Paul Parker and the crazy business of happiness

featured image

As a life choice, crazy can be better than credit-and-debit. And that’s why Paul T. Parker got into human resources.

RCL’s chief human resources officer was an accounting major during undergraduate studies at Ithaca College in New York when his path changed, first by happenstance and then by choice.

When he applied for an accounting internship at a manufacturing company, Parker was told the only internship available was in human resources. He took it. And during one particularly hectic day he asked his supervisor “if this was what his job was like.”

“And he said, ‘You have no idea. I come in every day with a list of things I’m supposed to do. Then we have one employee incident and that whole plan gets shot. If you want to debit-and-credit and know what your life is going to be like, go be an accountant. If you want to have a crazy life, go work in HR.’”

Over the following 20 years, Parker did exactly that, working for a variety of brands including Marathon Oil, Sabra Dipping Company, Colgate Palmolive, Campbell Soup, Nabisco Food Company and, yes, the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche, and fitting in time to earn an MBA from New York University.

The “craziness” of HR reached a peak after Parker joined RCL a year ago. He found himself responsible for the working lives of some 64,000 employees posted around the world, shipboard and shoreside, representing more than 125 nationalities – though all employees are required to speak English.

So one day Parker may find himself in Shanghai giving a recruitment presentation to potential job applicants, and the next jetting to a Caribbean island to iron out a labor dispute.

“The thing I love is that we’re in the making-people-happy-business, right?” he says. “I’m not saving babies, I’m not putting people on the moon, there’s no national security things that I’m getting involved in.”

“My job is to get somebody on a ship and make sure they know how to do their job so they can make a guest really, really happy. I’m in the happiness business, so I think part of that is you’ve got to be happy yourself, and I don’t take myself too serious.”

That’s not to say Parker doesn’t take his job seriously. When “done right,” he says, HR offers the opportunity to change lives, to foster career growth, to proffer a chance to people who might not otherwise have realistic hopes of educating their children or seeing a world they hunger to see.

“People are always getting better,” he says. “You go buy a ship, it starts depreciating the day you take it from the dock. You buy a car it goes down 20 percent when you drive it off the lot.”

Employees – people – are the only business asset that appreciates, with time and training and an inherent desire to grow.

“I just think that the more exposure you can give a person, the more you can expand their mind,” Parker says. “It never goes back to being smaller.”