Arnold W. Donald is the CEO of Carnival Corporation and had previously worked his way up within Monsanto to president of nutrition and consumer sector. Donald spoke for our Olin Business School’s Defining Moments series in which CEOs share the moments that shaped their career.
However Donald wasn’t always a powerful force in the corporate world. He started in New Orleans, where he attended an all-black high school. It was not easy growing up in segregated New Orleans.
“I was told and told again to prepare myself, that I could do anything—all at a time when I couldn’t drink from this water fountain or eat at that lunch counter,” Donald said. He put all of his belief and energy into the value of education: “Education is a portal to prosperity.”
Even as a teen, Donald was career-focused: by high school he had decided he was going to be a general manager at a Fortune 50 science-based global company. With a very narrow vision, he set out to achieve that goal. He worked hard to get into Carleton College, but didn’t stop there. Donald plowed his way through a Washington University bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering and later received his MBA from the University of Chicago.
His goal began to materialize as he scored a position at Monsanto right after graduating from Washington University. This position led to his Defining Moment. Donald, then just a rookie, was assigned an account no one wanted.
When his boss offered him the losing account, he referred to him as “Nick,” using the name of the only other African American employee. Donald reiterates, “Marketing didn’t want the account because they were judged on sales. Logistics didn’t want it because they were judged on efficiency. My boss didn’t want it because it was an embarrassment.”
Donald, as a rookie and as one of two black employees, was driven to make a profit from this account.
Donald ended up sharing a presentation with his client that saved them a significant amount of money. The client then turned to Donald’s boss and explained how he had just completely saved the account. The boss replied, “I know that’s why we put Arnold on it.” This was the first time the boss had called him by the correct name.
This instance of hard work on Donald’s part—countered by his boss’s ignorance—had defined the start of his career. There will be bumps in the road, but he knew he could count on himself.
From this defining moment, Donald outlined his key takeaways: “Know your heart, find your passion; chart your course, develop a plan; prepare yourself.” These takeaways led him to his current position as CEO of Carnival Corp., a nearly $50 billion corporation.