Accounting for the Cruise Life: Gisella Mazzilli

With more than fifteen years with Carnival Corporation, Gisella Mazzilli learned the intricacies of port operations and business development, setting the gold standard for finance and accounting.

Gisella Mazzilli, VP of Finance and
Accounting, Global Port and Destination Development, Carnival Corporation & plc (Photo Courtesy of Gort Productions)

Ever since she started saving her money in high school to visit Paris and learn French, Gisella Mazzilli has been passionate about traveling and seeing the world. So, it was a dream come true when she was able to join the world’s largest leisure travel company, Carnival Corporation & plc. A former auditor with KPMG, Mazzilli joined the company in corporate finance—now global accounting and reporting services—where she learned about external and internal reporting, planning, forecasting, and collaborating across departments and Carnival’s different brands. Seventeen years later, she leads accounting and finance within the Global Port and Destination Development Group, where she is responsible for overall accounting and reporting, financial planning and analysis, tax, legal, risk management and treasury functions, and ensuring compliance with policies and procedures for ports in Mexico, Turks and Caicos, Honduras, Dominican Republic, and Spain, as well as ongoing developments in other regions.

“When I started with Carnival, I had to relearn how to do my job since it was very different from being an auditor,” Mazzilli says. “I wasn’t shy about asking for help when I needed it. No one can know everything—and if you think you do, you’re already in trouble, as that attitude hinders your growth.”

She learned how to navigate the company’s extensive financial system, how to build a network of collaborative relationships, and process a great deal of data. She says the latter is like peeling an onion, one layer at a time. She was also mentored by the world’s foremost expert in port development and operations: her manager, Giora Israel. He helped broaden her perspective to a horizon beyond accounting, enabling her to understand the importance of balancing the different aspects of Carnival’s business.

“Giora taught me to be more flexible and how to balance business priories while still upholding our policies and procedures and maintaining full compliance across all disciplines in a very demanding environment,” Mazzilli says.

One of the most challenging parts of Mazzilli’s job is managing the complexities of port operations, which includes complying with different regulations and requirements in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean, as well as gathering information and reporting for sixteen entities that involve six different currencies. Her group also has to accommodate differences in cultural expectations and fully understand how business gets done from one jurisdiction to the next. For example, with Mexico’s electronic accounting regulations and electronic invoicing and payment requirements, every invoice and payment must be validated by software that is tied to the government, which adds an additional element that must be uniquely addressed.

To stay on top of such a wide range of requirements and a mix of dynamic tax and political environments that can change at the drop of a hat, Mazzilli works with local advisors in each jurisdiction as well as Carnival’s in-house global tax and legal departments. She also makes sure she sets realistic expectations with the local teams she oversees. That includes providing them with appropriate tools, such as timelines to highlight crucial deadlines well in advance. While these responsibilities require constant attention, she still dedicates herself to mentoring, a role she takes very seriously. “We yield great returns when we invest in our people,” she says.

Mazzilli believes in continuous improvement and has helped streamline much of her group’s accounting through automation. One of Mazzilli’s most significant upgrades was implementing the company’s global financial system at each of the ports she oversees. These locations service nine different Carnival brands; some within the company thought those ports were too small to handle the complex system. Her work has effectively aligned ports with Carnival’s global practices and has greatly improved controls, information accuracy, reliability, and timeliness.

“Implementing the Oracle system at each port and finding and developing the teams to use it were daunting tasks, but the results have been priceless,” Mazzilli says. She also helped implement a new planning and forecasting tool that provides real-time insight at the operational level, enables more efficient monitoring, and ensures proper expense tracking and classification.

Because finance and accounting touch so many different departments and require collaboration with various teams, Mazzilli stresses the importance of the network that she has carefully cultivated and meticulously maintains. She highlights reciprocity as an important element in that effort, and she responds to colleagues as quickly as possible when they need her assistance.

“You can push for what you need, but delivery is key in achieving your end result. You must always stay sensitive to the other person’s workload and priorities,” she says. “At the end of the day, we are one team navigating in one direction: the ongoing success of Carnival.”

Communication is a foundational priority for Mazzilli, who moved from Colombia to the United States with her mother and two siblings when she was thirteen years old. Her multilingual capabilities prove essential when it comes to building trust among teams and getting everyone on the same page at all times.

When asked about advice for anyone who might like to follow in her footsteps, Mazzilli has two suggestions. First, never waiver on your integrity or compromise your principles. Secondly, hold yourself to a high standard. “Aiming for good isn’t good enough,” she says. “Strive for perfection, and you’ll always achieve excellent results.”

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