Tom Mehrmann’s 10 Keys to Leadership
Half an hour before guests arrived at Marina Bay Sands’ Cassia Ballroom for the IAAPA Asia Expo 2023 Leadership Breakfast, Tom Mehrmann was standing outside the room encircled by more than a dozen young IAAPA Ambassadors, the volunteer interns who welcome guests and scan their badges.
Knowing that the ambassadors would be working during the event, Mehrmann, who is the president and chief operating officer of Universal Destinations and Experiences, Pacific Rim, did not want this future generation of industry leaders to miss out.
“Opportunity doesn’t make reservations,” he told them. “I have always believed you should seize the opportunities that are presented in life.”
Anyone who knows Mehrmann would not have been surprised by this piece of advice, nor by the fact that he took time to interact with the ambassadors. After all, throughout his impressive 46-year career, Merhmann has consistently embraced opportunities to grow and put his skills to the test.
In the process, Merhmann has demonstrated that he is authentic, genuine and a present leader—someone who is approachable, respected, and recognizable to frontline staff (except on those occasions during Halloween when he is wearing professional makeup and in costume).
Mehrmann started his career in the attractions industry as a grounds sweeper at Knotts Berry Farm. A quarter century later, he built on the lessons learned there—as well as at Six Flags and Warner Bros. Movie World Madrid—to transform Ocean Park Hong Kong and ensure its survival in the face of new competition from Hong Kong Disneyland. In September 2021, in the midst of a global pandemic, he opened a $7.7 billion theme park, the largest in the world at that point, Universal Studios Beijing.
Drawing on this experience, Mehrmann has drawn on 10 key principles:
1. Understand: To quote Stephen Covey, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Listen to team members, guests, and members of the community. “Team member satisfaction plus guest satisfaction equals fair and reasonable returns. Be a destination of choice and an employer of choice. That will take care of the bottom line,” Mehrmann says.
2. Value: What makes your business stand apart from the competition? Rather than compete directly, how can you make the competition irrelevant?
3. Measure: If you can measure it, you can manage it. Things that you think are subjective issues can in fact be made objective. You can measure them, set KPIs and make a difference in business results.
4. Plan: Ace your planning by anticipating, communicating, and executing.
5. Be Relevant: Know your customer and give them what they want—a concept that is leading Universal Parks & Resorts’ to create a year-round Halloween Horrors attraction in Las Vegas.
6. Control the Controllable: You can’t control the weather, but you can offer guests indoor entertainment when it is too hot or wet outside. Broken down into components, almost any challenge can ultimately be addressed. A corollary to this rule for when there are items in your attraction in plain view that you would prefer guests did not see: “If you can’t hide it, decorate it.”
7. Lead: Be present. Walk the park. Participate in your attraction’s activities as much as possible and catch people doing things right.
8. Disrupt: Create communications that capture the imagination and use new technologies and ideas to cut through the noise.
9. Be Genuine: Ask yourself, “What do you, as a company, stand for? How do you authentically and genuinely present yourself, your park, and your programming? Make a commitment to the community around you.
10. Aspire, Then Expect: Set aspirational goals. Once you achieve them, these aspirations will become everyday expectations. Then, start the cycle afresh with new aspirations.
- Books from Mehrmann’s Leadership Reading List:
“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey (1989)
“Blue Ocean Strategy” by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim (2004)
“The Art and Adventure of Leadership” by Warren Bennis, Steven Sample and Rob Ashgar (2015)
Editor’s Note: IAAPA News Hub writer Michael Switow, who wrote this article, also co-authored Tom Mehrmann’s 2018 book, “Taming the Mouse.” Proceeds from the sale of the book benefit the IAAPA Foundation and a scholarship fund at California State University Fullerton to assist the next generation of Hospitality and Tourism professionals.