University of Memphis Magazine
University of Memphis Photo
Spring 12 Features


Earning His Stripes
Walkin' in Memphis
Class of His Own
Pieces of Home
Blasts from the Past

Make it your Biz
Virtual Symphony
Lambuth Campus enrollment
100 Women
Planting Seeds
Johnson leaves impact
Sherrod's feats
Blending the Blues
'Up-and-down' Career Ride
University alumnus enjoys an ‘up-and-down’ career ride

When Jim Dean was a teenager riding the Zippin Pippin at Libertyland, he never dreamed he would one day be in charge of one of the largest and most popular adventure parks in the world — Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay, Fla. These days if he wants to ride a roller coaster, it is a short walk from his office to one of the eight stomach-dropping, heart-pounding coasters inside the amusement park.

Dean (BSET ’80), who will be Memphis this month to receive the Herff College of Engineering’s 2012 Outstanding Alumni Award, says his "ride" to Busch Gardens’ top position has been an adventure in itself. After graduating from Memphis’ Bishop Byrne High School, he chose to attend the school where Larry Finch was one of his idols.

"When I joined the University of Memphis, then Memphis State University, like most freshmen, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do in my life," Dean says. "I had given very little thought to my future, but I knew that I enjoyed it there and that I would figure it out."

Busch Gardens has experienced rapid growth under U of M alumnus Jim Dean. The park offers world-class thrill rides, spectacular shows, and is home to 2,000 animals.
Busch Gardens has experienced rapid growth under U of M alumnus Jim Dean. The park offers world-class thrill rides, spectacular shows, and is home to 2,000 animals.

A friend suggested he try engineering technology.

"I was comforted in the knowledge that most of the College of Engineering graduates were securing very good jobs upon graduation and that was important," he says.

Dean notes that while at the U of M, he learned something that would serve him well later in his career.

"I realized that to be successful, you had to be accountable for your work and proud of what you accomplish. I can’t point to who or what instilled that belief in me at the Herff College of Engineering, but I know that I graduated with that attitude." 

Dean says the best advice he ever received came from his college adviser.

"He told me to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity and to go to every job interview I could get on campus." Dean did just that and was offered two jobs after graduation, including the one he decided on: engineer at McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis.

He says that decision landed him on the "roller coaster" path he is on today. While working at McDonnell Douglas, he earned his master’s degree in finance at Saint Louis University and later went to work for Anheuser Busch in finance for its theme park division.

The "ride" then took him to London, where he worked for Anheuser’s beer division. "It was a wonderful experience to explore Europe for five years and learn how to sell beer in 44 different countries and work out the finances in all their different currencies," Dean says. "I was able to learn from our employees from all over the world."

When Dean came back to the U.S., he oversaw the finance, merchandise and culinary food operations for all of Anheuser Busch’s theme parks and from there moved to his current position as president of Busch Gardens. The theme of the 335-acre amusement park is exotic adventures from around the world and offers a unique combination of rides, entertainment and up-close animal encounters in areas based upon African countries such as Morocco and Egypt. The park is also home to 2,000 animals, with more than 200 different species represented.

Busch Gardens has experienced rapid growth under Dean, who keeps a constant eye on the future. "Thanks to ‘Cheetah Hunt,’ we had a tremendous year," he says. "But new attractions take years to build and right now we are planning for 2015. My focus is to continue to make the park an exciting place for visitors." Cheetah Hunt is a world-class roller coaster that mimics a cheetah chasing its prey at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. 

While Dean continues to follow the Memphis Tigers on the field and on the court, he has tigers of a different kind close to him now. There are nine Bengal and two Malayan tigers that live in the Jungala section at the park. In his role as president, he helps initiate and support wildlife conservation, research and education, and he is on the board of the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund.

While Dean was a student at the U of M, he appreciated the personal attention he received in his classes and remembers how those personal connections helped him throughout college.

"There have been many other lessons learned in my career and many mentors to thank, but an important part of my success began at the University of Memphis and at the Herff College of Engineering," Dean says. — by Marcy Sanford

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