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Ouimet welcomes GateKeeper

Melissa Topey • May 10, 2013 at 3:24 PM

He's fallen in love with his first coaster. He calls it his "honors student."

In the first week that Cedar Point employees were allowed to ride the new coaster, GateKeeper, Ouimet treated himself to four rides. 

He tried the front, middle and the back of the coaster.

“Every seat has a different aspect to it,” he said.

He reluctantly revealed his favorite seat: front left.

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As Cedar Point's relatively new CEO and president, Ouimet loves his job. With a degree in accounting, he loves to live in a world of numbers. 

His career in the entertainment and hospitality industries, spanning 20 years, has taught him many valuable things, chief among them this: People have choices. They can take weekend getaways to Cedar Point, but there's a bevy of other parks to choose from.   

With tiered pricing plans and other special offerings, Ouimet is hoping thrill-seekers will narrow the field to just one — at least in this region. On the grand scale, he wants Cedar Fair's parks to be the destinations of choice, and he wants the company to be the investment of choice and the employer of choice.

When he talks to the company's unit-holders, Ouimet spends a great deal of time touting Cedar Fair's long-term growth strategies and strategic plan to pay down debt. He has attended more than 150 investor meetings in cities all across the country.

To be sure, Ouimet has been a hit with the company's unit-holders. 

Stacy Frole, Cedar Fair's director of investor relations, said unit price appreciation and distributions have skyrocketed about 150 percent at today's prices, ever since Ouimet joined the company less than two years ago.

In the next few years, Cedar Point should see more family rides, which are already on the drawing board. Ouimet declined to provide further details.

Beyond the ride offerings, Cedar Fair is also rolling out $60 million in improvements for employee housing and park hotels over the next three years. 

“That will begin after this season ends,” Ouimet said.

It's not entirely surprising Cedar Fair is investing in better housing for employees, as Ouimet stresses the importance of growing solid workers who provide guests with unforgettable experiences. Disney, Ouimet's former employer, is world-renowned for guest satisfaction, an asset that has long been attributed to employees delivering great service.  

First-time workers at Cedar Fair parks learn skills that last a lifetime — professionalism, time management, customer service, teamwork and leadership, Ouimet said. 

He wants to enhance summer work experiences with internships and leadership training. He has also lowered food prices in the employee cafeterias, knowing the workers have limited places to eat. 

Ouimet's commitment extends beyond the parks and employees. Local residents will be pleased to know Cedar Fair's headquarters, despite any speculation, will remain in the city where the company began.

“We have no intention of moving the headquarters," Ouimet said. "Sure, we have people working in Cincinnati and other areas, like you would see in any company that has operations all across the United States."

But Ohio is a good place to do business, he said, and he plans to add his voice to the conversation to make sure it gets even better. Before he makes a $100 million investment in both Cedar Point and King's Island in Cincinnati, he wants to ensure the state remains committed to the tourism industry.

“My experience in the tourism industry has shown me that we have an opportunity to help develop the next generation of leaders and drive additional job growth,” he said. “I want to partner with the state to help make this happen.”

Even as the top boss of an amusement park kingdom, he clearly wants his legacy to extend beyond roller coasters, rides and hotels. 

He wants to help create strong communities and strong leaders.   

“My intention of Cedar Fair is an investment in communities wherever we have a park," he said. “I grew up in an economically depressed area, growing up with my parents.” 

Those early years in Cooperstown, N.Y., left a lasting impression on him — it's where he developed his desire to help others. 

In this industry, you can do this by creating a strong, expansive business that grows in its need for talented employees. Quite often, that means taking an active role in creating young leaders in communities.

This past week, in cooperation with BGSU Firelands, Ouimet and his team created a program to help develop the area's upcoming leaders.

“I want to play a role in creating the leaders of 2020," Ouimet said. "They are here today.

"Someone invested in me," he said. "I want to give it back."


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