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Thursday, 25 August 2011

One with the Sea: an Interview with Richard Daniel O'Leary

Written by Nate Marcus
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Richard Daniel O'Leary has recently written the memoir, One with the Sea, which chronicles his journey from being from a poor family to becoming the CEO of Cruise Ventures, a company with 2500 employees, 55 offices in 12 states and a fleet of harbor cruise ships.

You call your book a "rag to riches" story. What were your origins, and how long did your journey take?

My father was an Irish Immigrant, who came to this country when he was 19. He was illiterate but turned out to be a huge force in my life. He first worked in manual labor in New York and in Boston and ended up in Maine, where he met my mother and I was born. We were very poor, and moved 10 to 12 times in the same city. He worked several jobs, was selfless, and his only interest was working to provide for his family.

At some point, between five and eight years old, my parents took me to the beach. It was the first time I had ever seen the ocean. I loved everything about it - the tides, the waves. It really sent the tone for my whole life.

I eventually went to Maine Maritime Academy. I had previously been working for a bakery making jelly donuts and sandwiches for a year, from 62 cents an hour to the highest paid, $1.60. I didn't know if I should give up this job, but I did.

I had a rough time at Maritime Academy, because I didn't smoke or drink. That changed. I became a leader in some of those areas. A guy, Arnold Stenson, Jr., probably the most popular student, befriended me. He was a really great guy and this helped me, and my image.

Times were tough when I graduated, so I applied for a job in a Navy. The ship I was assigned to was an AE212 ammunition ship, about 450 feet long. I went aboard, and was told to take some bags to the navigator's room. I thought I would meet the navigator, but instead realized he meant I was the navigator. I was not in any way qualified to navigate a ship like this. I was astonished. It went very badly in the beginning. I could have crashed into something or blown the whole ship up.

I eventually became quite a good navigator and later took my leave from the Navy in Izmir, Turkey. From there, I went home to Maine. I really wanted to go to the Mediterranean. Instead, I got on a job on a freighter heading out to the North Atlantic. The weather was furious at sea during the winter. I got back to New York and went on the Far East run, from the Philippines to Korea to Japan. I was the youngest guy on the boat at 25. I went on the SS United States, the fastest ship in the world, from New York to France in about 4 days. I was on there for 5 years and crossed the Atlantic 252 times.

I was chosen to go to United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York. I was just turning 30, and I became pretty successful. It changed me and made me feel singular. I left for Washington, but was longing for the sea.

In Virginia, I got very interested in cruise ships. I made a plan to start a company, and found investors. We succeeded and went on to have 2500 employees and 55 offices. We specialized in offering cruises from places they don't usually sail from.

We entered the air business. We started chartering airplanes. It was very successful. I retired 6 years ago and turned the company over to the employees.

Any advice for future rag to riches-ists? Do you have a prescription for success?

I heard someone say, "Success in life is easy. Always try to do a little more than what people expect of you. People usually try to get away with a little less."

As an entrepreneur, I never forget the people who gave me money and believed in me, when I didn't have anything. Never forget those people.

And my wife, of course, was one of them.

Oleary 6The book is called One With The Sea. What did the sea teach you?

It has to do with that first time I saw the ocean. I was at sea for about 12 years and all the business I was in had to do with the sea. Our home is near the water.

One thing I've learned from the sea: “Be careful. Constant vigilance is the price of safety.”

I was on the greatest ship the world's seen, but the weather is still fearsome. It taught me that life can be difficult, and it takes discipline to go to sea for a long time.

What was it like to write a memoir?

I never wanted to do that! My writing had been in an academic environment. I had no interest when people told me "you've had an interesting life, you should write about that." I had zero interest. But, I eventually changed my mind. I wrote with a legal pad and a $1 pen. I got into a routine of getting up at 5 or 6 o'clock and writing for 4 or 5 hours every day, seven days a week, and would read it to my wife. After 2 months, it was done. But it took a full year to get it out and put it together.

You call your story "an adventure in capitalism."  What does that mean to you?

I believe in capitalism. Our little company was a grand example of capitalism. It started with me, with no money, and some people who were willing to take a chance, and make profit.  Riding through adversity, good fortune and bad fortune, we made good profits and then made employee owners of the employees. It is a perfect example of capitalism at its very best.

I thank my illiterate father, who was basically a saint. He taught me a lot of things about life, and I became very ethical. I never cheated, or skirted lines to make profit. I always tried to do more than was expected.

Richard's book is called One with the Sea: An Inspiring Rags-to-Riches Saga of the Son of an Irish Immigrant (Jetty House, September 2011). For more information, visit the website:

(c)Nate Marcus

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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