Jane Cooper is President and COO of Herschend Family Entertainment in Peachtree Corners, Georgia. She was the second woman to serve as chair of the IAAPA Board of Directors, and currently plays an influential role in the IAAPA Foundation.

Cooper began her career in the attractions industry with a summer job at one of Paramount’s theme parks in 1972. She stayed on at Paramount for over 25 years serving finally as president and CEO, where she led the company’s entertainment operations, including four of the top 30 theme parks in the United States, two international theme parks, and the award-winning Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton.

"I have always considered myself a business person rather than a business woman," she says. "I have learned an incredible amount from both men and women. I foster any talented individual that is willing to put in the time, energy and dedication required to succeed."


Thoughts on Women in the Industry

What is the most pressing issue facing women in the workplace today, and how can the attractions industry influence positive change?

The most pressing issue in the workplace today is not gender specific. We all struggle with time management and work/life balance issues. This is exacerbated by the access created by the exponential growth of technology.

How have you built your network of women in the industry?

By gravitating toward people who share my values, challenges, and different points of view. As I network with both men and women, I have learned the most from those who have challenged my thinking or have differing viewpoints from mine.

What is one piece of advice you’d like to convey to women starting their attractions careers?
Love what you do! Know that being successful and fulfilled in this industry requires a big commitment and a lot of hard work.

Creating Careers of Distinction

How do you invest in yourself as a leader?
Two keys for me: Listening and learning.

What is your most cherished work principle?

Your integrity is the most valuable asset you have. Don’t compromise it. (A close second: Treat everyone with respect and be kind.)

What do you consider your most significant career accomplishment?

I have been so fortunate. I have had an amazing career. I started as a salesclerk in a theme park as a summer job in high school and continued there in various new and challenging roles as I worked my way through college. 

I earned my BBA in accounting and was all set to pursue an accounting career. But I continued to be drawn to the attractions industry. 20 years later, I became the CEO of that same company. Through those years, the company was bought and sold twice, changed leadership, and focus multiple times. 

During my nine years as CEO, I am most proud of the fact that our parks maintained their focus on delivering a great guest experience and our people maintained their jobs and were able to grow, develop, and focus despite significant changes by the parent company.

What has had the greatest impact on your career?

I have had the opportunity to experience so many different people, cultures, locations, and ideas. Collectively, each one has played a part in who I am today. I have had highs and lows and, by the way, I would not trade any of them. Although I have learned more from the difficult times, I have certainly enjoyed the good times. My advice: Always raise your hand; and take a risk … you never know what you will find in the next adventure, but I guarantee you, you will learn and grow.

What has been the greatest challenge of your career?

The greatest challenge to me has always been the tremendous sense of responsibility I feel toward all those I impact … from our guests, to our team members, to our stakeholders, and to my own family. It is overwhelming at times. I overcome it by first surrounding myself with very smart and committed people and, beyond that, trying to take a deep breath and relax on occasion.

What was the greatest piece of career advice you ever received?
I have received lots of advice throughout my career, but those that stand out the most are:

1. Focus, Focus. Focus on the most important things, those that make the greatest impact.
2. Allow yourself time to think and reflect before you make a decision, if possible. It is amazing how sleeping on a decision gives real clarity. 
3. Always be respectful and kind. 
4. Always be honest and direct in communicating.

The Future of the Industry

Why did you join and choose to stay in the attractions business?
I loved the work, the challenge, the responsibility, the ability to make a difference, and the pace.

What makes you most passionate about the industry?
The people, the platform we provide for families to connect and spend quality time together, and helping associates at every level exceed their own expectations and realize their dreams.

What is your vision for the industry in the next 20 years?
To continue to provide a great guest experience that puts a smile on our guests’ faces. As our world continues to become more complicated and disconnected, people still need a place to recharge, relax, and connect. I believe our role in the world can grow in importance and relevance if we offer a quality experience at a good value.

​​Know a professional we should talk to? E-mail Prasana William, IAAPA manager, digital content and strategy.


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