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How an office furniture start-up scaled new heights in growth

Learn how we helped EY Entrepreneur of The Year® winner VARIDESK choose the right growth strategies to take the office desk from one-size-fits-all to unlimited growth.

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The better the question The better the answer The better the world works
Case Study

What is the right path to accelerate growth?

The most direct line goes straight to the customer.

Just a few years ago, businesses relied on traditional supply channels for office furniture. Desks, lamps and workstations were fairly standardized in function with limited options. That changed when the VARIDESK co-founder was suffering from sciatic nerve back pain at his desk and had an idea. He elevated his laptop using a cardboard box on his desk so he could stand and work. This led him to design a product that would let him stand at his existing desk – that was functional, streamlined and alleviated his pain.

The first VARIDESK variable height desktop product, and its subsequent introduction to the market, started a new chapter for the industry.

“Back pain is the second leading cause of absenteeism at work,” according to VARIDESK CFO Craig Storey. “The idea was born out of back pain but led to a company that creates products and office solutions that change the way people work around the world.”

The original desktop converter was just the start. Company co-founders Dan Flaherty and Jason McCann are on a path to simplify how businesses buy office furniture by turning the dealer distribution model upside-down by selling direct to consumers online. “What’s best for the customer?” became the focus for future product development and improvements. The answers came from the customers themselves, forging a strong identity centered on transparency and a model for continual customer feedback as VARIDESK grew into an office furniture company with a full suite of simple, agile products – from electric standing desks and storage, to moveable walls and lighting.

From “back pains” to “growing pains”

The EY Growth Barometer Survey indicates that US companies lead the world in innovation through customer centricity – a finding mirrored by VARIDESK’s rapid growth trajectory. Quality, innovation and customer collaboration were significant drivers as the company expanded its product line to include additional versions of the quick-to-assemble conference room furniture, seating solutions and lighting accessories. The transition from desk-on-top-of-desk products to a suite of full-office solutions, including movable walls, demonstrate VARIDESK’s mission to make the workplace a happier, healthier and more productive place.

As VARIDESK’s fan base grew beyond the U.S., and the company began to scale globally, complex business issues arose. Keeping up, and ahead of, rapid growth required a trusted business advisor.

“EY has been recognizing, supporting and guiding high-growth entrepreneurs for more than 30 years,” said Partner, Ernst & Young LLP, and EY Americas Entrepreneur Of The Year Leader Debra von Storch. “It’s my job to help accelerate a company’s growth; to help them achieve their strategy and purpose.”

Craig Storey, CFO, VARIDESK and Debra Von Storch, Partner, Ernst & Young LLP, EY Americas Entrepreneur Of The Year Leader

With VARIDESK’s impressive trajectory and ensuing business needs, von Storch and her team stepped in to help align the company’s organizational structure with its growth strategies.

“When we first met, we had pressing needs related to tax structure in the global market,” said Storey. “We needed to manage risk and avoid unnecessary exposure,” he said. “Everyone on the EY team was very responsive and helped us navigate what is normally a painstaking process.”

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Defining growth goals, setting up the right corporate structure, developing supportive capital strategies and outlining the best talent acquisition methods were additional priorities addressed by the EY team.

According to Storey, in addition to providing exceptional service on these complex projects, the EY team was very proactive in keeping VARIDESK ahead of potential issues as their growth continued at a break-neck pace.

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Case Study
The better the question The better the answer The better the world works
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A trusted business advisor is a collaborator for growth

The value lies in speed and connections.

As VARIDESK expanded its product line and market share and looked to its next growth phase, von Storch’s team brought additional value to the relationship.

“When you work with EY, they provide value over and beyond what’s in the engagement letter,” said Storey. “Debra brought more keys to more doors than I ever could have expected. We look for nimble collaborators, and for customer-focused partners that understand a real sense of urgency and match our speed. The EY team was always willing to make an introduction, provide a piece of research or grind through strategy with us. Their work is evident in our accelerated growth over the past two years.”

In 2017, McCann and Flaherty won the U.S. Emerging Entrepreneur Of The Year award. This opened more doors, connecting them to a new community of the most impressive leaders in business. The EY team continues to play a vital role in making introductions and creating connections that result in breakthrough go-to-market strategies.

Varidesk WEOY winners
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What exponential growth looks like

VARIDESK’s approach is transforming office furniture, commercial real estate and the active work environment.

