LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN, Ga. See Rock City Inc. is thrilled to announce the succession from fourth generation family ownership, led by Bill Chapin, to fifth generation, as his son Doug Chapin is set to purchase the outstanding shares of the company. This leadership transition takes place as Rock City prepares to celebrate its 90th anniversary year beginning May 21, the attraction’s Founder’s Day. Additional plans are scheduled to be released later this year.
Garnet Carnet founded Rock City Gardens in 1932, with the financial backing of his father, James Inman Carter. Garnet’s nephew, E.Y. Chapin III (Bill’s father) led the business beginning in the 1950s until 1985 when Bill purchased Rock City and then became president.
“We have always had a focus on hospitality, as well as on conservation,” said Bill. “In the last 90 years we have protected the geological wonders of Rock City Gardens for everyone’s enjoyment, and for future generations of the next 90 years. Rock City is a unique outdoor attraction that allows visitors to experience what has been created by God and enhanced by man.”
SRC Inc. has seen outstanding growth under Bill’s leadership, including consistent increases in profitability and attendance despite economic downturns, the acquisition of Battles for Chattanooga museum, Grandview, Starbucks, Clumpies Ice Cream Co., RiverView Inn and GOOD DOG, as well as multimillion-dollar renovations alongside the creation of several restaurants and shops inside Rock City Gardens. Nine annual special events are a part of his tenure (six of those remain), including the nationally recognized Enchanted Garden of Lights which just celebrated its 27th season. Bill has received two separate lifetime achievement awards in tourism, one from Southeast Tourism Society in 2019, and another during the Georgia Governor’s Conference in 2017.
“Dad has always loved what he did and had such a passion for it,” said Doug. “He wears his birdhouse hat to Rotary because he loves the work, and he talks to guests on the ticket plaza and helps them take the perfectly composed photo to share his excitement. He always wanted me and my sisters to find a calling that we felt passionate about, and never wanted us to feel pressure or obligation to get involved in the business. My love for this company might not look like wearing a birdhouse hat around town, but my desire to love my work and the people I do that with has been the most important piece of my decision to take on ownership of SRC Inc.”
Doug’s first job at Rock City began in middle school, when he dressed as the attraction’s iconic mascot, Rocky the Elf. He has worked in many aspects of the business since then, including the horticulture team, Starbucks, GOOD DOG and most notably, leading the efforts to purchase, manage and grow Clumpies Ice Cream Co.
“It has been the honor of my career to be able to lead this organization and our team members forward to this generational transition,” said SRC President and CEO Susan Harris. “I have been humbled by the trust placed in me by the Chapin family these last 14 years and I know that I have been forever changed by the opportunity. I am proud of the work our team has accomplished and all our growth and success through many challenges. I am excited to be able to support and cheer Doug on to even greater success in the years to come.”
Doug is assuming the role of president and CEO in March, a position currently held by Susan. She is remaining on as a consultant through 2022, while stepping into a leadership role with the Chattanooga Tourism Company as their chief operations officer this April.
Bill said, “Susan has been a mentor to Doug and provided invaluable training and leadership to him, enabling him to specifically grow the Clumpies brand and to ultimately step into this role. She has created a successful culture here, leading with our mission statement of creating memories worth repeating for our guests and our partners. She will do that with Chattanooga Tourism as well.” In her new role there as COO, Susan’s responsibilities include overseeing strategic opportunities, advancing organizational effectiveness, developing the team and strengthening partnerships with tourism-related businesses in the area.
“Susan is one of the most talented, smart and empathic leaders I have ever met,” said Doug. “I think my biggest challenge ahead is following her leadership of the organization. Working with Susan over the past eight years has been the richest professional experience of my life. I have learned so much by watching her lead, in watching her care for our people and the attention and effort she has committed to building our culture. She has been an incredible support to me both personally and professionally, and to everyone here. Without Susan’s leadership and dedication, we would not be where we are today.”
Bill said, “Bryan Patten, who led my board of directors, told me that it was his goal to help me and my family successfully transition to the next generation. He helped make that happen. Now, I have the privilege of providing another generation that opportunity. I hope and pray this company continues to honor the Creator. Doug Chapin is the person who can make that happen by continuing to develop the culture that Andrew Kean and Susan Harris created for this business.”
See Rock City Inc. is a hospitality and entertainment company that features the world-renowned Rock City Gardens high atop Lookout Mountain, and also owns and operates Battles for Chattanooga museum, Clumpies Ice Cream Co., GOOD DOG, Grandview Conference Center, RiverView Inn and Starbucks; as well as the ticketing and concessions for the Incline Railway and the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, and the retail shop and café at Creative Discovery Museum. Visit www.seerockcity.com for more info.
Image courtesy of Rock City: Bill Chapin, Susan Harris & Doug Chapin at Rock City’s original entrance.