By Barrett Baker
David Cromwell epitomizes the phrase “working your way through the ranks.” Originally from San Diego, Calif., he started as an employee at SeaWorld San Diego—part of the parent company of Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA—in 1997 while he was still in high school. His first job was with the park operations department as a theater host. It was a summer job, working part-time, that he took to earn money to buy a car. He eventually moved into a full-time position after receiving his Master of Business Administration degree from San Diego State University after majoring in communications. Today, he is the head honcho at one of the most amazing theme parks in the world.
CoVa BIZ: This is not your first stint in Williamsburg, correct?
David Cromwell: That’s right. I spent about 13 years in the park operations department in San Diego doing all kinds of different jobs including guest arrival, rides and custodial and grounds functions. I was eventually promoted to vice president of operations at SeaWorld San Diego. After about two years in that position, an opportunity came up to move to Water Country USA. I was vice president there for about three seasons from 2010–2012. At the end of 2012, the company purchased a water park near SeaWorld San Diego, and I led the team there through our first three seasons before the opportunity to be president at Busch Gardens Williamsburg opened.
CoVa BIZ: How do you feel about bouncing from coast to coast like that?
DC: It’s been fun, actually. San Diego will always be my hometown, but when there was an opportunity to come back here in a greater capacity, my wife, my kids and I were all really excited. We love the area. The people here just make the experience what it is.
CoVa BIZ: What’s it like to be the president of such an exciting place?
DC: Every day is different, and I think that’s part of what has always appealed to me, the variety. No day is exactly the same as the one before, and they all have their own kind of unique sets of challenges, which also makes it fun and exciting. There is no opportunity to stagnate. There’s always some new challenge or something new you’re working on that makes it fun. And, the people here are just phenomenal. They are passionate about what they do. They’re committed to what they do, they are dedicated, and that always drives me to step up my game and match their level of desire and passion. So, if you can’t have fun in a theme park, you won’t be able to find a job as fun as this one.
CoVa BIZ: What has been the key to your success?
DC: I have always tried to stay grounded, in both what our team member experience is on a day-to-day and on the guest side. I’ve worked many of the jobs that our team members do every day, so I have a really grounded understanding of some of the things that challenge them. I can use that knowledge to figure out what we can do to remove obstacles and roadblocks. On the other side of the guest experience, I’m a consumer myself, I’m a parent, and I try to put myself in the guests’ shoes every day when I’m out in the park and helping make decisions. After safety, the guest experience has to be the most important thing that we should be focused on. I’ve always tried to stay focused on what I would expect if I were on the other side.
CoVa BIZ: How does Coastal Virginia stack up to San Diego?
DC: This area reminds me, in a lot of ways, of Southern California. There’s just close proximity to the beach, to the mountains, to Washington, D.C., to Outer Banks. Everything is a pretty short drive away from being able to experience different things, and certainly with young kids that’s what you want to be able to do. You want to be able to get out and experience and have fun with your family. It’s a very unique situation, so I would equate it a lot with San Diego in that regard.