Volunteering to Lead: Roberta Jacoby


Volunteering to Lead: Roberta Jacoby


For the first time in University of Miami history, the majority of our volunteer leadership boards are led by women. 

Citizens Board President Roberta Jacoby shares insights and lessons learned as a woman in leadership. 

Jacoby, Roberta

Why did you decide to pursue a career in business and hospitality?

I actually didn’t, it happened quite by accident.  I had a degree in special education with a specialty in learning disabilities, and I was living in Philadelphia. I was graduating from college and figured I would get a job and start teaching. I had several offers because of the need for my specialty, but the winter prior to graduation, I was in a car accident caused by a snowstorm, and I decided in that instant, to move to Miami. So I did, but when I got here in August, there were no jobs available, and long story short, I was able to get a job at Carnival Cruise Lines. I honestly didn’t think it was going to be my career, but I was hooked after just a few months.  Many years later, when Carnival was setting up a training department, they asked me to develop and run it, which fit right into my skill set, developing lesson plans, etc. I feel so fortunate how it all transpired, beginning my career that way at Carnival and then at Royal Caribbean. 

Define a great leader—what are some traits you think great leaders possess?

A great leader must be a good listener. As a leader, your job is to be the conductor of the orchestra.  The buck does stop with you, but in order to make informed decisions, you need to get the input from a variety of people to make sure you are clearly seeing the whole picture. Next is to be decisive which might contradict what I just said about getting opinions from others, but it isn’t. You have to assess the situation with the help of others and then make the decision. And you constantly have to be reinventing the way that you do things in order to be on the cutting edge of whatever industry you are part of. And lastly, you need to be fair and honest in your dealing with your teams and your colleagues. 

How did you get to where you are? What has been the key to your success?

Let’s be honest, so much of being where you are is luck, being at the right place at the right time. But if you are lucky, like I was to start in a young industry which took off, then you have to make sure you contribute and are adding real value. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be constantly thinking of new ways to do things so you stay relevant and continue to advance your company. As my industry grew, I learned how to grow with it by talking to others, gathering information, being curious and wanting to be involved in everything without overstepping my bounds. 

What do you think are the most significant barriers to female leadership? How did you overcome them?

Honestly, I was lucky in that I always had great bosses who supported their teams regardless of gender.  But I do remember one time I was in my early 20’s, and an entire male contingent came to see me from Dallas about a contract that I cancelled with their company. It could have been very intimidating, and it probably was, but you just have to have complete confidence in what you are doing. I never tried to “act” one way or another, I have always been a straight shooter and honest in my approach, and I didn’t let it bother me if I thought someone was not treating me equally, I would just continue with my work, but this really only works if you have a boss that is supportive and values the team no matter what gender. 

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?

My mentors professionally include my time at Carnival with Micky Arison, the Chairman who was my boss for a couple of years and Bob Dickinson, who was the President of Carnival, and was my boss for many years.  Micky was a great listener, and Bob was a master negotiator. It gave me the opportunity to see how they did business and emulate them. And then at Royal Caribbean,  Richard Fain, the chairman, is an incredible visionary and has the ability to take calculated risks with such confidence. If you think about it, there are some amazing, smart people, but true visionaries, like Richard, are hard to find. 

From a personal standpoint, my mother was a huge influence on my life. I know that if my mother had been born in another generation, she would have been the CEO of a major corporation.  She was that smart and savvy, but was in the generation of being a stay at home mom. Somehow, she always had amazing advice no matter what the situation was. 

What was your dream job as a kid and why? 

I remember going to see a broadway show when I was young,and to me, that just seemed like a dream come true to be up there on stage with the lights, costumes, music, etc. But now, I honestly believe that my career has been the total dream job. I have had the opportunity to travel and do business on every continent and meet the most amazing people from all over the world. I have had amazing experiences that are second to none.