Rolls-Royce Savior Charts New Course at Cunard Lines

Article excerpt

When Peter Ward, the former chief executive of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd., took over last June at Cunard Line Ltd., a passenger cruise line company, he may have felt a sense of deja vu.

He found himself at the helm of an unprofitable company with a brand name and flagship product that - while not liabilities - are far from the assets they once were.

At Rolls in the early 1990s, Ward is credited with having fashioned a profitable car company from a tarnished world-class brand that was losing money and its reputation, and had failed to move with the times.

He reformed Rolls by cutting the work force by more than half, slashing production to bring supply into balance with demand and revamping its marketing and sales division.

At Cunard now, he runs a company where the flagship Queen Elizabeth 2 is perhaps known best for its calamitous voyage to the United States 18 months ago, during which alarmed passengers reported "exploding toilets" and other inconveniences after the ship set sail from Southampton, England, before a refit was complete.

That incident was almost matched in embarrassment in April, when the Royal Viking Sun, Cunard's newest and most luxurious ship, holed its hull on a Red Sea coral reef and was impounded by Egyptian authorities, barely a month after Cunard's parent company was bought by Kvaerner ASA, a Norwegian shipbuilder.

The picture of the stricken vessel graced the front pages of the U.K. press on a slow Easter weekend news day. "It's been a nautical nightmare," said Leslie Kent, an analyst at MeesPierson, a Dutch stock brokerage.

Business has been no better. …