2017 IAAPA Attractions Expo Recap - Hall of Fame Panel

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FROM LEFT: Tom Williams, Tim O'Brien, Dick Knoebel, Pamela Landwirth.

IAAPA Hall of Famers Offer Words of Wisdom

by James Careless

There is no substitute for experience. Thus, the IAAPA Hall of Fame Panel at IAAPA Attractions Expo is always a fountain of wisdom.

On hand to share their knowledge were three IAAPA Hall of Famers: Dick Knoebel (inducted 2014), president/owner of Knoebels Grove Amusement Resort; Tom Williams (inducted 2015), chairman and CEO of Universal Parks & Resorts; and Pamela Landwirth (inducted 2017), president and CEO of Give Kids The World (GKTW). Funworld contributor Tim O’Brien, who was inducted into the IAAPA Hall of Fame in 2016, moderated the event.

When asked for advice on how park managers can further their careers and succeed as leaders, Knoebel advised attendees “to try and work every job in the park”—from being a sweeper to dipping ice cream and running rides. “You can’t understand a person’s job until you’ve walked in their shoes,” said Knoebel. “When you have walked in all of the shoes, you have an opportunity to make the park better.”

Williams emphasized he believed in a simple but true philosophy: “Put team members first.” 

Like Knoebel, Williams endorses working in the various jobs required to run a theme park to gain a reality-based understanding of “what team members have to accept every day.” He added that it is vital to give team members the tools and support they need to do their jobs well, from “properly fitting uniforms and adequate training” to the right props for the park’s entertainers.

O’Brien asked Landwirth if working for a for-profit company like Walt Disney Parks and Resorts first helped her in running a nonprofit like GKTW. Her answer was a resounding yes. “We have to run a nonprofit like a business for it to succeed in achieving its goals,” she said.

To help seriously ill children fulfill their wishes, Landwirth manages 180 staff members and a whopping 18,000 volunteers. Queried by O’Brien if she ever had volunteers managing other volunteers, Landwirth laughed, said, “No,” and then added, “We tried that once. We’re not doing that again!”

The IAAPA Hall of Famers also discussed the trials they have faced and the successes they achieved in their careers. For instance, Williams explained how much Harry Potter-themed attractions have boosted Universal’s bottom line: “We know we’ve got lightning in a bottle.”

Asked for their best theme park leadership advice, Landwirth shared what her father told her: “If you’re making everyone happy, you’re not doing your job.” For Knoebel, it is never asking “my staff to do anything that I won’t do myself.” And for Williams, it is his belief that “if you don’t put team members first, you’re making a colossal mistake.”