Marshall’s ‘King of Coasters’ Jason McClure enjoys a life upside down, inside out and soaring hundreds of feet in the air
Imagine, if you will, a stressful day at your job.
Maybe it is one too many meetings. Perhaps a coworker, or worse, your boss is riding you on a project. Maybe you are dreading that late afternoon conference call. What do you do?
For most of us, we get up and take a walk. We binge on some coffee and a delicious snack. Or, perhaps, we let out a little yell in the safety of our office.
Not Jason McClure.
For McClure, a 1992 graduate of Marshall University, he simply gets up from his desk, walks outside, and rides one of 17 different roller-coasters to relieve stress. Such is life for Marshall’s resident “King of Coasters.”
McClure, who graduated with a degree in accounting from the College of Business, is the Vice President and General Manager at Cedar Point located on the shores of Lake Erie in Sandusky, Ohio. Known internationally as the Roller-Coaster Capital of the World, McClure revels in the opportunity to work daily with guests from around the world and watch the enjoyment of children as they ride that first big ride, splash around in Cedar Point’s water park, or take in one of the park’s many shows and attractions.
Of course, having the opportunity to be the first on a new ride, or take in every single roller-coaster in the park doesn’t hurt either. Instead, we will let McClure tell you more about his daily grind at one of America’s largest theme parks in this edition of Alumni Spotlight.
HERD HEAVEN: Tell us a little about yourself?
JASON MCCLURE: I grew up in Malden, West Virginia, just east of Charleston and graduated from DuPont High School in Belle, West Virginia. I went to Marshall from the fall of 1988 through spring of 1992 and graduated from the College of Business with a major in accounting.
HH: Who was your favorite professor at Marshall?
JM: I had lots of great professors while attending Marshall. Professor Charlie Webb was my favorite accounting professor. He was practical and provided real-world application of the classwork. What I learned in his classes could easily be applied throughout my career.
HH: Tell us one of your favorite memories from your time here at Marshall?
JM: I received a great education at Marshall! It was a wonderful college experience. I have lots of great memories made on campus and around Huntington. A couple of great sports memories while I was there included a basketball win over WVU in the Henderson Center, opening the new football stadium and some great football playoff runs. However, the best memory has to be meeting my wife Kim on a blind date at Robby’s during my sophomore year.
HH: Why did you choose Marshall?
JM: Growing up in West Virginia I was pretty certain I would attend a school in the state. As I visited campuses during my senior year of high school, I really liked the compact campus at Marshall and knew it was the right size university for me. Campus was convenient, plus Huntington was a great town. It was also not too far from home, but far enough to feel like I had gone away.
HH: Tell us a little bit about your post-Marshall career?
JM: After graduating from Marshall, I worked at Ernst & Young in Charleston for three years where I earned my CPA. I moved on from EY to a client, Corbin, Ltd., in Canonsburg, Kentucky for a few years and then worked at Cambridge Educational in South Charleston. The great thing about accounting is the broad range of career options that are available. I started a job search with a focus on moving into an industry that would be fun and exciting. I was looking for a business that would be successful, but challenging, as well as a fun place to work.
HH: So how did you end up in the entertainment industry?
JM: The job search resulted in getting an opportunity to be the controller at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina. The industry was a great fit for me. I have always had a hands-on style, and believed that I needed to understand the operations of a business to really perform accounting functions in the best way to help the business. I was fortunate to have a great mentor at Carowinds that encouraged me to learn the operation side of the business. After three years, it enabled me to move in to the VP of Finance role at Kings Island in Cincinnati, and then broaden my role as General Manager at Dorney Park in Allenton, Pennsylvania for six years before coming to Cedar Point in the same capacity.
HH: What do you enjoy most about your job?
