Norwegian Cruise Line CEO, Kevin Sheehan, is Not Quite Ship Shape on 'Undercover Boss'

undercover boss kevin sheehan Regardless of whether or not you buy into the 'Undercover Boss' concept, going behind the scenes, or "below deck" at one of the world's leading cruise lines is fascinating. The Love Boat it ain't -- it's much bigger, better and and more complicated.

President and CEO Kevin Sheehan, who has been at the helm of Norwegian for three years, was eager to show viewers what it takes to feed, entertain and accommodate up to 4,000 passengers all at once. With more than 16,000 employees from 70 countries, it's hard to check out everything, but Sheehan spends as much time as possible on the ships trying to connect and supervise.

That style of management, however, nearly became his undoing. He was recognized by a server immediately when assigned to wait tables on the Norwegian Epic, sailing out of Miami -- it seems Sylvia had served him before on one of his visits, and she knew exactly who he was. Rather than deny his true identity, he confided in her about what was going on, and he went back to the drawing board to beef up his disguise.

Back-breaking work

Once he was deeper undercover, he realized how complicated the serving process is. "I played college basketball and thought I was a bit of an athlete," he said, "but you wouldn't believe how physically demanding this job can be." It requires carrying heavy trays with a flourish across football field-sized rooms, and squatting down to shoulder heavy trays. He noted that at 5'1", Sylvia had a much easier time doing this than he did. "I practically fell over!" Sheehan laughs, "I never knew I had a bad back until then."

Sylvia had no problem with the very physical work, or with keeping Sheehan's undercover secret. In the end, when Sheehand revealed his true identity, Sylvia was rewarded for her hard work and discretion. She had complained that she'd been working for Norwegian for seven years and had not yet received a promotion, and that she missed her girlfriend and was looking forward to getting married to her when she had had the time. Sheehan promoted her to senior waitress, and promised to arrange a shipboard wedding.

undercover boss kevin sheehan dancingShipboard living conditions these days are surprisingly comfortable in the crew quarters. WE saw this when Sheehan retired to his room onboard. Most people envision crowded bunk rooms with four to six employees sharing a cramped space. Not so with Norwegian.

No cramped quarters here

Most crew members get their own individual cabins, decorated in bright, cheerful colors and coming complete with fridge and flat-screen TV. Two cabins are connected by a bathroom. There are doubles for those who prefer them, and some do -- even when you're surrounded by thousands of people, you can get lonely being so far away from home for extended periods of time, according to Sheehan.

Viewers do get a chance to see Sheehan in crew quarters, but he stopped short of letting cameras catch him in his pajamas, tucked in and snug in his bed. "There's no way I was going to let me friends in New York see that!" he exclaimed. "They would never let me hear the end of it."

They'll have plenty of ammunition anyway, once they see him trying to learn choreographed dance steps that he had to turn around and teach the guests at the White Hot Party later that night--wearing angel wings! Neither the steps nor the rhythm nor the costume were easy for him; but bonding with Michael, who was teaching him the moves, was less of a challenge. Not long ago, both men had lost close relatives to cancer, and Michael revealed he'd raised more than $20,000 for cancer research in honor of his late mother.

When introduced to Michael as the CEO, Sheehan told Michael that, because of his fantastic attitude and ability, he was promoting him to assistant cruise director, and challenged Michael to hold another fund raiser, for which Norwegian Cruise Line would match all charitable proceeds.

The most rapelling job of all

Among the many amusements on the Norwegian Epic is a rapeling wall, and Sheehan was assigned to help instructor Jessica aid the guests in using it. First though, he had to have a crack at it himself, which he found quite humbling. He found that the waiver signing process was complicated and time consuming, and that strapping people into their harnesses--especially the women, made him extremely nervous, because of the intimate physical contact that is sometimes involved.

He also found that the amount of back breaking work it took to assemble the on-board ice rink -- a daily process that entails laying out heavy plastic ice sheets and spraying them with a gooky solution that makes the surface slippery--is not worth it. Only a handful of passengers use it. Sheehan revealed to AOL Jobs that he didn't even wait to return to the boardroom to cut that activity, as he wanted to free up the recreation staff for more important and less challenging work.

At the end Sheehan rewarded Jessica for her good attitude and skillful passenger relations by making it possible for her to take a Norwegian Cruise Line management training course. And she was also rewarded by never having to do onboard ice rink duties ever again.

All hands on deck

Perhaps his most grueling task and task master for Sheehand was working as a deck repairman aboard the Pride of America, out of Maui, Hawaii, under the supervision of John, a good-natured but tough member of the 27 person maintenance crew. The ship they were on is different from all others in the fleet in that it stays in the Hawaiian islands, is U.S. registered and therefore has an all American crew.

AOL Jobs Asks
Undercover Boss Kevin Sheehan
5 Quick Questions

1. What was your first job? Stock boy in a mini-market at age 11

2. What inspires you? Passion

3. What is the most important trait needed to succeed? Passion again

4. What is your biggest challenge? Old habits -- getting people to realize they can think differently

5. What is the best career advice you ever received? Stick with it

Sheehan attempted to clean the salt off of the deck and the walls of the ship using a power washer. He also had to chip off paint, as well as sand and repaint damaged areas of the deck. John ribbed him the whole time, found flaws in his work, and ultimatel decided that Sheehan was not the best man for this job.

One of the hardest parts of the job, John revealed, is being away from home and family for so long, especially since his wife would be giving birth to their daughter in about three weeks. After the big reveal, Sheehan offered to fly John's wife and baby, who appeard to live in another country, to New York where they could spend some time together, and he also offered to send John's extended family on a cruise together, so being apart wouldn't be so painful.

Everything is ship shape

Sheehand also showed appreciation for the crew across the line's 11 ships by making a $100,000 addition to the crew enrichment program. The program is a fleet wide initiative to support and enhance the welfare of the company's more than 14,000 crew members. This includes a variety of activities, equipment and events for the crew of each ship, such as DVD movies, sports equipment, parties, karaoke and entertainment, video game equipment and more.

Although Sheehan is a little concerned about how he might come across personally, he couldn't be prouder of the way the employees and the ships were portrayed. He's celebrating the broadcast of the show with a huge family party, hoping that he doesn't "give his 93-year-old mother a heart attack."

Sheehan is also hoping that being featured on 'Undercover Boss' will help rally the crew. Not that they need it -- business is up 43 percent, and he believes the crew is a large part of that success. But 'Undercover Boss' has helped him give credit where credit is due, and show potential passengers what Norwegian Cruise Line is all about.

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