Think about the people who develop your favorite theme parks.
Would you think one of them would be a championship football player with a degree in political science, who once planned on going to law school?
Tom Iven may have an unlikely backstory for an amusement park industry executive. However, he credits his MSU education for the flexibility to seize opportunities that came his way.
Playing on a championship Bears football team
Toward the end of his high school career in St. Louis, Iven was recruited by a few universities to play football. After visiting the campus in Springfield, he chose MSU.
“I felt like it was the best fit for me,” Iven said. “I fell in love with southwest Missouri.”
Iven was part of the football team when the Bears won the 1978 MIAA Conference Championship. “I played with a bunch of great teammates — some of whom ended up in the NFL.”
Football practices and games took up most of his time in college, but Iven did have other experiences. He carries fond memories of Springfield and the places he used to frequent with friends, including Ebbet’s Field on Walnut Street.
Rick Suchenski, a fellow 1980 alumnus with a bachelor’s in political science, was a Football Bear with Iven.
“For three years, we played right next to each other. He was an athlete with a great brain,” Suchenski said. “Tom is somewhat quiet, but he has a quick wit. When you play college sports, you really get to know each other. I knew he would be successful because he puts his head down and works hard.”
Promotions take him from groundskeeper to executive
Iven earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and graduated from MSU in spring 1980.
“Before going to college, I worked at Six Flags in St. Louis as a groundskeeper. I did it for a summer, assuming I’d never go back,” Iven said. “The next summer, when I came home from school, I was looking for a job, so I went back to work at Six Flags. Each year, I got a promotion, had more responsibility and a little more pay.”
The summer after he graduated college, Iven returned to Six Flags again. He planned to work there part-time before going to law school. A few months later, Six Flags offered him a full-time position.
“Every time I started considering going back to school, I received another promotion with Six Flags. I continued working there until the fall of 2020.”
He believes dedication helped him move into bigger and bigger roles.
“When I was a street sweeper, I was going to be the best street sweeper there was. When I got promoted out of that to supervisor, I was going to be the best supervisor I could be. That is the key to success. It’s being the best you can be at whatever you’re doing.”
His longtime friend Suchenski also thinks MSU football could be part of Iven’s success.
“When you play football at a high level, you have to be a good teammate. I honestly think that’s one of the key things that makes Tom so successful,” Suchenski said. “I guarantee he leads as someone who relates to his employees because that’s how he was with all of his friends.”
Iven now works with Premier Parks as the executive vice president of business development.
Premier Parks is an independent operator of theme parks. It has a portfolio of 13 theme parks, waterparks and other attractions around the U.S. and Canada. These include an adventure park and marina, concert facilities and a children’s museum.
Their parks have an annual attendance of around 5 million.
Iven leads the team that looks for new business opportunities. That may be seeking out new managers or consulting on the development of entertainment infrastructure around the world.
“On any given day, I’m working in multiple different business disciplines. It’s always challenging and always fun.”
Working in an industry that makes people smile
Iven said attending Missouri State helped him grow in his career.
“It prepared me for the job market by being able to work, study and play with people from around the world. I’ve always felt that Missouri State contributed tremendously to my success.”
Iven is working to build Premier Parks into a world-class company.
“I love the industry. You’re making people happy, which is not something you get to do in every job. It’s amazing to go into a park and see people scream and smile and have fun.”
Reuniting with his Bears teammates
In 2018, MSU honored the 1978 championship players. Iven was able to reconnect with many of his friends from his college days.
“There were some guys I hadn’t seen in 40 years, and it was like no time at all had passed. It’s so great to see those guys — who you put your blood and sweat in with on the field so many years ago — now prospering and happy.”
He and teammate Suchenski have kept in touch through the years.
“He lives in Texas, and I live in California,” Suchenski said. “When we talk on the phone or in person, he comes up with these thoughts and comments that make me say: Wow, that’s something I didn’t think about, because he’s so bright. He’s a great friend, and I love him.”
Drawing on family for inspiration
Away from work, Iven spends his time with his wife Patricia — whom he met while working at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Los Angeles — and their three daughters Paige, Amanda and Sarah.
Iven values the time he gets to spend with his family. It makes him more passionate about being in an industry that allows people to experience things together.
“I hear a lot of people say that you should hold out to get your dream job. My advice is: Whatever job you get, be the best you can be at that job, and the world will find you.”