who Moved My Cheese?” because it talks about the value of change. People are sometimes afraid of change, but “Who Moved My Cheese?” talks about finding the opportunity in change. And that’s what we’re going through today with this pandemic, we have to ask, “where is my opportunity in this change?” And so I love that book, I love it because it’s simple, it’s short and it’s a very, very solid message that people can really live by.
What is one piece of advice you would pass on to the next generation?
A couple of things that probably sound so cliché, but I think looking at where I am in life today, I wish I could listen to it myself. I think it’s a Sandra Bullock quote or commencement speech that said “don’t worry about anything.” A lot of times what you’re worrying about today, actually doesn’t end up happening the way you were worrying about it anyway, and then what really happens you didn’t expect and you still have to deal with it. So, worry about nothing.
And then one thing that is really important to me is following what you’re really passionate about. So, for me, this doesn’t feel like a job because I love what I do. So yes, there are days I work really hard and get frustrated, etc. but fundamentally I love what I do and I just think it’s so important that people really go back to that place and really find what they love and pursue it hard. Don’t chase money. Chase opportunity and the money will come.
What does the word family mean to you?
Ultimately I would say family is loyalty and trust and that’s not necessarily defined by those that are your blood. I have friends that are there for me through thick or thin that I trust completely with my life.
What would you like to see change within the Caribbean or the diaspora?
A stronger connection between the diaspora and their home countries beyond remittances. Meaning giving back more and investing more time. Today a lot of the islands depend heavily on the money that people send back home to their families, and I’m not discounting the value of that, but maybe there could be a real turn in the future of many of these destinations where, in some cases their diaspora is greater than their your population within the country.
If the diaspora was galvanized in a manner to understand how they can invest in their own country, again, not just in time but infrastructure, I think there is so much value to these destinations and that’s one of the reasons I love what I do. Because I do believe I have an opportunity to impact the region in that way.
What are you most grateful for in your life?
My mom was the first that came to my mind. She made a lot of sacrifices for me to be where I am today. And the second thing would be good health. I think people underestimate the value of having great health.
What is your favorite traditional childhood meal from your home country?
Ackee and saltfish. I can have this for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s my happy place.
What is your favorite Caribbean tradition?
We don’t do this often enough, but I think about Sundays traditionally in Jamaica as a time of worship and faith. Where your family comes together for Sunday dinner, worship and family time.
What was your upbringing like and how has that influenced who you are today?
I’m told today by many that I’m relentless and I think that has a lot to do with how I was raised. My mother raised me to believe that I could do anything I wanted to do and that I belong anywhere I wanted to be. I believe that in fact has influenced my career.
When I enter the boardroom, while I am a proud black woman from the Caribbean, I don’t enter the room thinking of all of the defined minority groups that I fall into – black, female, of Caribbean descent, etc. I enter that room just believing that I belong. I’m qualified and I do the best job that I can.
What is your favorite extracurricular activity or activities?
I have a personal passion for fashion. I actually did a short stint in fashion design school and as a child I had a sketch pad where I designed a lot of my clothing. Today I love to just put an entire outfit together or shop for my friends and dress them. That’s kind of my fun space, my inner artistic spirit.
What would people you know find surprising about you?
Because I’m so career-driven, I travel a lot and I’m just really busy with life and the corporate world, some people are surprised that I actually love to cook and bake. I am also terrified of flying. I love to travel, but I hate the process of getting there.