U Rec Group taps Nichols and promotes Williams

Cathy Nichols has been officially named chairman and CEO of Universal Studios Recreation Group and Tom Williams was promoted to president and CEO of Universal City Florida. Nichols’ hire had been anticipated (Daily Variety, May 1).

Nichols reports to U’s president and chief operating officer Ron Meyer. Williams will report to Nichols. She will start in mid-May.

“Our recreation business is a key engine of company growth for the future as we continue to expand our theme parks around the world,” Meyer said in a statement. “We will benefit greatly from the talents of these two outstanding execs.”

Nichols, who had served at McKinsey & Co. for the past 22 years, was elected the first woman director (senior partner) in McKinsey’s history. She now becomes the first and only woman to have a job of this magnitude inside a major entertainment company.

She will oversee both Universal Studios Hollywood (including Universal’s CityWalk venue) as well as Universal Studios Florida, which is undergoing a massive expansion. She also will be responsible for all new business development and all future theme park expansion globally such as its Osaka park, which marks the first theme park venture outside the U.S. It is expected to debut in 2001.

The downside is that she has no hands-on experience in theme park operations. She has, however, worked as a consultant with top executives in various companies such as Disney, Mattel, Nestle, PepsiCo and Times-Mirror over the years. With those companies she has been involved in strategy, marketing, branding, product redesign, merchandising and even global strategy.

“I decided to do this because it requires a strong consumer focus and the responsibilities fit with a lot of my skills,” Nichols said. “It also gave me an opportunity to join a great management team.”

Williams, who has been with Universal Studios Florida since 1987 after working in various other posts inside MCA, is a highly regarded executive in the theme park business, with many years of experience. He is overseeing the company’s current expansion in Florida, which includes Universal Studios Florida, the CityWalk entertainment complex, expanded film and television production facilities, resort hotels and Universal’s new Islands of Adventure theme park, the plans of which will be unveiled in Orlando on Tuesday, May 6.

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