Six Flags Fiesta Texas president keeps the rides running

May 21, 2018 GMT

Jeffrey Siebert used to pretend he had an amusement park in the backyard of his childhood home near Cleveland. Now, he runs one.

The future park president of Six Flags Fiesta Texas would “go through wagons like crazy” because he would build hills in the backyard and run the wagons over them so many times they would just fall apart, he said. Siebert’s parents eventually paid for him to become a member of the nonprofit group American Coaster Enthusiasts.

Siebert’s enthusiasm for the theme park industry led him to work for the marketing team for the now-defunct Americana Amusement Park in Monroe, Ohio, after graduating from the University of Cincinnati with a bachelor’s degree in electronic media.

The Six Flags executive’s 24-year career took him through marketing departments for the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks hockey team and Paramount’s Kings Island in Ohio. Prior to landing at Fiesta Texas’ marketing team in 2012, Siebert spent seven years at Schlitterbahn Waterparks & Resorts, where he left as corporate director of marketing and sales.

Siebert oversees about 3,000 employees at the San Antonio park, which recently unveiled the Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster, the first roller coaster to take its theme from the iconic DC Comics character.

Siebert sat down with the Express-News on May 14, a week before Memorial Day Weekend and the kickoff to the summer tourism season. Here’s an edited transcript of the interview.

Q: How would you say coming from the marketing side prepared you to be park president?

A: Because what we do is all about our guests, and it really is what are our guests saying, and what do our guests want, and how do we convert that information and analysis into what you see as a world-class theme park? On the communication side and the marketing side, you’re really looking at all the different ways of how is the business performing, how is the business running, and then it helps you predict what changes you need to make for the future to keep the excitement.

Q: Out of Six Flags’ 23 parks, how did Fiesta Texas land the Wonder Woman coaster?

A: Well, there’s a whole variety of things. One is how has the park performed in the past when delivering these types of attractions, and because of our track record of building world’s-first attractions, delivering upon world’s-first attractions, making sure that they’re spectacular, and more importantly, our guests actually like them and respond to them, that all helps in making the decision of where does the next exciting innovation go.

Like I said with Batman: The Ride, which, when it opened, was the world’s first 4-D free fly coaster (a type of roller coaster that spins riders independently of the orientation of the track) of its kind in the world. Quickly, right after that, with our Thunder Rapids, the rocket blast water coaster, and then this year with Wonder Woman. We’ve had a great track record of delivering these types of experiences, and our guests love them.

Q: Have you noticed any shift in consumers’ expectations over the past, say, five years, especially among millennials?

A: Truly, every single day that we are open, we are doing all different types of research projects to see what our guests want, what their desires are in the changing economy, and the changing guests, and the changing response, and the changing climate.

The number one thing that we do is listen, because our guests are telling us what they want and what they’re looking forward to, and those are things we’re always looking at testing, everything from style of shows to the integration of virtual reality on our rides and attractions that we’ve done. We had a dark ride for many, many years, which was a Scooby-Doo themed attraction. After 15 years, Scooby solved the mystery. So, we’re glad that Scooby was with us for 15 years, but now it’s time for a new dark ride adventure. So we did research with our guests, and of all the different concepts that you can test for what this new type of ride experience should be, from haunted house, dinosaurs, you name it.

By far, the number one concept was pirates, so that’s why our new dark ride that we’re unveiling later this summer is called Pirates of the Deep Sea, which will be a fun, broad family pirate battle experience, unlike anything that we’ve done in the park before. But that’s all based on research. It’s all based on talking with our guests and finding out what they want us to do, and then what’s the best way for us to execute that and bring it to life.

Q: Tourism officials wonder whether the political climate or the decline of the Mexican peso are having an impact on San Antonio’s tourism economy. Have you noticed fewer visitors coming from Mexico?

A: When it comes to the business dynamics, the markets, as far as who is coming from where, are always in fluctuation. In our marketing team, one of the core jobs that they do is look to see how the markets are performing and what adjustments that we need to make. Sometimes markets are up, sometimes markets are down, but typically they yin and yang. But it’s traditionally a positive momentum overall. Although some markets may be performing lesser than they do historically, others are up and overcompensating for the loss of others.

