Meet RCL’s New Tech Boss

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There’s avidity in Mike Giresi’s voice when he talks about raw, uncombed data. It evokes an image of throwing himself into a huge pile of the stuff and just rolling around in it to see what turns up.

Best of all, though, is disruption. Giresi is a boss, and he loves disruption. Real disruption. World-shaking disruption.

Last fall, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. hired him as chief information officer, the same post he left at Tory Burch, the upscale women’s outfitter specializing in items like $200 espadrilles and $100 key fobs. Before that he held similar positions for Direct Brands, Inc., Campbell’s Soup and Godiva Chocolatier.

At the start, Giresi intended to be a dentist. But as a practical matter, conversation with his clients would be pretty much one-sided. “I’m an extrovert,” he says, “and I like to talk to people. As a dentist you just talk to yourself.”

Having taken “a bunch” of computer programming classes at Seton Hall University in his native New Jersey just because they might be useful, Giresi was chatting with the owner of a new computer company one night and impressed the man with his knowledge.

“So he hired me,” he says. “We were bringing client services to Fortune 500 companies. And he wanted me to help him market and sell it, which I thought was fascinating because I’d never done that before.

“In the process of learning what that was I ended up taking a role in kind of developing what were early-days business intelligence systems. And that’s how this whole thing got started.”

It was the pre-World Wide Web era, when online digital potential had barely been realized, much less acted upon. Along the way, while making his career, Giresi learned the value of “disruptive innovation,” a term coined by innovation maven Clayton Christensen to describe a new development that drastically disturbs an existing market. Giresi says “what Uber did to the taxi and limousine business in New York City” is a recent example.

Even Royal Caribbean, already widely regarded as a leading innovator in the cruise business, has countless opportunities not yet mined from the kind of data pile that Mike Giresi can’t resist.

“We have access to so much unstructured data from people who post videos and these various blogs” among other forms of commentary on cruising, he says. Sorting it, analyzing it, identifying themes, understanding what people are saying even when they don’t know they’re saying it – there lies a “massive unlock” of fertile ideas for innovation.

“What I want to do here is make sure we’re looking at all these different dimensions of activity, and thinking about how we disrupt that in a positive way so it kind of shields us from someone harming us,” Giresi says of the competition, “and because it creates some incremental benefit to the individual on the receiving end that they’re either willing to pay for, give us credit for, and/or create a more intimate, loyal relationship with.”

Viewed the same way, it’s not all that different from selling canned soup, rope-soled loafers or a nice piece of chocolate.