Cate O’Keefe is someone who is constantly in motion. You often see her running all around the ship at just about any hour of the day or night. That’s because she’s one of the busiest department managers onboard the Statendam.
Cate is the manager of the Housekeeping Department, and that means she heads up one of the biggest departments on the hotel side of the operations. This includes all housekeeping responsibilities for the public areas, crew quarters and passenger cabins, as well as those of the night steward operations, luggage delivery and the laundry department.
Cate is also responsible for enforcing various standards for these departments, including those that keep us, the passengers healthy and happy. Norovirus is a very serious concern onboard cruise ships, and Cate takes a proactive approach to preventing it on the Statendam.
“I’m the one you can blame for all these Purell hand sanitizers you see around the ship,” she jokingly told me. “You can’t avoid them today – they are just about everywhere.” She is right, and I too noticed the proliferation of them from the moment I boarded the ship. They are located at the entrance to all eating areas, outside public areas, near the elevators, and at the tender or gangway areas. “And I train my people to remind passengers to use them, too,” she added. “As a result, we haven’t had a code red situation since I’ve been onboard the Statendam.
Cate is serious about keeping both the passengers and her people healthy. “Many people think Purell doesn’t do much to prevent the spread of the Norovirus,” she told me. “But they are wrong. We replaced all of our Purell dispensers last year with a new formulation of the sanitizer that is specifically designed to combat the spread of Norovirus. All our guests have to do is use them.”
Cate told me that she loves living and working on a cruise ship, and she enjoys longer cruises in particular because they give her more of an opportunity to practice team building with her people. “Longer cruises give me more of an opportunity to establish teams in the various departments, and to keep them together. This fosters more of a cooperative work attitude and allows for more training and mentoring among the teams. I’ve always been a team oriented type of manager.”
Cate has a long history in the service industry. She’s worked for major hotel chains such as the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons, and it was while with those organizations that she developed her management style focusing on building teams and motivating them. “I try to keep my people happy because I find that when I have a happy team, they will be more productive in serving our guests,” Cate told me.
“I’m basically a people pleaser,” she added. “Nine times out of ten, the guest will be right when they have a complaint. Therefore I want highly skilled teams in all areas of the housekeeping department, and I empower them to do whatever it takes to make the guest happy.”
Cate was housekeeping manager on the Oosterdam for two years before coming to the Statendam. She has been onboard the Statendam for the past two years and absolutely loves it. “I love the whole package of living and working at sea,” she told me. “I guess part of the reason for that is that I really don’t have much of a family shoreside anymore. So, the folks on the ship have pretty much become my extended family now.”
Cate is a very upbeat, “can do” sort of person. She loves tackling problems head on and doing whatever it takes to make the guest happy. “I love mentoring people, and have no problem with others seeing themselves in my job one day.” I’ve seen Cate’s interactions with her people, in particular with a housekeeper who was meeting with CruiseMates for an interview in Cate’s office one day. The housekeeper walked into the office at the time of our appointment. Cate told her, “make yourself comfortable in my chair. Get the feel of it. It may be yours one day.” Clearly Cate has no problem encouraging her people to think big.
Cate’s job often involves attending ship’s functions where she interacts with passengers in a social setting. “Those things are fun,” she told me. “I enjoy doing them. But I also like my quiet time too and can often be found reading in my cabin during my off hours.”
I asked Cate where she saw herself in five years. “Retired,” she laughed. “Seriously,” she added, “I enjoy my job and everything about it, but naturally I’d like to slow down and have a less hectic life at some point.” In her early fifties, it’s hard to imagine someone with Cate’s stamina in a rocking chair, and she freely acknowledged that won’t happen for quite a while yet. “I’d probably always like to work in some capacity, and can’t see myself ever fully retired. But maybe one day it would be nice to enjoy a slower pace, a job less demanding in my old age.”
Cate talked about many of the things her job involves – things most passengers wouldn’t even think of. “For example,” she told me, “we play a large role in the ship’s environmental initiatives. Every towel we wash, every set of bed linens that we send to the laundry, affects the ship’s impact on the environment and the oceans on which we sail. Therefore, it is up to us in housekeeping to encourage our passengers to conserve water by reusing their towels, and perhaps by using the same bed linens for more days at a time. We still change out everything on what is likely a far more frequent basis that you would change your towels and bed linens at home, and by reusing a towel for one additional day conserves an incredible amount of water when multiplied across all the cabins on the ship – and environmentally, that’s a good thing.”
Cate also looks for ways to streamline the work of her people. “Cabin stewards in particular are extremely busy,” Cate told me. “They have to service every guest cabin twice a day, sometimes more, in addition to performing other related tasks. Making the beds alone takes quite a bit of time, not to mention changing the linens and rotating the mattresses. It’s heavy work too. So, starting with the cruise after this one, we are going to try having the cabin stewards work in pairs – one lead steward and one cabin steward. We will pair them according to experience level so that the more experienced stewards can work in tandem with the newer ones. They will have double the amount of cabins to service, but we believe the process will go faster as well as more efficiently. They will work together on the beds, and then split up – one doing the bathrooms while the other takes care of the living area and balcony. This new configuration will also allow for more training and mentoring among the teams, and should actually save them time as they develop their own techniques for working together.”
Cate herself is very hands-on with regard to this change in procedure, and seems quite sincere in her desire to get her people to embrace the new concept. “I’ve held meetings with them, and given them hand-outs about how it will work. I’ve encouraged them to read everything over carefully and discuss it amongst themselves. Then I want them to bring their questions and concerns to a future meeting we will hold and we will freely discuss them.” Cate also pointed out that the new “team” approach to servicing guest cabins will also result in all of the stewards getting a monthly raise, with the leads obviously getting a bit more. “It’s actually been difficult in some cases figuring out who should be the lead and who the steward on some of the teams. Both are just about equally good. But then with other teams, I will have the chance to assign a relatively inexperienced steward – perhaps someone just joining the ship for their first contract – with a highly experienced one. That will be a win-win situation for both. The experienced one will get to take the new fellow under his wing and help him develop the job skills he will need to be successful. In fact, it is that sort of thing that is my biggest goal for this new program.”
Cate also seems sincere in her desire to see her people succeed and advance. “Some folks may think their cabin stewards do a relatively unimportant job, but you’d be shocked at how much skill and knowledge is required to properly perform their duties. I want my people to know they serve a critical function onboard the Statendam; one that probably impacts passenger satisfaction far more than many others. Nothing pleases me more than to see one of my people advance to a higher level, in housekeeping or elsewhere.”
And it is truly that last comment that would seem to embody the definition of the perfect boss – one who is not afraid to groom others to take over her own job one day. That would certainly seem to describe Cate O’Keefe.