Q: As a former Schlitterbahn employee, what’s your takeaway on what’s happening over there? (The New Braunfels company and several employees, including co-owner Jeff Henry, have been indicted on charges in connection with the Aug. 2016 death of a 10-year-old boy on a water slide at its Kansas park.)

A: Well, that’s really a great question for those guys because I haven’t worked for Schlitterbahn in quite a few years. I’m sure they’d be more than happy to offer whatever information they can.

Q: When another park goes through something like that, does that spark any sort of reassessment in terms of safety?

A: Well, when it comes to our competitors, we want all of them to perform well. We want all of them to be safe. The high tide really does lift all ships. So it’s in our best interest that everyone in the market and throughout the country and the world operates in a very high and safe standard.

Q: Obviously you’ve been successful to get here. But have you ever had a project you worked hard on but it just bombed? If so, how did you bounce back from it and what lessons did you learn?

A: Because we are innovating, there’s no doubt there’s opportunities where things don’t work out the way that you want. We, as a park team, use the term “fail fast.” That it is OK to try new things. It’s not working out, let’s acknowledge it, let’s move on and try to move forward as best we can, as quickly as we can.

A few years ago, we tried a new Christian concert series at the park that really didn’t work out very well. With that third party promoter, it just wasn’t delivering as everyone had hoped, as far as the size and scope of what it was. So we acknowledged that it probably wasn’t the best for either of us and just moved on quickly.

Q: Have you ever had to fire someone directly or lay off employees? If so, how did you handle it and what did it feel like?

A: You come to a realization specifically the team member isn’t performing to the level you had hoped, or they’re just not able to move forward and rise to the occasion. Because there’s no doubt what we’ve done in the past is not necessarily what we’re gonna do in the future.

In some cases, it really is best for the team member because the team member becomes frustrated, they become disappointed in their performance, they become disappointed in their reviews. They know themselves that this is probably not the best position for them. And many of those counterparts that I’ve spoken with over the years, they’ve found new opportunities and they’re doing something that they truly love and is more at the pace that they want or offers a different lifestyle that they want. It really was a win-win for both parties. It’s not the most fun to do, but usually it becomes something that they really foresee as a benefit in the long term.

Q: What do you look for when you’re interviewing people?

A: For us, it really is about personality because of the park itself and our team, and again, our greatest asset really is talking with each other and our guests. So we wanna make sure those folks that we work with really do have a good and fun dynamic personality to interact with each other. We are open long hours, all summer long, around the clock and rain and thunderstorms and cold conditions. So you want someone that really is even keel, has a great personality and can really help be a part of our team and our family because again, we wanna make sure those interactions are always very positive, even under stressful situations.

Q: How would you describe your management style?

A: I like to listen to our team when it comes to what they’re looking for and what they want to do. So, in some ways I’m pace-setting when it comes to listening to our guests and our team, and then reacting to what they’re trying to accomplish, in many ways. One of the things I’ve tried to do with our team is truly listening to see what is the root cause, or what is the obstacle or challenge, and then hit it head on. How do we do it in a very positive, energetic and exciting way?

Q: Where do you see the industry headed in five years, 10 years, 20 years?

A: Well, what I can share is that we are a company in a park that’s truly built on innovation. So, when we’re working on plans, we will actually leave slots that just read “new innovation.” Many years ago, we would have never predicted that we’d be debuting a world’s-first single-rail coaster, but it’s those types of innovations that become available you want to make sure that you can really take advantage of.

Virtual reality is another great example. A few years ago, our parkshelped pioneer and lead the world when it came to integration of virtual reality concepts on roller coasters and other thrill rides. So, as we look to the future, it’s really working with our suppliers and manufacturers to what our company is truly known for. When you think of Six Flags, you think of exciting, dynamic thrill rides, and truly, there’s no doubt that the best and most exciting thrills are still yet to come.

Joshua Fechter is a San Antonio Express-News staff writer. Read more of his stories here. | jfechter@express-news.net | Twitter: @JFreports