With a laser focus on transforming the office furniture and design industry, VARIDESK continues to innovate. “We’re enabling flexible, nimble, active offices that can be assembled in less than five minutes – with no tools – to meet any company’s changing needs,” said Storey. VARIDESK’s nearly 300 employees have sold more than two million units in 130 countries and to 98 percent of the Fortune 500 companies. With the right growth plan in place, the company is in a strong position to continue its path to success.

As VARIDESK’s trusted business advisor, von Storch keeps the question, “What is the best path to accelerate growth?” front and center. “Successful hyper-growth companies should consider questions about their business advisors, too,” said von Storch. “Are you culturally aligned to build something together? Are you getting canned or out of the box answers? Are services created in the context of where you are headed?”

With the right trusted business advisor, the path to growth is clear.

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How digital transformation opened new channels for growth

With help from EY professionals, Royal Caribbean’s digital-first approach is transforming their business and the cruising experience.

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Case Study

How can technology transform the business of adventure?

Across its family of brands, Royal Caribbean prided itself on leading-edge innovation in ship design. It was time to bring the guest experience into the Transformative Age.

Cruise guests want maximum fun with minimum hassle

Time is precious, now more than ever. Almost every minute is assigned and accounted for in the hustle and bustle of the day.

So when people get a chance to take a holiday from their busy lives, they want a frictionless experience that supersizes the vacation fun and minimizes the hassle factor. They want a feeling of being away while at the same time having all the connected comforts of home.

For Royal Caribbean, this meant redesigning the entire customer journey and introducing a range of integrated technologies to bring the guest experience into the Transformative Age.

We’re always thinking about tomorrow, and that requires constantly looking to be the disruptor, not the disruptee.
Jason Liberty
EVP & CFO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

Royal Caribbean saw an opportunity to provide a fully integrated shore-to-ship digital experience

Involving everything from zip lines to flow riding to ice skating, Royal Caribbean’s ship design has always been at the leading edge of innovation to attract a growing number of cruise passengers (from 17.8 million per year in 2009 to an expected 27.2 million in 2018). However, in looking at industries such as amusement parks, casinos and airlines, which have been offering mobile check-in and bespoke apps to customers for years, Royal Caribbean realized it had an opportunity to improve its ability to offer guests a fully integrated shore-to-ship digital experience.

The rapid pace of digital transformation has led to heightened customer expectations— and organizations know they need to innovate if they want to keep up. EY findings show that 50% of CEOs do not believe their companies have implemented the necessary steps to counter disruption. Failure to do so can put market leadership and capitalization at risk.

The risk of being disrupted


of CEOs do not believe their companies have implemented the necessary steps to counter disruption.

To remain competitive on every level, Royal Caribbean recognized it needed to deliver a seamless connected experience on land and at sea that allowed their guests to get the most from their cruise experience. Understanding it needed the right partner, Royal Caribbean looked to EY professionals to help it cruise into the digital age.

Digital doesn’t disrupt our business but accelerates our business.

Jay Schneider

SVP, Digital, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.


Moving from analog to digital required a radical technological rethink

When EY came onboard, Royal Caribbean was still in the early stages of its digital thinking. Guests had limited visibility to activities and amenities through a web portal and a minimalist app. Once aboard, they received a daily printed newsletter detailing the events, activities, restaurants and menus, shore excursions and ports of call for the day. Further, to participate in an event or excursion, guests had to line up and sign up with the crew on a first-come, first-served basis.

This analog approach was limiting, particularly for generations who were more accustomed to a digital-first mindset and were looking for a more streamlined and frictionless experience.

“People today expect the ease of technology in everything they do,” says Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “They find it saves them time and effort, especially when on vacation, where time is one of the most important commodities they have.”

This was an opportunity for Royal Caribbean to think differently about connecting with their guests, with their employees and also with new revenue streams.

Raj Mirchandani

EY Consulting Account Leader for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.


“This was an opportunity for Royal Caribbean to think differently about connecting with their guests, with their employees and also with new revenue streams,” Raj Mirchandani, EY Consulting Account Leader for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., explains. “Done right, this could lead to new ways of operating that provide not just what today’s digitally savvy customers expect, but something that fundamentally changes their perception of what it means to go on a cruise.”

Of course, developing a digital experience that worked on ship and shore, across a fleet of 40 ships, was no easy task. The EY team needed to think about digital from every angle throughout the company’s entire business.

