Plying the world's oceans may seem an odd start for someone who now oversees data centre planning at one of the world's financial powerhouses, but that's precisely Jim Carney's professional pedigree.

"Let's just say that I've got a pretty interesting and diverse background," says Carney, who is executive vice president of data centre planning at Citigroup.

Carney spent the first five years of his career working as a marine engineer on commercial oceangoing ships, handling propulsion, power, water and other critical systems. He learned the ropes at the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York.

Talk about baptism by fire. "When you're in the middle of the ocean, you have to be independent-minded because, clearly, you can't get vendor support," Carney says. "That makes you reliant on your skills and gives you the competence for handling anything."

From the city that works …

With a wedding approaching, Carney left marine engineering for dry land. This time, the native New Yorker didn't stray too far from home. He became an engineer for Con Edison, the Big Apple-based public utility.

Carney stayed at Con Edison for nine years, honing his electrical engineering skills and acquiring an inside knowledge of how utilities operate. During this period, Carney also gained his footing in finance, earning an MBA from Baruch College at night.

Next came the opportunity to focus on uptime and critical infrastructure — in TV land. For seven years, Carney was head of engineering for ABC's North American TV operations. He handled the electrical and property infrastructure for ABC TV in New York, Washington and, to some degree, California, he says.

"TV has a fungible product — commercials. If you lose a commercial, you lose revenue. So the concept of uptime and reliability, and how I had to deal with those from an engineering perspective, were really enforced there," Carney says.

… to the Citi that never sleeps

After seven years, Carney was ready for a new challenge — and found it at Citi. In 2000, he joined the company's property management operation, overseeing the facilities infrastructure and people aspects of a diverse building portfolio, including seven high-rises and four data centres, in the New York metro area. "I quickly learned that the most intense work focused on the data centres and the technology organization," he recalls.

When Citi lost a data centre on 11 September, 2001, the risk associated with housing such facilities in international business hubs became all too apparent. "At the time," Carney says, "I could see probably 70% of our data centre footprint in North America from the top of my building in Manhattan."