JM: There are a lot of aspects about what I do that I enjoy. It is great having a job where your primary objective is to make sure your guests have fun. The best part of my job is walking the park and watching our guests enjoy themselves on our rides, in our water park, or watching our shows. At the same time, Cedar Point is owned by Cedar Point Fair Entertainment Company, and we are publicly traded. So we have all of the business performance pressure and objectives that other public companies do, and I enjoy that challenge as well. A large, destination park like Cedar Point is very diverse and I never have two days alike. Whether it is food and beverage, merchandise, maintenance, resorts, rides and attractions, there is always something new on the next day’s agenda. I also enjoy the seasonal aspect of our business. It allows me to not only lead business planning and strategy, but operations as well. I also like the opportunity to work with and develop so many college age associates. We hire more than 6,000 seasonal associates a year, and the majority of them are college students. It is a luxury to have so many new associates join our team annually. I learn a lot every summer from the college students that work really hard to provide our guests with a great and memorable experience during their visit to Cedar Point.
HH: So, are there any special perks as GM?
JM: Yes! I do get some special opportunities. Some people may not think it is a big perk to be the test dummy on a new ride, but I still look forward to that. This spring, I was amongst a handful of associates that took the first ride on our new record-breaking dive coaster – Valravn. The ride was awesome, and although I probably rode it one too many times that day, it is cool to be the first to experience it. If I’m having a day that consists of too much business – meeting after meeting, conference calls, etc. – well, my office is in the middle of the park. I can leave my desk and be on a coaster in about five minutes. It is a pretty good stress reliever.
HH: Have you always been a fan of roller-coasters and theme parks?
JM: I have always enjoyed visiting parks. Our family usually made a trip to Kings Island once a summer, or we would hit Busch Gardens in Williamsburg while visiting family in Virginia. We are fortunate in our business that the experience at a park has such wide and diverse appeal. We have something for everyone, from thrill rides, to kids’ rides, to shows, a water park, great food and more. It is unique in that the entire family can find something to do. That is what I liked about parks before starting in the industry; it is a great place to spend the day with the entire family.
HH: What is your favorite roller-coaster?
JM: It is hard to pick one favorite coaster. The Beast, at Kings Island, was my first big coaster when I was a kid, so it holds an honorary position on my best coaster list. Then I came to Cedar Point. There is an awesome coaster everywhere you look here. Cedar Point has four coasters that, when they were built, were the tallest and fastest in the world, but my favorite isn’t one of them. Maverick is, hands down, my favorite coaster as it provides a unique ride experience with two launches and numerous quick transitions. No better thrill coaster than Maverick.
HH: Cedar Point is known as the roller-coaster capital – have you ridden them all?
JM: For sure. I try to experience all of our rides, shows and attractions. It is important in order to stay in touch with the guest experience – it’s a bonus that it is also fun! Thankfully, I haven’t aged out to the point that I don’t enjoy riding. I may not ride coasters repeatedly anymore. I need the break in between rides.
HH: So what are some of your other hobbies?
JM: When you work in a seasonal business, the park is your job and your hobby while it is open. I obviously have a little more flexibility in our off season and I enjoy spending time with my family and catchup up on reading. I’m a sports guy, so I enjoy watching and attending sporting events. I also don’t sit still for very long, so I like to travel and visit new places over the winter.
HH: Do your children love what you do?
JM: With Cedar Point being my fourth park, that has involved a lot of moves. I think it made it a little easier on my children that they got a new park to explore and play in. It definitely didn’t hurt my street cred with them when a visit to dad at work meant a roller-coaster ride. My children are both in college now, but when I was at Dorney Park, both of them worked at the park which made for a fun couple of summers having them around at work as well. They both enjoy roller-coasters, and I always look forward to when we get the chance to ride together.
HH: Anything else you would like to add?
JM: Like most Marshall alums, Marshall has played a key role in my life after college. I have said this before, but I believe the intangibles I learned growing up in West Virginia and attending college at Marshall were instrumental in making me a good fit for the entertainment industry. Technical skills tend to be largely consistent; intangibles are typically the key differentiator in success. Strong work ethic, friendliness, hospitality, all intangibles I picked up during my education that align so well with this industry and have been the key to my success.