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Providing experiences on-demand that are available with a click and a swipe

Out front and behind the scenes, the EY team is helping Royal Caribbean give guests control over every aspect of their voyage.

Facial recognition that speeds up boarding is just one feature of a new seamless customer experience

“Often, EY clients will come to us, and they’ll say, ‘We want to rethink the customer experience in a new digital way,’” says Cheryl Grise, EY Consulting Lead, Southeast Region. “And as you start to probe and ask more questions, you realize they’re saying a lot more than that. What we learned is that Royal Caribbean wasn’t just asking for the customer experience to be digitized; they were also asking how to become a fully equipped digital organization.”

From having guests check in using facial recognition to facilitate faster boarding; to informing them via text that their luggage had safely arrived in their stateroom; to exploring, planning and booking activities through an app that puts every onboard adventure for every age at guests’ fingertips, the EY team is helping Royal Caribbean create a seamless customer experience.

The guest experience gets a digital facelift

EY and Royal Caribbean professionals used data and analytics to create a personalization engine that gives guests mobile control over many different touchpoints in their cruising experience. Through the personalization engine, the app learns, tracks and helps crews respond to passenger preferences from the moment of boarding, providing recommendations based on their behavior so that guests can enjoy the adventure on their own terms.

Behind the scenes, teams of EY and Royal Caribbean technology, digital and business professionals worked together to solve the challenges associated with creating an uninterrupted digital experience, whether it was onshore through fiber optics, or through satellites while at sea.

Innovative digital technology works to detangle layers of backend legacy IT systems

As part of an evolutionary rebuild, EY professionals initially focused on reconfiguring Royal Caribbean’s IT systems so that they could recognize each guest as an individual, authenticate and offer intelligent personalization, and customize every aspect of their itinerary. The teams used mobile, cloud, machine learning, and data analytics technologies to detangle a complex, layered legacy technology infrastructure. The result — a rebuilt IT platform that is modern, scalable and resilient.

Intelligent personalization and integrated automation provide a more profitable cruising experience

What this means in real terms is that once a guest has downloaded the app, snapped a selfie and turned on their Bluetooth, the new app uses integrated automation and intelligent personalization to let them explore activities they’d be likely to enjoy. The app also allows guests to do things like pull up a drink menu and input an order, which a cruise employee later delivers directly to them with the help of beacon technology. In addition, based on information guests input into the app, it can automatically alert servers to any food sensitivities and allergies so that guests won’t have to worry about their health and safety while onboard.

Royal Caribbean Northstar observation pod
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The whole journey–transformed

Royal Caribbean’s digital transformation helps families have the best vacation time of their lives.

Beyond technology, Royal Caribbean reimagines its operating model to deliver experiences on-demand.

For Royal Caribbean, digital transformation means more than developing an app or deploying digital technology. It’s about changing the entire operating model and creating a digital mindset across the organization that focuses on providing a frictionless experience in every interaction for every guest.

The EY team positioned Royal Caribbean’s digital transformation journey to begin by looking first at the guest and employee experiences, developing a digital vision for the enterprise and making incremental changes to each. This will evolve to cover the whole end-to-end cruising experience — from booking to boarding to cruising. Meanwhile, the EY and Royal Caribbean teams are considering the employee experience and how Royal Caribbean can give them greater levels of engagement with purpose, as well as the digitally connected advantages cruise guests now enjoy.

If I do my job right, you won’t even notice the technology. You’ll just notice really amazing experiences.

Joey Hasty

Innovation and Transformation Lead, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.


EY helps Royal Caribbean take a digital transformation journey that allows guests to enjoy their adventure, their way

When holiday-seekers set about booking a vacation, they are often overworked, overloaded and overtired. Their vacation is a chance to leave that burden behind — as much as they can.

With the EY team’s help, Royal Caribbean was able to realize its objective of offering guests a fully integrated shore-to-ship digital experience. A redesigned terminal experience supports facial recognition for faster boarding so that guests can start vacationing earlier. Integrated automation and intelligent personalization improve guest satisfaction, increase onboard revenue and lower costs.

Royal Caribbean’s digital transformation journey is a win-win for cruise guests and the company’s bottom line. Seamless, personalized experiences allow guests to enjoy their adventure, their way, while new in-app revenue opportunities lead the way for more profitable growth.

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