Up Front With Mary Ann Powell: CEO/General Manager Of Pacific Park
Posted May. 27, 2012, 11:00 pm
Brenton Garen / Editor-in-Chief
Mary Ann Powell has spent more than 15 years taking Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier, LA’s only admission-free amusement park, to new heights. As CEO, her sights set on improved profitability, streamlined operations, and exceptional guest service, she has led the way for 16 new amusement rides and attractions, complete midway games refurbishment, creation of a new “Family-Share” rides area, and the renovation and branding of the oceanfront food plaza.
Powell’s strategic vision and creative marketing skills have generated record setting EBITDA growth for the organization since she joined the team in 1997. She also implemented an industry leading customer service program for Park employees.
The Santa Monica Pier, home to Pacific Park, plays host to 6.5 million visitors annually.
In 1994, Powell was Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Paramount’s Great America in Santa Clara, CA. She was responsible for all advertising, public relations, promotions, and group sales. Paramount’s Great America enjoyed its largest single season attendance to date of 2.5 million visitors during Powell’s tenure.
For more than eight years, she served as Vice President of Corporate Marketing for Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament. Under Powell’s direction, the themed dinner attractions were successfully launched in Dallas, Texas; Meadowlands, N.J.; and Schaumburg, IL.
Prior to joining Medieval Times, she held the position of public relations manager for Six Flags Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, CA, from 1981 to 1983.
Powell currently serves on the board of directors and the executive committee of Special Olympics Southern California and the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce as vice chairman. She is past chairman of the board of the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau.
She has a Master of Arts degree in business communications from the University of La Verne and completed undergraduate work at the University of San Diego.
In her free time Powell enjoys water sports, various outdoor activities and traveling. She resides in Palos Verdes, with her family.
How different is Pacific Park today from when you first came on board?
When I arrived in the summer of 1997, the Park was new and the visitor experience needed attention and focus. That’s true of any new operation. The finer details need attention. Pacific Park has grown and improved substantially over the years. I knew the Park had great potential and with the right people, creative initiatives and hard work, we would grow into a healthy, thriving enterprise.
Today, the Park employs more than 400 team members and is an established favorite attraction for residents and tourists alike. I also knew we needed to be very active in the Santa Monica community. Over the years we have done so by giving back with time and resources. We have financially supported the Twilight Dance Series and annually host PALpalooza a charity event to assist Santa Monica PAL in raising money to maintain and develop youth programs. We also recently established a youth scholarship through PAL. We provide thousands of ride wristbands to numerous schools, churches, youth groups, and non-profit organizations each year. Our supporters and friends serve as a reminder of our resolve to promote and protect the Santa Monica Pier and to assure Pacific Park maintains itself as an integral part of its rich history.
What were some of the challenges you faced when implementing these changes?
Reorganization is hard under the best of circumstances. It impacts people’s lives. There’s no way around it. It was essential to assess and develop a strong team to lead the Park – people with shared values, loyalty, and the willingness to do what it takes to succeed. It took a year or two but a strong team was developed and many of those people still lead the Park today.
Santa Monica is unique and the Santa Monica Pier has its own challenges. Navigating through process, understanding the environment and stakeholder priorities while strengthening the Park’s business was often time consuming and challenging. I’m fortunate to have the tenacity to see issues through to a positive outcome.
What strategies would you say you’ve taken to achieve success with Pacific Park that other Santa Monica businesses could mirror to achieve positive results?
Running Pacific Park has always been very personal to me. At the outset, I knew to succeed we would have to be responsive to our guests, always keeping our eye on what they wanted and change accordingly. For us, safety is always our overriding priority in any decision we make. From there, I believe our employees are where it all starts. They are full of insight on whatever issue comes up. You have to listen to them, work alongside them and be responsive.
I make it a practice to personally respond to any guest concerns we may receive. It’s just good practice when running a service based business. Word of mouth is our strongest source of customers and we have to do everything in our power to keep it that way.
What are your short and long term goals for the future of Pacific Park?
I recently purchased the operating company of Pacific Park from the original investors. And while I have been the Park’s CEO for the past 15 years, owning the business is an exciting change for me. It obviously increases the stakes considerably.
For the near term, I want to make sure we do what we have always done, maintain Pacific Park’s stature as a premier attraction and assure the upcoming summer season is a success. We are currently completing numerous capital improvements as well as staff training and development in preparation for the summer. Once Memorial Day arrives, the Park is in full operation and we must be ready to service the summer crowds.
The Pier is in a transition right now with a recently appointed PRC Board and management structure. I am excited about this and look forward to actively participating in the upcoming process to define the future objectives of the Pier. Through the process it is my hope that Pacific Park plays a meaningful role in these efforts.
The Park is situated on just less than two acres and many days, due to space limitation, we simply cannot meet visitor demand. I sincerely hope that sometime in the future the Park can increase its public space so that our offerings can be enjoyed by more pier visitors, residents, and tourists alike.
The Chamber of Commerce honored you in 2011 with the Roy E. Naylor Lifetime Achievement Award for your many years of community involvement. How important do you think it is to support the community you work in?
Supporting the community you work in is essential. I genuinely appreciate how fortunate I am to be a part of such a wonderful, engaged, and special community like Santa Monica. There’s no place like it. The Park has grown over the years and now employs more than 400 people, which would not be the case without the mutual respect and support from the people in this community. We have built trust and relationships I personally cherish. That can never be taken for granted. It must continue to be nurtured everyday. I do believe you get what you give.
What do you consider to be your proudest accomplishments at Pacific Park?
I am very proud of my years at Pacific Park, but if I had to prioritize my proudest accomplishments, I would identify two specific areas of success. First, since the Park’s opening in 1996, we have maintained a stellar safety record. The dedicated team at the Park, from our maintenance crew, ride operators, managers, and others maintain our guest and employee safety as our top priority, always.
In addition to our safety record, I am very proud of the team that I have assembled, developed and maintained. From our senior management team to each and every employee that has discovered Pacific Park as a perfect first job, I truly enjoy watching people grow, learn, evolve and flourish. As one of Santa Monica’s largest youth employers, it is an honor and pleasure to lead a dynamic group each and every day.