Master of Business Administration, 1994
President, Herschend Family Entertainment,
Park Management Division, Atlanta
Expert Guidance | At Herschend, Jane Cooper oversees corporate growth potential and provides management for the company’s regional theme parks, water parks, public and private partnerships and other business developments. Its attractions include Dollywood, Stone Mountain Park, Silver Dollar City, The Showboat Branson Belle, Celebration City and Newport (Ky.) Aquarium.
Hard Work | Cooper started on the ground floor of Kings Island amusement park near Cincinnati and zoomed to the top floor. While in high school, she began working as a sales clerk at the park the year it opened. A few years later, she was chief executive officer of Paramount Parks, which owned Kings Island and several other parks. She says her fast track to success was simple: Hard work. “Young people today ask how you did it and what advice you have for them, and I say, ‘You really need to work hard. There’s not a lot of replacement for that.’ ”
Short Retirement | After 26 years with Paramount Parks, Cooper semi-retired to spend more time with her family. She also chaired the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. “After that, it was my intent to stay retired and find other things to do.” But she re-discovered that the amusement park business was a big part of her life. Herschend asked her to help with some projects. It then asked her to be president of the park management division. “I’ve been with them three years now and am pretty much right back in the middle of the park business. I think I decided through it all that I really do like the work.”
Fast-Paced Business | Cooper’s love of the amusement park industry began when she was a teenager at Kings Island. “I think what I liked about it was that it is very fast paced, and at a very young age they gave us a fair amount of responsibility. That’s what really drew me to it.” Cooper continued working summers at Kings Island while attending the University of Cincinnati. “I became a supervisor my second season and made a fair amount of money. I almost paid for college on my own because I worked a lot of hours. I went to college to become a tax accountant, if you can believe that, but when I graduated, Kings Island offered me a full-time job. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll try this for a year and see how it goes.’ It took me 25 years to leave.”
Clerk to CEO | After working a couple of years as a buyer in the merchandise department at Kings Island, the park’s owners transferred Cooper to Great America Park in San Jose, Calif. As retail director, she was in charge of food and merchandise. Two years later, she was promoted to general manager of the facility. When the company was sold to Paramount Communications, Cooper moved to Charlotte, N.C., where she became president of Paramount Parks and then chief executive officer.
Education Volunteer | Cooper also makes time to volunteer to help improve education. She serves on the board of trustees at Central Piedmont Community College, one of the biggest community colleges in America. “I am really passionate about education, and that’s how I volunteer my time. To those of us who have been successful, we have an obligation to continue to nurture the younger generation and give them the benefit of our experience. We need to contribute in any way we can to those great institutions that helped us get where we are.”