Nichols theme parks it at U

Kathy Nichols, a former partner at management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. who resigned from her company in December, is expected to join Universal Studios Inc. to replace former MCA Recreation Services Group chairman and CEO Ron Bension, who exited last November, sources said.

Nichols, who is in her 40s, has been consulting for Universal for some time through McKinsey & Co. She has no experience in theme park operations, but was a well-regarded exec at McKinsey, where she has in the past consulted for Disney’s theme parks. She is expected to report to president and chief operating officer Ron Meyer. One well-placed source said that Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. also had a hand in hiring her.

Sources said that as of Tuesday night, contract negotiations were being concluded.

The hire also would come after several months of speculation that the theme park group might fall under the oversight of exec VP Howard Weitzman, who had been working with the unit since Bension was dismissed. It also comes after Seagram gave some consideration to placing one of the managers from its Tropicana beverage group in the post. Others that were rumored for the post were Walt Disney theme park executive Tom Ellrod and Marvel Entertainment Group chairman-CEO and former president of Turner Entertainment Group Scott Sassa.

The position oversees all the theme park operations in Hollywood and Florida, the latter in the midst of a major expansion under the oversight of Universal Studios Florida president Tom Williams. Universal is ready to unveil plans for its Islands of Adventure next Tuesday in Florida, where Steven Spielberg will be on hand. The 800-acre theme park will open in 1999; an entertainment complex will open in 1998. The plan also includes four themed hotels and a golf course.

The hire would add yet another top woman executive to the ranks at Universal, the studio that became the first to name a female president of distribution in Nikki Rocco, and has the only female marketing team in town — Buffy Shutt and Kathy Jones — overseeing its feature film efforts.

Universal had no comment, and Nichols could not be reached for comment.

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