Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Roberta Perry covers the TEA presidential transition from Birket to Willrich


by TEA Past President Roberta Perry, ETI

Roberta Perry

These are exciting times for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), as our organization approaches its 25th year anniversary in November. At that time – during the annual TEA Members Meeting at the 2016 IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando – we will also see David Willrich of DJ Willrich Ltd. become the new TEA International Board President. After two years in the top spot, Steve Birket of Birket Engineering will become Immediate Past President.

Image at top: TEA President Steve Birket, TEA COO Jennie Nevin and TEA President-Elect David Willrich, at the 2016 IAAPA Asian Attractions Expo

Now more than 1,500 members strong, the TEA serves the creative, technical and vendor community within the themed entertainment industry. But TEA could not be where it is today without its members volunteering their time, expertise and resources. We have been very fortunate to have had the best and brightest of our industry step up over the years to join TEA leadership, serving as International Presidents and on the International and Divisional Boards (as well as many other roles on committees, conferences, special events and more.)

I speak from experience when I say that being part of TEA leadership is a lot of work – but it is also fun and rewarding. I was a founding TEA member and have been immersed in its growth since day one, in a variety of roles including Past President, TEA Summit Co-Chair and member of the Thea Awards Nominating Committee.

Pat MacKay
Pat MacKay

TEA’s legacy of global leadership continues to expand. It was a unique pleasure to interview Birket and Willrich about their thoughts on the TEA presidency, their new roles, and the future of themed entertainment. I want to thank them both publicly here for their leadership, their time, and their dedication to the Association that has shaped our industry for the last quarter of a century. – R.P.

Note: Pat MacKay, another longtime TEA member and Co-Chair of the annual TEA Summit Case Studies Day (with Roberta Perry) provided editorial assistance on this article. The next TEA Summit is April 20-21, 2017 at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.

Steve Birket fields questions from the press at the TEA booth during the 2014 IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando
When did you first join the Themed Entertainment Association?

Steve Birket: Birket Engineering joined in the early ‘90s, when the Disney-MGM Studios and Universal Studios Florida had just come out of the ground.  I remember sitting in our office in Orlando and getting a call from TEA’s second president Joe McHugh. He was looking for contacts for potential TEA members. We had two parks’ worth of business contacts, and so it was an easy request to satisfy.

David Willrich:  DJ Willrich joined in 1996 when word of the TEA reached Europe at one of the TiLE conferences.

Why did you feel it was important to join?

Birket:  It was and is the only industry we were a part of, and everybody we knew were members. 

Willrich: We noticed that leading competitors in the Attractions field, who also overlapped into Museums as we do, were joining so we felt we needed to find out what the new “club” was all about!

David Willrich with colleagues at the annual TEA Members Meeting in November 2014
David Willrich with TEA EME Division colleagues at the annual TEA Members Meeting in November 2014
Tell us about your past involvement with the TEA.

Birket:  I was a member of the TEA Eastern North American Division Board when I missed one of the monthly calls. On the next call they told me, “By the way, you are now the Board Secretary.” I remained in that role for two years, then served as Division President for two years. Following that I served six years on the International Board – during which time I co-chaired the SATE Technology segment of TEA’s annual SATE conference on Experience Design, helped kick off the TEA Asia Pacific Division, served on the Executive Committee, and acted as Board Treasurer.

Willrich: I was elected to the TEA Europe & Middle East Division Board (EME) in 2008. I became EME Division President in 2013 and served for two years, then was elected to the International Board in 2015.

Steve, what were your goals when you began your term as TEA president?

Birket:  Not a small part of the original motivation to create TEA was to create a business voice for the membership. I very much wanted to see some of the original intent of the Association be brought into better focus, and to see a more balanced technology component in our educational offerings.

Steve Birket addresses a full house at the 2016 Thea Awards Gala
Steve Birket addresses a full house at the 2016 Thea Awards Gala
David, what are your goals as incoming TEA President?

Willrich: To continue to develop our SATE brand! I would love to continue to raise the profile of our SATE conference and SATE Academy Days – to have it recognized as major thought leadership.

Also there are initiatives already started by Steve in the mix which I am keen to see come to fruition.

And I would like to explore steps that further establish the TEA brand as synonymous with quality and integrity in the industry. This would be huge for TEA members and the association.

