When Ocean Park chief executive Tom Mehrmann landed his role in 2004, he faced the arduous job of turning around a three-decade-old theme park on the brink of closure. And the task appeared even more daunting with apparent competitor Hong Kong Disneyland nearing completion. But Mehrmann (pictured) has not disappointed his board members, keeping the company out of the red, which is an astonishing turnaround considering the site had an ominous deficit of HK$80.5 million in 2001. Mehrmann's summer job in a theme park planted a seed in his early teenage years, which paved the way for a stunning turnaround by a tired company seemingly on its last legs. At 16, Mehrmann worked as a part-time sweeper in Knott Berry's Farm in Southern California, the oldest theme park in the US. 'Like many American youths, I was just working part-time to earn some pocket money,' he said. 'I never considered theme parks as my chosen career.' Mehrmann could have been on Disneyland's books, but the theme park turned down his application because he was below 19 then. 'They only employed adults,' he said. He did get his break, though, and progressed in Knott Berry's Farm to the guest relations staff, and then on to manager of ride operations. He ultimately rose to vice-president of park operations and entertainment in 1996, before he joined Six Flags, the world's largest amusement park corporation. At Knott Berry's Farm, Mehrmann said he learned a lesson that proved invaluable in repositioning Ocean Park. Knott Berry's Farm was about 11 kilometres from the Disneyland in Anaheim. Rather than operating in direct competition with each other, the cluster of theme parks in the area had created a 'critical mass' that drew many visitors, and offered business opportunities for all. 'This is exactly what I brought over to Hong Kong,' he said. Mehrmann knows Ocean Park and Hong Kong Disneyland offer different attractions that complement rather than create competition against each other. 'While both theme parks feature animals, you get animation in Disneyland, but the animals in Ocean Park are real,' he said.