FIU Business Now Magazine
From Chef to COO

From Chef to COO

By Karen-Janine Cohen

Growing up, Karl Muhlberger (MBA '18) wanted to be a watchmaker, policeman or chef. He chose hospitality and, after rising to restaurateur, manager and executive, is now chief operations officer of The World, the planet's largest privately owned residential yacht. The 644-foot mega-yacht takes its well-heeled residents leisurely, and in complete luxury, on a non-stop voyage that typically takes two to three years to circumnavigate the globe.

Muhlberger learned hospitality early in the rural Salzburg, Austria-area hotel, where his mother worked in the kitchen and his father as its butcher. "I spent holidays working in the butcher shop," he said.

At 15, Muhlberger secured an apprenticeship at Salzburg's storied Hotel Goldener Hirsch, which dates to the 1600s. He emerged with a bachelor's degree in culinary arts and a determination to rise in his profession.

"Anything I touched, I wanted to be the best," Muhlberger said. He joined onestar Michelin rated Restaurant La Tour as co-owner and became Austria's youngest Michelin-star chef. It was there, and in the positions that followed, where he met the challenge of consistently providing highend products and services and developed skills that took him around the world.

A stint on a private yacht in the south of France led to a job as executive chef at Silversea Cruises. There, Muhlberger learned the differences between running a restaurant – with its set hours – and a cruise ship where 300 or so guests expected top service day or night.

He then became Seabourn's & Cunard's head of global culinary development and operations.

Meanwhile, Muhlberger and his wife came to Miami where he worked for Norwegian Cruise Line and earned his MBA degree at FIU Business. He then went to Italy with Carnival Corp.'s Costa Group, where in 2012 he witnessed the aftermath of the Costa Concordia's capsize. The disaster created a deep impression, and within a year or so the couple returned stateside, where Muhlberger eventually joined Crystal Cruises as COO.

The pandemic upended the cruise industry, and as the dust settled, Muhlberger was recruited to join The World, where he oversees operations, including 200 shoreside and onboard employees. He compared the ship to a seagoing condominium where resident owners, with whom he works closely, make the decisions – including the itinerary. The World has 165 private residences and includes six dining venues, a spa, fitness center, theater, pools and more.

Muhlberger, who works out of the ship's Fort Lauderdale corporate office and spends nearly half his time on board, is responsible for onboard and destination experiences, as well as itinerary planning. Beyond upholding luxury standards, the crew stays nimble in fulfilling personal preferences.

Muhlberger serves on FIU's MBA and Master of International Business advisory boards and enjoys mentoring those in earlier career stages. His off time still involves hospitality. A love of cooking and entertaining sends him to markets for fresh, seasonal ingredients, which then give him ideas of what to create.