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Top 10 career lessons from theme park industry Hall of Famers

November 15, 2016, 9:52 PM · ORLANDO — What are the lessons that a student or professional working her or his way into the theme park industry can learn from the most successful people in the business? Bob Rogers posed that question to four fellow IAAPA Hall of Famers this afternoon at the association's annual Attractions Expo.

Know your industry — "I can't tell you the number of times I've walked into a park and the general manager has said that a PR person will take [me] around," Tim O'Brien recalled. (O'Brien was inducted this morning as the 100th member — and first journalist — in the IAAPA Hall of Fame.) "As we are walking along, this person will say, 'That's our wooden roller coaster. That's the largest in the world,' No, it isn't. 'This steel coaster over here was built by...' No, it wasn't. I ended up knowing more about a lot of parks than their PR people did. They made fools of themselves because they wanted to impress the media. They came in straight out of college or an internship and they didn't know. But if I hadn't known, I would have made a fool of myself. So my best advice is to know what you are doing, and study hard."

Always be learning — "When Walt started Disneyland, he said he wanted a group of people hired who were eager, energetic and willing to learn," former Disney parks President Dick Nunis said. "You never stop learning. This industry is an unbelievable industry. My God, how it's grown." Nunis is a 2007 inductee.

Be willing to change — "We change so much," Europa Park founder Roland Mack said. "It's not the strongest and most intelligent who is going to survive. It's the one who is able to change." Mack also was inducted in the Hall of Fame this morning.

"When you think of Mack Rides, we built wagons for carnivals. Now we changed to the theme park industry."

Patient persistence — "When you get chewed out, don't worry about it," Nunis said. "Have the guts to express your opinion. If you are honest and sincere, and you think you know what you're talking about, then have the guts to fight for it. Be careful, though. Take three strikes. The boss is always right, so always make sure they're in a good mood when you take that third strike."

"Was I always right? No. But I had a good batting average. No one bats 1.000. But have a good batting average. So how do you get that batting average? You have to go up to bat a lot. So go up to bat every chance you get... but pick the right timing."

Focus — "Do the best job you can with the job you are given to do," Nunis said. "Those who look over the hill never climb the mountain."

Don't fear risk — "If you believe in something, you have to do it," Mack said. "I was a great believer of the European idea... to believe in this idea was a risk... when we started [Europa Park], the border was closed with France." But today, with the European Union opening borders across the continent, Europa Park greets a quarter of its visitors from France, Mack said. "We kept going with this idea, we kept spending, we kept expanding, and finally, we succeeded."

Irreverence — "I wish I would have known not to be so serious," O'Brien said of his younger self. "As soon as I started loosening up a little bit, and having fun and becoming that irreverent person... that's when I started getting good information and started having a lot of fun."

"Don't take yourself too seriously. Just take what you do seriously."

Reward your guests — "At Walt Disney World, the repeat visitation is fantastic," Nunis said. "And the one thing that people want today is more thrill attractions. I think you will see our Disney Imagineers come up with some great concepts with some great shows at Walt Disney World and throughout parks around the world. Because that's what guests are wanting today."

"Again, what it's all about — the theme park business is really about serving the guest."

Can the ego — "Don't be afraid to experiment with something, but if it doesn't work, don't let your ego stand in the way to say, 'I'm going to make this work, no matter what.' The best thing to do is to take your loss and go on with the next idea," Former Cedar Fair chairman Dick Kinzel said. "There's nothing wrong with having a bad idea. The wrong thing is not to say it's a bad idea." Kinzel was inducted in 2006.

Be prepared — "Nowadays, if something happens, someone's usually filmed it with their phone. If something happens, the world knows it, immediately," O'Brien said. "Management has to think on their feet and have to be prepared at all times for the worst thing to happen and for people to know it immediately."

Update: Let's add one more quote that extends that final point — "Never compromise on safety," Kinzel said. "If anyone — our seasonal employees or our full-time employees — saw something wrong, we shut the ride down and talked about it. We didn't talk about it and let the ride run. Safety can't be compromised."

More from IAAPA 2016:

Replies (6)

November 16, 2016 at 1:21 AM · AT THE BEGINNING, FOCUS ON OPERATIONS AND NOT DESIGN - At the entry level, the opportunities in operations are far more plentiful than they are in theme park design and development. Consider Joe Schott (Senior Vice President Experience Planning & Integration at Disney Parks & Resorts and former Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President Euro Disney). I worked with of Joe in 1982 when he was a Jungle cruise skipper. Learn how the attractions work and operate. Establish leadership qualities in the on-site day-to-day management. And compose focused professional goals for your ascension.
November 16, 2016 at 4:27 AM · I'm not sure what is gained by embarrassing the park's PR person. Even if they are wrong, you just smile.
November 16, 2016 at 8:02 AM · Tim wasn't advocating doing that. He was simply telling us that he often knows when inexperienced PR people in the theme park business don't know their stuff. And he was expressing the fear that every journalist has of being led astray by an ill-informed source.
November 16, 2016 at 3:45 PM · Be Prepared means understanding crisis communication and management and knowing ahead of time what your vulnerabilities are and how you will react if the worst happens. I was reminded of that earlier today reading about the layoffs at Alton Towers this week. Could they have handled last year's coaster crash better? Who knows. But it sure makes you think about the need to Be Prepared and know what you'll do - and say - in a crisis.
November 16, 2016 at 6:12 PM · "Those who look over the hill will never climb the mountain."

Wow. I'm really gonna have to remember that one.

November 16, 2016 at 9:24 PM · Can the ego — "Don't be afraid to experiment with something, but if it doesn't work, don't let your ego stand in the way to say, 'I'm going to make this work, no matter what.' The best thing to do is to take your loss and go on with the next idea," Former Cedar Fair chairman Dick Kinzel said.

Can he be hired by WDW? Really need somebody to ditch the Fast Pass Plus.

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