Jack Buono, a retired shipping industry executive, issued a personal directive on the nature of leadership Friday as he officially became the 13th superintendent of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in a change-of-command ceremony.
The service academy has “navigated through turbulent waters over the past few years," Buono said. "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.”
Buono, a 1978 graduate of the academy, received thunderous applause from midshipmen, faculty and staff, and families of students gathered at the Kings Point campus after he took the commissioning oath from Maritime Administrator Mark H. Buzby.
Under naval tradition, the event is designed to reflect and accomplish the formal passing of responsibility, authority and accountability of command from one officer to another.
The new superintendent, at a media availability after the ceremony, said he will review USMMA's policies and procedures concerning sexual assault and sexual harassment — issues that have caused yearslong turmoil, including federal lawsuits, and brought implementation of stepped-up reforms.
“As you can imagine, there is a significant amount of information that I need to consider and that is absolutely one of them," Buono said. “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.”
Buono, 62, was named as the 75-year-old academy's superintendent earlier this month. Technically speaking, he took over Friday from Rear Adm. Susan L. Dunlap, who has been acting superintendent since October. But as superintendent he replaces Rear Adm. James A. Helis, who had led the service academy since 2012.
Officials said in May that Helis would leave the post to become special assistant to Buzby at the Maritime Administration, or MARAD, the agency in Washington that oversees the academy.
Buono was born in Brooklyn, and his family moved to Westbury when he was a child. He is a graduate of W. Tresper Clarke High School in the East Meadow school district.
After his graduation from USMMA, Buono worked his way up from a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed third mate to be an unlimited master mariner with ExxonMobil Corp.
In 1991, he transferred ashore and, after working in several management positions, was named president and CEO of SeaRiver Maritime Inc., an ExxonMobil shipping subsidiary. He retired in 2016 after 38 years with ExxonMobil and SeaRiver Maritime.
Helis presided over a period of renovation and angst at the academy, working to upgrade the school's buildings and infrastructure and to resolve concerns over its handling of sexual misconduct, harassment, bullying and coercion of both male and female students.
Reforms under 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's leadership released a five-year strategic plan that included fostering a "climate of respect" among its six priorities.