Gina Claassen

Oct 14, 2016, 17:28 PM

Jodi Helmer

Gina ClaassenGina Claassen sees a lot of similarities between playing for her college basketball team and her role as corporate safety director for Herschend Family Entertainment: It takes a game plan, a strong team, a commitment to safety and a focus on having fun to make things work.

“A lot of the values and characteristics I have today, I learned while being a team sport athlete,” she says. Her college activities also influenced her career choice. A summer job at Silver Dollar City while in college opened her eyes to the opportunities in the theme park industry. 

Claassen joined HFE’s corporate team in 2012. As corporate safety director, she is a member of the team responsible for the safety of all of the properties in the HFE portfolio, including theme parks, water parks, aquariums, attractions, dinner shows and lodging.

Working alongside property safety leaders, Claassen directs the day-to-day safety program at HFE while ensuring compliance from all departments. She’s also responsible for creating long-term plans to enhance the company’s safety program. 

“I love the variety and diversity of our properties,” she says. “And I love being a part of our team. We have great talent.  More often, I find myself in learning opportunities than teaching opportunities.” 

Claassen has learned a lot in her 18 years at HFE. In her roles, which have included team member, lifeguard, attractions manager, project manager and safety auditor, she’s had the opportunity to learn from and be mentored by some of the best and most genuine leaders in the industry.  She realized her passion for the company and the industry early on and changed her college major to entertainment management.  She also met her husband in her first year with HFE!

“My co-workers became friends and family,” she says.

Claassen also made valuable connections through IAAPA’s Ambassador Program. She started participating in the program in 2001 and went on to lead it for five years, assisting in the coordination of association events like leadership conferences and board meetings. Currently, Claassen is a member of the Facility Operations Committee and the chair of the Exhibitor Awards Committee.

“The Ambassador Program is certainly near and dear to my heart,” she says. “I still stay in contact with those I shared the program with years ago. The Ambassador program allows for an avenue to give back to IAAPA, as I enjoy meeting and mentoring those who join the program every year.”

“I believe that we can only be as good as the industry is as a whole and therefore we all must work together to be better,” Claassen adds.  “IAAPA provides a platform to be able to work together and learn from one another.  The networking and educational opportunities allow for relationship building and gaining first-hand knowledge of what’s happening in the industry.”

While she’s had a lot of fun opening and working rides and attractions at the park level, Claassen takes her role seriously, noting that guests and employees have an expectation of safety when they go to the parks and other HFE properties. She admits that their objective, preventing accidents, sounds simple but it’s a significant challenge. And those challenges are what she likes most about her job.

“I personally thrive and am motivated by a challenge,” she says. “I am so proud that our team works tirelessly to grow the safety program so that we meet the expectations of our 10,000 employees and thousands of guests who visit our properties daily.”