BY JAMES HARPER
Bethune-Cookman University business graduates have something other students don’t have – exposure to CEOs who can help them when they enter the real world.
That’s what Aubrey Long, Dean of B-CU’s School of Business said recently as the university welcomed SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment CEO Jim Atchison to the earlier this month. He spoke during B-CU’s Business Fall Forum.
Atchison oversees SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, which operates 10 parks in the United States.
Hundreds of students gathered at the Performing Arts Center to hear from Atchison who brought with him Orlando’s SeaWorld President Terry W. Prather, who oversees the operation of all three of the company’s Orlando parks – SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Aquatica. Prather, who is Black, also spoke to the students.
Started at the bottom
Atchison, who promoted Prather to his current position, said he first met him while they both beginning their careers. Atchison was working as a parking attendant while Prather was working in maintenance.
Atchison, who was also attending University of South Florida, said he “liked the fit” working at a theme park. He said he took a long view and realized working at a theme park was somewhere he could grow and move up the ladder of success – which is what he and Prather both did starting from the bottom.
“I found a place to start that would help me get better,” said Atchison, which is the advice he also gave to the B-CU students.
Atchison said he was the youngest of 10 kids, the first in his family to graduate from college.
He remarked that a lot of students are encouraged to start their own business upon graduation.
“You don’t have to start something from scratch to be an entrepreneur,” he noted.
Explanation of diversity
Atchison also commented on hiring Prather as president of SeaWorld Orlando.
The fact that he was Black was not an issue. When promoting or hiring people, Atchison said what he looks for is “diversity of thought, background and style.’’
He remarked, “I cast a net wide enough to attract a diverse group of candidates.’’
In a separate interview, Prather recalled when he started working at a theme park. Prather was a single parent in his early 30s and needed a stable job for his family.
He had been in construction when the maintenance job came along.
Prather, now 58, attributes his success to believing he could make the transition “from where you are to where you want to be.”
‘It was up to me to make the change,” he declared.
Aubrey Long, Dean of the B-CU School of Business said the purpose of the forum is “to give our students the opportunity to speak to the captains of industry, to hear their experiences and to ask questions.’’
He added, “It really is a unique chance to speak to business titans who have worked their way to the very top, and Mr. Atchison is a great example of that.”