01 Apr LIFE AFTER SHIPS: INTERVIEW WITH REAL ESTATE SALES MANAGER – RON GOTTSCHALK
Ron Gottschalk – a Missouri native – earned a bachelor of art’s degree in radio and film from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He spent a decade (from 1991-2001) working for Royal Caribbean International, filming shore-excursion videos for the cruise line.
Later he became a North America recruiter, using his own experiences to illustrate what a ship career might look like, and worked in Disney’s Orlando office. Gottschalk sailed to Italy in 1997 on Disney’s first ship too. These experiences paved the way for his career as a human-resources professional specializing in hospitality. “My first human-resources manager job was at the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The 230 people on property never went home,” says Gottschalk.
Gottschalk then went on to become director of human resources at The Westmoor Club, in the vacation community of Nantucket, Mass. He recently made the move to a sales role with J. Pepper Frazier Real Estate, managing vacation rentals and home sales on the island of Nantucket.
What were your initial career aspirations?
I was a news photographer at a television station (KMBZ in Columbia, Missouri) right out of college for five years. Back then when job ads were posted in the back of a trade magazine, I saw a blind ad to shoot film for a cruise ship (Royal Caribbean) as a video programmer. Royal Caribbean was launching a new ship. I got out of my lease, sold my second-hand furniture and got on a plane to Miami. It was an opportunity to use my college degree in the tourism field. I said I would do it for a year or two and then go back to the real world. It ended up being 10 years. You never wanted to leave your field because it would be hard to get back in.
What was your professional experience prior to joining cruise ships?
I had my internship at the station and got hired on after for a whopping $3.25 an hour. For the cruise-ship job, I submitted a demo reel with three or four news stories and a couple of feature pitches. There was a hot-air balloon story we did and a professional bull-riding piece, plus a photo essay I had shot with another photographer.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the cruise industry?
I used to go up on the deck of the ship and look down on the pool deck. All these people were spending thousands of dollars to be there for one week out of the year and this was my home. And next week I got to do it all over again. It’s a unique group of people who work on the ship. They’re very adventurous and carefree.
What position(s) did you hold while working onboard ships?
Senior video programmer was the only job I ever had. As long as you were on top of it, you created your own schedule. If you wanted to go to the beach for the better part of the day, you went to the beach. When you came back, you went to the broadcast room. You might go take a nap, take a shower, and the evening always had activities that needed to be videotaped. Some nights you wouldn’t finish until 12:30 or 1 o’clock. It was a very sporadic day. You might have an hour of down time.
What did you enjoy most about working onboard cruise ships?
You really didn’t have to worry about a lot. The problems of the world weren’t a huge concern. Someone famous would die and you’d find out three days later. You lose track of what month you’re in, especially because in the Caribbean the weather wouldn’t change. You didn’t really track the week by days – you tracked it by ports of call.
What did you find most challenging about working onboard?
You knew where every payphone was in a port of call and back then nobody had cell phones. The payphones in a port would have lines. You knew ‘down this street and down the corner’ was a payphone few people knew about.
What is one of your favorite memories working onboard?
Christmas was always fun onboard the ships. On Christmas Day you got up, did a gift exchange and then you went to the beach. The night or two before Christmas, all the staff would get together and wrap everything. We did Secret Santa and 12 days of Christmas.
What skills did you develop in your cruise line jobs that lead you to where you are today?
On a ship you’re working with 50 different cultures. You learn to have tolerance, acceptance and understanding of people and their different ways of thinking, and different traditions. Things that are important to an American are not, for instance, as important to someone from the Philippines.
What advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in the cruise industry?
Do your research. Not all cruise lines are the same. Don’t look at it from a passenger or guest standpoint. Understand that it is a 70-hour-work week. With food and beverage positions, you’re going to see the world through the window of the dining room. You’re not going to be getting off at exotic ports of call. You’re going to be standing there serving lunch and dinner. Get into chat rooms and find out what a day in the life of that job is.
As the manager of home sales and vacation rentals for J. Pepper Frazier Real Estate, what would you consider the most fascinating aspect of your current role?
The cruise-ship job prepared me for living on an island. It’s a little larger than a cruise ship but very similar. Nantucket is a closed environment during the winter months. You really have to make plans if you want to get off the island, and developing strong relationships amongst the permanent residents is an important aspect of “island” living.