By Beth Robertson

Gary Story, President, Chief Operating Officer, and Director of
Six Flags, Inc., since 1994, will soon kick off his year as IAAPA chairman.

Gary Story’s lifelong devotion and commitment to the amusement industry are evident in the goals for his year as chairman. “I’m looking to promote the industry and all its attributes to the business community and the general public,” he says, “to ensure that our extraordinary safety record is known and will ultimately speak for itself.”

Story was practically raised in theme parks. In addition to attending them, he fantasized about building and operating them. As a boy, he and a friend spent hours building cardboard cities out of used boxes. Not afraid to start at the bottom, Story began his career cleaning up after people at Six Flags in St. Louis. This teenage theme park tutelage was the first of many jobs during the next 10 years. It was at Six Flags St. Louis that he would apply the tenets of his University of Missouri business education to the theme park world.

Even into adulthood, theme parks remained a backdrop to his life. He went to work in concessions at Mexico’s Reina Adventura, where he met his wife, Lorena (“I was working concessions, and she was working the midway at the game Cat Rack.”), then later in Sydney, Australia’s Luna Park as general manager. It should be no surprise to his professors, or to his family, that he’s where he is now—in an executive office on the grounds of the Frontier City theme park in Oklahoma City.

His office is like that of any high-profile entrepreneur, except that it has a roller coaster in the background and countless amusement park and carnival artifacts stacked high on shelves. While he is ready to take on his impending role as chairman in addition to his demanding post at Six Flags, he has given a great deal of thought to the role of the IAAPA Board of Directors and its leadership.

“The pendulum has to be in the right place with our association, staff responsibilities, and what the board leadership should be,” he explains. “Sometimes the balance tends to swing out of place. We have a fine staff led by very capable VPs who do their job well. Our role as a board should be more guidance and not necessarily direct, hands-on, day-to-day management. “My role should not overstep the responsibility that belongs to the professional staff and the organization,” he says.

One area where Story would like to provide his support and guidance is waterparks. The Association’s Waterpark Committee and member facilities have provided a strong partnership with this growing industry segment. Waterparks make up a significant portion of the membership, and IAAPA goes to great lengths to accommodate them at trade shows and in its publications.
Story senses an exceptional opportunity for IAAPA to become more involved with this business sector.

We represent almost all the major waterpark facilities in the business today, and strengthening our outreach to them is very important,” he says. Additionally, he would like to strengthen support for museums, zoos, and aquariums. “I think the attractions side of our industry needs to find sources of income and funding that come from thinking outside the box,” he says.

“Attractions such as these are looking for new revenue streams to fund their operations. IAAPA has the opportunity to become more relevant than ever.” Ensuring the industry’s extraordinary safety record is known is a natural role for Story. For the past year, he has been at the forefront of this controversy. When the issue that speed and sharp turns of roller coasters posed a serious health risk to the riders arose, Six Flags Theme Parks enlisted the help of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons to conduct an independent study. It was a great day for the industry and park visitors when three independent research studies, one commissioned by the federal government, reported that rides did not pose the risk of brain injury.

Story will continue to tackle skepticism about the safety of fixed site amusement parks. And who better to tackle the roller issue? He’s ridden more than 400 of them (“I lost track somewhere around 450,” he says). He and his three children explore parks all over the country just to try out the new rides.

“We have no better friend than our own statistics that consistently show the incredible safety record we’ve enjoyed over the years,” Story says. “The industry has always been proactive about operating safe parks.

“I think as long as there’s a public debate as to whether or not parks are adequately regulated in the current media climate, it’s an issue that will continually have to be addressed.” Story has been involved nationally and in his local community with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, The Boy Scouts of America, and UNICEF. He would like to see IAAPA maximize its efforts in supporting its designated charities, Give Kids The World, UNICEF, and IIPT.

For years, amusement parks have striven to be more community oriented by partnering with charity organizations and leveraging the relationship via promotions and marketing. As an example, two years ago, UNICEF partnered with theme parks to raise money for the fund. Employees donated their pay for the day, and the proceeds from food and tickets went toward the cause. Additionally, each year thousands of items are donated from exhibitors at the Convention and Trade show to Give Kids The World Village, but the giving cannot be limited to just the Show. The children need us and Story is committed to helping them.

Story is ready to accept IAAPA’s gavel in November. He is excited to take on his new post and tackle some hard issues, though he is certain it will be a smooth ride. “I have the utmost confidence in Clark,” Story says. “With Clark at IAAPA’s helm, it will make the waters smooth for me.”

With Story’s strong goals and ambitions for the organization it will be an exciting year for IAAPA.