When Tom Mehrmann got his first holiday job as a park service attendant in 1977 at Knotts Berry Farm in California, it was to earn a bit of extra cash as a student. As he was picking up litter in his Knotts Berry uniform, he never dreamed that theme parks would hold the key to his future career. From that humble beginning, he spent the next 21 years working up through the ranks, eventually becoming vice-president of park operations and entertainment. 'When I was sweeping up litter I never had career aspirations in the business. But it just kept evolving. 'My story is not unique among people who get into theme parks. It was only in the seventh or eighth year that I thought of it as a career. I would move from one project to the next and I have loved all the new opportunities that this provided,' said Mr Mehrmann, who is the chief executive of Ocean Park. In 1998, he joined Six Flags Marine World as vice-president and general manager, and later accepted an appointment as vice-president and general manager of Warner Brothers Movie World in Madrid when the park was taken over by Six Flags in 2000. He was responsible for the design, development and construction of the US$380 million Madrid Movie World, which opened in April 2002 and generates revenues of US$71million a year. After completing a first degree in psychology, Mr Mehrmann contemplated going on to law school or taking an MBA. But it was that initial job which paved the way for a 30-year career. 'One of the key aspects that you have to work on as an executive is the targeting of repeat visitors,' he said. 'It's very important to maintain generational values. What I mean by that are the people who came here as children and are now bringing their own children to the park.' The Concept Master Plan received government approval to proceed in December 2005. In addition to achieving the highest visitor numbers and revenue surplus in Ocean Park's history, Mr Mehrmann has been working with his team on extending the park beyond the original 1977 blueprint. The new plan, which could double the size of the park, involves a vernacular railway which is capable of carrying 10,000 people an hour. This means that there will be an alternative to the cable car for taking visitors from one part of the park to the other. 'At the moment our visitors need to take a bus from outside the park around to the other side. This takes away some of the magic of the park, and that is something that we would like to change,' Mr Mehrmann said. Ocean Park has a longstanding reputation in the area of animal husbandry and conservation. In 2000, it was the first theme park in the world to have a successful captive dolphin birth. But it was probably the arrival of giant pandas Jia Jia and An An that caught the public's imagination. 'They're a breeding pair so we're hoping to be able to announce the birth of a panda in the future,' Mr Mehrmann said. He has also been using the pandas as a marketing tool, particularly targeting the younger visitors. A 24-hour panda channel ensures the public can watch the pandas at any time. Other non-traditional media such as YouTube and SMS messaging on mobile phones are being used to keep people up to date with what is going on at the park. He also said the park received regular e-mails and messages whenever one of the pandas had hidden itself away. 'Ocean Park was also the first theme park to have a live birth of a dolphin using frozen sperm, so it shows what can be done with animals in captivity, without depleting the numbers of those in the wild,' Mr Mehrmann said.