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Ambassador Cruise Line expands and strengthens Executive Team


Ambassador Cruise Line, which will begin the operation of its inaugural season in April, has announced today that it has made three new executive management team appointments.  Phil Gardner (CCO), Matthias Seeger (CFO) and Nick Hughes (COO) bring both substantial cruise and wider business experience to the enterprise, which also just announced its expansion plans into 2023 with the addition of a second ship to its fleet. 

Phil Gardner,
Foto: Ambassador Cruise Line

CEO Christian Verhounig said, “I am very excited to formally welcome Matthias, Phil and Nick to the Ambassador family. Their expertise from both within and outside the cruise industry will bring extremely valuable and diverse knowledge to the business, further accelerating Ambassador’s growth plans to be the leading premium-value, authentic cruise line.”

Phil Gardner has over 20 years travel industry experience, commencing with First Choice where amongst other roles he was an integration programme manager for the First Choice/Thomson merger. He went on to lead the ‘flight only’ division of the newly created TUI UK business and then progressed to run the commercial arm of TUI UK Cruises. He moved to Thomas Cook in 2015 to focus on distribution, where he assumed several different roles including Director of Sales, E-Commerce & Marketing and was a member of the UK Board. Prior to joining Ambassador Phil was chief commercial officer at Fosun Tourism Group, where he focused on re-launching Thomas Cook.  In the CCO role with Ambassador, Phil will have responsibility for the guest proposition, sales, marketing and commercial planning, including digital and reservations centre interaction with guests and the travel trade.

Gardner commented, “Opportunities like this don’t come round often. To be joining Britain’s newest cruise line, with the prospect of building on the amazing start Ambassador has made and be part of growing the business, was a compelling proposition. I look forward to being back in the heart of the cruise industry and developing a brand and business that is the envy of the UK cruise market.”

Matthias Seeger,
Foto: Ambassador Cruise Line

Matthias Seeger brings with him over 25 years experience as a finance and business executive from a broad range of commercial disciplines, spanning large blue-chip consumer goods and retail companies.  He offers significant strength in leadership, strategy, and financial governance. His most recent appointment was as chief financial officer and Board member for the Costcutter Supermarket Group (one of the UK’s leading convenience store symbol group retailers) where he served from 2015 to 2021. Prior to this, he held a diverse range of regional and global finance leadership positions with Procter & Gamble across several business entities.

Seeger commented, “Within under a year, Ambassador has achieved a solid financial basis to build on. It’s an exciting time to be joining the executive team. With ambitious plans for its growth and development, I am looking forward to further defining the company’s financial plan and expanding the strategic finance function.”

Nick Hughes is a chartered marine engineer.  His early roots in the Royal Navy provided a springboard for a career that would transcend many different sectors including defence, shipping and cruise ship operation. This afforded him a broad focus on guest and technical strategy, compliance, risk, shipping law and other aspects of shore-based management. He has successfully led several complex business reorganisations, juggling a demand for technical modernisation alongside significant expansion criteria. Until 2020 he spent seven years as head of technical operations with Marella Cruises (TUI UK Ltd) where he was responsible for fleet management, budget control and compliance, and contributed strategically to asset management and business growth. His most recent role was as director of the ROPAX Fleet at P&O Ferries. As COO for Ambassador Cruise Line his responsibilities will include overseeing maritime operations, engineering and the delivery of the onboard/in cruise experience.

Hughes commented, “I am really delighted to be part of Ambassador’s exciting plans for the future. It is a great product, and I am looking forward to working more closely with guests. The overwhelming attraction for me was Ambassador’s clear vision and commitment to environmental protection, sustainability and upgrading the fleet to qualify within the top 10% of all cruise ships globally in terms of ESG rating. This is critical to the future of cruising. It will be fantastic to demonstrate Ambassador’s serious commitment to responsible holidays.”

Gardner and Seeger commenced their roles on 1st February. Hughes will start in March.

As a result of these changes, Chris Coates, who delayed his retirement plans to operate as the first CCO of Ambassador Cruise Line, will transition into a consultancy role as “ambassador-at-large”, operating from June onwards in a part-time capacity. In this new role he will be able to continue to contribute his valuable expertise to Ambassador, advising on market and ship deployment and programming, route planning management, cruise industry relations and acting as counsel to the rest of the executive team on other strategic matters.

Furthermore, the appointment of Matthias as CFO will enable Simon Weeks who has been operating in an interim capacity in that position to fully take up his new position as chief administrative officer. Simon, who played an integral part in establishing the corporate, financial, and regulatory structure of Ambassador, will now focus on building and maintaining robust business processes, performance, and inter-departmental collaborations throughout the organisation. He remains a key member of the executive team.

CEO, Christian Verhounig added, “The contribution that both Chris and Simon have made to the initial set up and commercial launch of Britain’s first new cruise line in over a decade has been exceptional.  It is a real asset to the business and the new team we have hired to have both continue their involvement in the business in their new roles outlined, leveraging their considerable experience. We are about nine weeks away from our inaugural cruise. Our first ship, Ambience, is completing its refit in dry dock in Croatia, our crew are assembling for training and the excitement about what we are going to deliver to our guests is palpable.”

Text: PM Ambassador Cruise Line