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We may think when Australian executives leave our shores after a stint at the "New Zealand branch", they don't give us a second thought.

But for former Westpac chief executive officer Ann Sherry, almost a year after she started her job as Australian CEO of Carnival - the world's largest cruise company, which owns P&O, Cunard and Princess Cruises among others - New Zealand is still central to her working life.

Knowing the delights Auckland has to offer, she is frustrated by the lack of effort made for cruise tourists when they arrive. It's all about "directing people to things quintessentially Auckland," she says, for example putting on a courtesy bus to the Auckland Museum.

When Cunard's Queen Victoria sailed into Auckland in February, it was received with a Maori greeting. Those on board got up at 6am to watch. "It's the stuff that pleases overseas tourists," she says.

New Zealand is an important market for Carnival, with Americans coming from the West Coast loving it. The Kiwi market has had massive growth from Australians taking them to places such as Milford Sound and Napier, says Sherry.

Thanks to demand, last Sunday the Pacific Sun arrived to make Auckland its home port. It's 40 per cent bigger than previous ships that have docked here, with almost 2000 passengers, and three others will regularly visit. "It's a reasonable opportunity to lift the tourism experience," says Sherry. Last year, 110,000 passengers visited New Zealand and 30,000 Kiwis went on a cruise in 2007 - an 11 per cent increase on 2006.

"If you look at airplanes that would take a lot of flights - more people visit by cruise than visit from Japan," says Sherry. "It's an opportunity and a challenge for New Zealand. We have been talking about the need for infrastructure, and redevelopment of Queen St and the wharf as we bring in more ships."

Auckland will become more congested if a few ships come in simultaneously - if one is berthed at the Hilton, the other one will be at the Tank Farm.

She had a call from Tourism Auckland this week asking what else it can do, and she's in contact with Auckland Regional Council and Ports of Auckland.

When asked if she's enjoying herself, she says she's having a fantastic year, and her secretary says she hasn't got a spare hour this month.

Many in the finance sector scratched their heads when Sherry went to Carnival, but it came through a personal connection. Chairwoman of Carnival Australia's advisory council, Katie Lahey, was CEO of the Business Council of Australia, and knows Sherry. "Katie was persuasive," says Sherry. And she was at a crossroads - go for the Westpac Australia chairman job or do something different as Westpac NZ became incorporated.

Sherry insists there are lots of similarities between the two industries. "People are people, whether they are bank customers or passengers on a ship," she says - they have expectations, there are service standards about how you market your product to people.

Cruising may be a different industry and product but the issues are similar, she says.

And she wasn't just CEO of Westpac NZ - she also oversaw Westpac's Pacific banks.

Of course, there have been a few hiccups along the way. The weather for one. One of Carnival's ships, the Pacific Star, was on a cruise around the islands last July when it was cancelled due to adverse weather and passengers had to be transported home from Vanuatu. The Kiwi connection came in to play. With Sherry having to charter planes to get people home from Port Vila, she called on Air New Zealand for help.

Other hot issues for Sherry could include a turndown in tourists as a result of the US credit crunch hitting the New Zealand economy.

The economic downturn after the Asian crisis in 2000 will be just a blip compared to what operators are now facing, says Paul Yeo, head of the Inbound Tour Operators Council and the Travel Agents Association.

But, says Sherry, most cruise passengers to New Zealand travelling on her ships are from Australia. Cruise lines may move ships to this part of the world due to developments in the US, but the company can't imagine this as having a negative effect on passenger numbers here.

When asked what she thinks about banking, the former Westpac CEO starts to look smug to have escaped the mayhem past colleagues are experiencing.

She says she "feels removed" from banking. Sherry describes New Zealand as an over-banked market and predicts "there will be another period of consolidation globally". As for the merger under discussion between St George and Westpac, she shrugs, saying she wasn't in talks with St George on her watch.

Customer share slipped under Sherry in her four-year tenure at Westpac NZ, which many pin to her not participating in interest rate wars led by the Bank of New Zealand.

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly, who was hired by Sherry to work at Westpac earlier in his career, says: "Sherry is one of those people who excites strong emotions. She talked a lot about the Australia and New Zealand relationship in a way that was necessarily blunt. What she was saying was, 'I love New Zealand, I rate New Zealanders, why can't you guys get on and get big like Australia?'."

O'Reilly thinks the cruising industry is ideal for Sherry. "She's suited to the role with her big, upfront personality."

While banking goes through another consolidation, the cruise market - Sherry is happy to stress - is booming. On her patch, the market is growing at a rate of 17 per cent a year.

"For 15 years, the New Zealand and Australian market only had one ship - now there are four full-time and six or so part-time," she says.

Between this year and 2009 there will have been a 200 per cent increase in ship capacity all driven by active babyboomers and families.

Sherry is back in New Zealand next month for a leadership conference - called Challenges 08, Leading into Tomorrow - when she will be talking about managing reputations, managing change, and managing the growth of business with competition.

She admits she is enjoying going from being a player in a highly competitive market to being in one in which she is the dominant player but, better still, one enjoying growth.