Jim Heaney

A Surprising Passion

After graduating from the UF MBA program in 1988 and working for two non-travel related companies, Jim Heaney was offered a position with Royal Caribbean Cruises. He had only one hesitation.

“I had never been on a cruise ship or even thought about it as a career,” Heaney said.

Being passionate about cruising was never expected, but it didn’t take long for his career plan to shift. He took the position with Royal Caribbean in 1989 and was immediately hooked by the cruise industry. In the 29 years since, Heaney has spent 26 of them working in the industry. He currently serves as the Chief Financial Officer of Carnival Cruise Line.

“Ever since starting at Royal Caribbean, my time in the leisure industry has been very purposeful,” Heaney said. “It’s more enjoyable and meaningful to work for a company that brings families together in a positive, happy environment.”

His first job served as an important career building block. Heaney learned the details of the operational side of the cruise industry. While outsiders see the industry as hosting vacationers on a ship and entertaining them, the planning behind the scenes is challenging. Companies hire crew from all over the world and line up the complex operations of a ship, which is constantly moving from one destination to another.

Five years into his position with Royal Caribbean, Heaney started to hear about Disney’s interest in entering the cruise industry. They were already packaging cruises with vacations to their Orlando theme parks, but Disney saw the potential to get into the cruise business on their own.

Once they committed to it, Heaney was one of the first 12 employees hired to work for Disney Cruise Line. They spent the early years creating a business plan, executing contracts with ship yards and building the operations from scratch. Then they watched Disney Cruise Line morph from a business plan developed on a spreadsheet to one of the most successful and innovative cruise lines in the industry.

“It was an incredible opportunity,” Heaney said. “I was able to really understand how things work. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a business from a clean sheet of paper from the ground up.”

After 17 years with Disney Cruise Line, Heaney assumed the position of the CFO position of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Blackstone, the largest private equity firm in the country, was multiple years into the SeaWorld acquisition from Anheuser Busch, and Heaney saw an opportunity to join a company that was in the leisure industry and potentially be involved in an IPO.

“Two years later, we were on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange ringing the opening bell,” Heaney said. “That’s one of the moments in your life that you strive for, but you’re never sure you’ll be able to achieve it.”

While it was an important milestone in Heaney’s career, the pull of the cruise industry remained. Heaney knew he would return to a cruise line at some point in his career, and when he was three years into his time with SeaWorld, Carnival Cruise Line was searching for a CFO.

“I thought through it and realized that you can’t pick the time opportunities present themselves in your career,” Heaney said. “Carnival wasn’t going to open a position based on my timeline. It happens when it happens.”

Serving as the company’s CFO today, he stays close to the commercial and ship operations and serves as a thought partner for the leadership team and brand president to ensure the business remains on track to achieve its objectives. Heaney also brings a balanced view on optimizing revenues, operating costs and capital expenditures to drive sustainable long term value creation for the company.

Financial modeling has always been an important skill in his positions, and it’s one that was sharpened during his time in the UF MBA program.

Growing up in Gainesville, Heaney chose to go to Texas Tech as an undergraduate to experience variety outside of the hometown he always knew. But he always knew he would return. After graduating from Texas Tech, Heaney returned to UF for his MBA before entering the work force.

“What it provided was a much broader and well-rounded business view beyond finance and accounting,” Heaney said of the UF MBA experience. “My career success happened because of the early access to computers and advanced financial modeling and viewing the company from an ownership/shareholder perspective. Developing interest and capability in that through the MBA program enabled me to add value early in my career and advance quickly.”