10:36 AM

Alumnus Cruises to Top Spot at Atlas Ocean Voyages

James Rodriguez '93, CEO of Atlas Ocean VoyagesJames Rodriguez ‘93 is one of those entirely likable people who makes success look easy. Everything he tries or touches is a win. Most recently, the engaging salt-and-pepper-haired businessman with tortoise-shell glasses and a B.A. in Marketing Communications was named President and CEO of Atlas Ocean Voyages, a luxury expeditions cruise line.

The assignment is a perfect fit for Rodriguez. He has been serving as a leader in travel industry sales, marketing, operations, human resources and guest experience for 20 years. Rodriguez began his cruise industry career with Crystal Cruises, then joined Oceania Cruises in 2003 as Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing.  

Beginning His Journey to Leadership and a Servant Heart

How he began to acquire his leadership skills and discovered his passion for travel is at the heart of this story. It starts when Rodriguez was a marketing communications student at the University of St. Thomas-Houston.

He said, “The orientation program, Freshman Symposium, was very powerful for me. They allowed you to be yourself and express who you are. The inclusiveness of that environment was eye-opening for me.”

Rodriguez said he also mastered leadership skills at UST. For four years in a row, he was elected Program Council Chairman (a position that covered 100% of his tuition). The role had him working with Student Affairs to bring in entertainment and events. 

“I learned to work with budgets, build teams and get things accomplished. The other student and administration leaders helped me to develop and gave me a community. We did the Halloween dance, fall and spring formals, and brought comedians like Janeane Garofalo to campus.”

A faithful, service-minded Catholic, Rodriguez minored in Theology and Sociology. He gravitated to UST’s then new Office of Volunteer Opportunity, where he and another student, John Cox, spearheaded a program called HAPPEN. The acronym stood for Helping AIDS Patients Pursue Everyday Needs.

“We would work through Catholic Charities to deliver groceries to patients and help with whatever else was on our list.”

Taking His UST Experiences into the Business World

After graduation, the capable young man took his event coordinating experience and started his own company, ultimately expanding to three successful locations in Houston. However, his services grew to be primarily wedding-related, which was not his interest, so Rodriguez sold the company, accepting a position with UST as director of Alumni Relations. Before long, the prestigious Ernst and Young recruited him as an HR consultant. Within a year, something transformative happened, and Rodriguez has never looked back.

Finding His Passion and Going for It

“I went on a vacation cruise and discovered my true passion,” he said. “I loved travel so much I convinced my travel agent to hire me. A year later, in 2001, I was offered a position with Crystal Cruises. If you follow your passion, the job will follow from there. I believe that. And travel changes people’s lives. I get to provide people with the opportunity to open their hearts and minds to other cultures and make a better world.”

These days, Rodriguez commutes between his office in Fort Lauderdale and his home in Denver, where his family enjoys living in the foothills of the city. Their next excursion may be to Rodriguez’s favorite destination — Spain, along the Mediterranean.