U.S. Merchant Marine Academy alumnus Jack Buono has become the school’s 13th superintendent.
Buono, 62, a 1978 graduate who had been president and chief executive officer of SeaRiver Maritime, an ExxonMobil shipping subsidiary, succeeded Rear Adm. James Helis at a change-of-command ceremony Nov. 9 at the Kings Point, N.Y., campus.
“As a Kings Point graduate who spent his entire career in maritime leadership roles, Mr. Buono will help educate and inspire the next generation of maritime cadets,” said U.S. Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby, USMMA Class of 1979, in making the announcement of the appointment. “He has impeccable credentials on the waterfront and, as an alumnus, fully understands the academy’s mission to provide its students with the highest caliber of training and education needed to lead afloat and ashore.”
After graduating from the academy, Buono worked his way up from third mate to unlimited master mariner with ExxonMobil. In 1991, he came ashore and rose through several management positions until he was named president and CEO of SeaRiver Maritime. He held that position until his retirement in 2016 after 38 years with ExxonMobil and SeaRiver.
The U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd) announced in May that Helis would be moving up to a top job at the agency, which among its duties oversees USMMA. Helis’ tenure at the 75-year-old academy was tumultuous. He worked to address longtime concerns about the school’s handling of allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying. Reforms instituted during his administration included training programs and the addition of a “restricted” reporting process that allows students to report incidents without triggering the involvement of law enforcement. In August, the academy released a five-year strategic plan aimed at fostering a “climate of respect” and established six priorities to accomplish that.
Helis also was under pressure to fix a deteriorating campus. After a federal report outlined $300 million in needed capital improvements, Kings Point received record funding to remedy crumbling infrastructure during the Obama administration. The superintendent oversaw renovations of piers, dormitories and other structures.
At the change-of-command ceremony presided over by Buzby, Buono said the academy has “navigated through turbulent waters over the past few years. Now hear this: Whether in regimental formation or in our classrooms or in athletic competition, leadership is not about standing taller than your shipmates. Leadership is about helping your shipmates stand taller than yourself. And any act of disrespect toward a shipmate is an act of disrespect toward the regiment.” His remarks were received with loud applause.
After the ceremony, the Brooklyn native told reporters, “Rest assured, coming into this job I know of the challenges I have ahead and I’m very excited about what we will do together to improve on an already magnificent institution.”
James Tobin, president of the USMMA Alumni Association & Foundation, called Buono “an inspired selection.” He said “few people know the intricacies of maritime policy like Jack Buono,” who “rose to the rank of captain at a young age. Superintendent Buono spent his career at the highest levels of the maritime industry, managing large and complex organizations and assignments. In addition to his commercial experience, he holds an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy where he served for 11 years in the Reserves.”
U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., past chairman of the academy’s Board of Visitors, said, “from all accounts (Buono) seems to be a popular choice and a qualified choice.” As a Kings Point alumnus, “he understands what has to be done,” King said.
Rear Adm. Susan Dunlap had been acting superintendent since October.