Los Angeles Times
A thrilling ride to the top
She started flipping burgers. Now she’s the boss at Six Flags Magic Mountain.
The gig: The Bonnie Weber is president of Six Flags Magic Mountain, the Valencia theme park that calls itself the “Thrill Capital of the World.” With 19 roller coasters, Magic Mountain has more coasters than any single park in the country. Weber oversees 3,000 employees in a 250-acre facility that includes a water park, Hurricane Harbor. Every penny counts: Weber doesn’t call herself superstitious, but in her daily strolls through Magic Mountain she makes a point of picking up any penny off the ground that has Abraham Lincoln’s head facing up.
If the penny is face down, she flips it over and leaves it for the next person to find. It’s about creating a positive outlook for herself. “You have to believe in positivity,” she said. Starting at the bottom: Weber was a 16-year-old high school student when she started working a summer job at Magic Mountain, flipping burgers at one of the park’s fast-food joints. It was her fallback job after failing to land a retail gig in the San Fernando Valley. She stayed at the park while attending college at Cal State Northridge. By that time, she had been promoted to managing half of the park’s food operations. Weber’s career goal was to go into marketing. She left the park for brief stints to work in advertising and marketing, but Magic Mountain kept calling her back.
“I never thought it would be a lifelong career, and here I am close to 30 years later,” she said. “It’s something that just gets in your blood.” Theme park nerd: Weber has no problem getting on any of the park’s rides, including the most extreme, G-force pulling, upsidedown twisting, neck-snapping coasters. “I get a rush from jumping on a coaster,” she said. “I cannot wait to see and play on a new attraction.” “The opportunity of a lifetime”: overseeing the consumer products division during the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Orlando in Florida. In 2010, the chief executive of Six Flags Entertainment Corp., the parent company of Magic Mountain, called to offer Weber the job of president of Magic Mountain. She was torn between her marketing career or becoming top boss at the place where she started. “I told myself, ‘Are you kidding, Bonnie?’ It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I couldn’t pass it up.” No “Yes people”: During her first meeting at Magic Mountain, Weber told her management team to feel free to disagree with her. “If everybody agrees with me, then the answer must be wrong,” she said. “No ‘Yes people.’ ” Her management style relies on delegating responsibility to trusted workers. “I believe in the people that report to me,” she said. “The more [responsibility] you give people, the more they thrive.” Competing with giants: $500 million on a Harry Potter attraction, and Disneyland is spending an estimated $1 billion on a Star Wars land expansion to open in 2019. Weber can’t match the budget of her competitors, but she sees her park as serving a niche audience of preteens, teens and young adults who love adrenaline-pumping rides. “I’d put this park up against any park in the country,” she said. A destination dream: Most visitors to Magic Mountain live nearby or are visiting from within California or adjacent states. Weber said she can envision a future when Magic Mountain becomes a destination resort, with an adjoining hotel, to draw nationwide visitors and foreign travelers to stay for multiple days. After all, Magic Mountain is next to enough open land to accommodate an expansion. “There is nothing to say that we wouldn’t one day be a destination all by ourselves,” she said. Crisis management: A fire sparked by a welder engulfed part of the Colossus wooden roller coaster in 2014. That same year, a tree branch fell on the tracks of the Ninja coaster, stranding 22 riders for two hours. Although she declined to comment on any particular emergency, Weber said her first thought in a crisis is to check on the safety of guests and employees. She said she’s anxious at first but then “I kick into a certain mode.” Weber said she calls her directors and her head of publicity to find out the status of an emergency before moving ahead with a plan. “It’s not the most fun part of the job,” she said. The next big thing: The park’s newest attraction, opening this summer, will use 3-D technology, motion simulation vehicles and interactive laser weapons to fight alongside DC comic superheroes, including Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. The park declined to disclose the budget for the attraction, called the Justice League: Battle for Metropolis. “It’s a very elaborate, high-end, new attraction that is sure to blow Southern California away,” Weber said. Family ties: Weber has two daughters who routinely visit the park, especially during the park’s Halloween and Christmas events. One daughter took a job at the park several summers ago. But Weber is not pushing either into a career in the theme park industry. “Whether it’s president of the United States or president of Six Flags, I want my girls to be happy and follow their dreams,” she said. Silver badges: When Weber was a teenager, flipping burgers at Magic Mountain, she said she was intimidated by staffers who wore white or silver badges, which signified they were supervisors or managers. (Teenage workers wear yellow or orange badges at Magic Mountain.) Now that she’s president and dons a silver badge, Weber said she tries to chat up and joke with all employees to show them they can feel free to talk to her about anything. “I tell them, ‘I started out like you. One day you could be park president too,’ ” she said. “It usually leads to great conversations.”