Notable Black Alumni Series: Arnold Donald, ‘80

Notable Black Alumni Series: Arnold Donald, ‘80

There are so many Booth alumni of color who continue to inspire us with their success in business and life. This Black History Month, we’d like to shine a spotlight on some of the most notable of them. For this first installment of the Notable Black Alumni Series, we turn our focus to Arnold Donald who came out of retirement in July 2013 to lead the turnaround of Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest travel leisure company, which has a combined fleet of over 100 vessels across 10 cruise line brands.

Donald had an interesting upbringing. The youngest of five children, he grew up poor in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans where murders, stabbings, and shootings were the norm. It was his older sister, Yvonne, who changed the trajectory of his life. She wanted to be a teacher and he was her only student, teaching him how to read, write, and do math at a very early age. 

Fast forward to his high school years, where despite society constantly telling him that African-Americans and people of his kind were inferior, his teachers encouraged his ambitions. Three times a day, he would hear a certain message play on the PA system: “Gentlemen, prepare yourselves, you’re going to run the world.” 

This was all the motivation that Donald needed to be confident that he could make something of himself. So after spending several summers interning at Exxon, in his junior year of high school, he made a promise to himself: that he’d become a general manager at a science-based global Fortune 500 company. 

He mapped out his plan and eventually went on to earn two undergraduate degrees: a bachelor’s degree in economics from Carleton College in 1976 and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis in 1977. He knew that those two degrees would make him stand out from his peers, but he went a step further to attend one of the top business schools in the country; he would receive his MBA in 1980 from what was then known as the University Of Chicago Graduate School Of Business–Chicago Booth.

Since then, Donald has enjoyed a long and successful 23-year career in various positions with Monsanto in St. Louis. He followed his passions; he bought a minor league basketball team, he has danced with the stars, and he has served on boards, most notably Carnival Corporation, of which the founders tapped him to take the helm and turn the company around. 

As one of the few black CEOs in the nation, it is vitally important that we share Arnold Donald’s story and be inspired by his meteoric rise to success. His mission at Carnival is to bring the world together and celebrate differences rather than fear them. 

He also understands the imperative of knowledge attainment. When asked in an interview with CNN how he defines success, Donald’s response was that he has a fireplace at his house, and engraved in ancient Greek is the phrase, “Education is the portal to prosperity.” 

For this notable Booth alum, prosperity does not mean money, it signifies a fullness of life.