Steve, what accomplishments in your term make you most proud?

Birket: I am very pleased to see many of our industry’s largest owner/operators, and other groups from outside our industry seek out TEA. Today, the world wants TEA. It wants our acknowledgement, our voice, our content, our expertise, our people. Over and over again during my term we have provided a voice to the world press, content to university audiences, and have been sought out by leading global developers and operators. It has been a great time to be President of the TEA.

TEA has arrived in the mainstream press, thanks to industry growth, the importance of the TEA/AECOM Theme Index and other factors – and we’ve stepped up to meet the interest. I joke that being the TEA President has influenced my wardrobe decisions. I must always be ready for an in-person or phone interview.

I’m also pleased that we’ve used social media effectively to expand our reach and position. One example is the great and expanding collection of TEA event videos and webcasts available on our TEA TV channel [accessible through the TEA website]

David Willrich
David Willrich and EME colleagues during a reception hosted by Electrosonic at Warner Bros Studios Leavesden: The Making of Harry Potter, as part of a SATE Academy Day in London. Paul Kent, at far left, is now TEA EME Division President.
What do you see as important areas of growth and progress in business and markets?

Birket: The notion of ‘themed entertainment’ no longer conjures up an image of just a ride or show. Our industry touches boardrooms, hospitals, retail, military simulations, live events, visitor centers, water parks; the list goes on and on. This diversifying of markets will continue. And as the industry grows, so do TEA membership and membership offerings. We continue to see great expansion in Asia.

Willrich: TEA membership benefits – in particular the range of activities we provide – have grown in quality and strength considerably over the last few years, helping our growth in all regions. Of course I want to see continued growth – but solid growth for all the right reasons – i.e. members see the benefits that we have to offer and are fully engaged with the TEA. I would add that our focus should always be on quality, not quantity – to ensure we really do represent the best in the industry.

What are your thoughts about engaging our owners and operators?            

Birket: More and more, owner/operators are eager to engage with TEA to exchange ideas and promote the industry and the vendor community. This is a win-win that helps take us all forward to a better industry, better projects and better business.

Willrich: I am keen that we do not forget owners and operators and we continue to attract them as (ideally) proactive members of the TEA. We have had some growth in numbers in the EME Division who have in turn been excellent hosts to our events!

Would you say the TEA Thea Awards, TEA Summit and SATE conference have set important standards in our industry? 

Birket: The importance of the annual Thea Awards is enormous and international. When I travel I am always humbled to see a recipient’s Thea Award in the most prominent location of their facility. TEA awards the best of the best, and the industry knows it. TEA’s annual SATE and Summit conferences set the bar to which other industry organizations look. It is a great honor and a continuing challenge.

Willrich: Thea Awards and SATE are our two biggest brands and something to be really proud of as in both cases they do stand for quality and very much encompass our industry and are therefore, hugely important. Becoming a Thea Award recipient really does mean something – the level and quality of entries every year are testimony to this.

What would you like to say to the Association members as TEA prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary? 

Birket:  TEA is built on relationships. It is built on relationships with members, owners, operators, sponsors, institutions, and trade groups. These are our greatest assets. The professionalism and creativity of our members will take us forward the next 25 years. And with David Willrich as incoming President – I can’t wait.

Willrich: To TEA members I say: Please step up, and speak up! We need to know that what we are doing is right for our membership, and we need you to volunteer so that we can keep building a great association and industry.

To themed entertainment professionals who haven’t yet joined TEA, I say: Sign up!

To Steve: I look forward to working with you and will be making the most of your availability as Immediate Past President.

Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin ([email protected]) is a leading journalist, content marketing specialist and connector in the international attractions industry. She reports on design and technical design, production and project management, industry trends and company culture. From 2005-2020 she ran communications and publications for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In 2013, she was honored with the TEA Service Award. She was development director of IMERSA and publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association, and has contributed to the publications of PLASA, IAAPA and the International Planetarium Society. Judith joined World’s Fair magazine in 1987, which introduced her to the attractions industry. She joined InPark in 2010. Judith earned a BFA from Pratt Institute. She has lived in Detroit, New York, Oakland, and now Saint Louis, where she is active in the local arts community.

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