Women in the Industry - November 2018


Love What You Do

Herschend Family Entertainment’s Gina Claassen on cultivating a career in the industry

by Prasana William

Like many in the industry, Gina Claassen, ICAE, thought she was just signing up for a summer job at Silver Dollar City, but the joy of running a theme park soon became her passion. She joined the IAAPA Ambassador Program in 2001. She would go on to become the program’s coordinator and discover her place in the industry while working at IAAPA Attractions Expo. “I had no idea how big the industry was until I saw the show for the first time,” she says. “[It was there] I developed this passion for training, which has ultimately evolved into a much bigger passion for safety in the industry.”

Now corporate safety director at Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE), Claassen’s career holds a number of keys to creating and growing a satisfying, and successful, life in the industry:

Find a Niche

“I love what I do, and that’s what got me started and hooked me in,” Claassen says of her life in the attractions industry. While working on opening new attractions at Silver Dollar City, she noticed an opportunity. Though technical training on operating and maintaining the attractions was thorough, the guest-facing team members needed training specific to their responsibilities and needs. Claassen began training those team members, and soon every time a new ride opened at Silver Dollar City, she was on the team. This niche made her a vital operations member and also supported her passion for training. 

Collect a Variety of Mentors

“Mentors come in all shapes and sizes and when you least expect it,” she says. “I have mentors who are not in the industry whatsoever, so they can take a very open perspective of things and tell me how it is outside looking in. I have mentors who are outside the company but in the industry, so they can give me an industry perspective though they may not understand the HFE perspective. Then, of course, there are internal mentors, too. You’ve got to [cultivate] a well-rounded group so you can get different perspectives. When I look back, I really appreciate the varying perspectives individual mentors are able to give me.”

Be Available

Claassen sees the need to mentor younger women in the industry but is excited by the talent moving up the ranks in general. She takes the time to be present with young professionals at HFE and also where other up-and-comers are, like IAAPA and ASTM International events for young professionals. She makes herself available just as her mentors have.

Embrace the Right Culture

Claassen credits the culture of HFE, the company where she has spent her entire career, for fostering an environment that is welcoming for those beginning their careers, as well as for more experienced leaders. “I think our culture as a whole is about treating others the way they’d want to be treated. We live and die by that every day,” she says. “We all have a desire to be respected and trusted, to grow and be listened to, and I think we do a great job of doing that within this company itself.”

Learn more about Gina Claassen’s approach to leadership and career online at www.IAAPA.org/WomenLeaders.