Undercover Boss: CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment: Where are They Now?
Joel Manby, the CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, goes undercover in his amusement parks to see how the Great Recession was affecting his employees on the frontline.
Company Name: Herschend Family Entertainment
Undercover Boss: Joel Manby
Are They Still There?: Yes!
Herschend Family Entertainment is one of the largest family theme park companies in the country. The company operates a variety of well-respected amusement parks and aquariums in many different states. The man responsible for overseeing Herschend’s success is CEO Joel Manby, a great businessman and family man.
Due to the Great Recession, Herschend Family Entertainment had to freeze wages and park attendance was down across the board. So, Joel Manby decided to grow a beard and cut his hair to go undercover on “Undercover Boss” so he could see how his employees were really impacted. Mr. Manby wanted an unfiltered look at what his employees were thinking, feeling, and doing. The actions of the CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment resulted in one of the most emotional reveals on this season of “Undercover Boss.”
Job #1: Stone Mountain Park in Georgia
Now disguised as John Briggs, Joel begins his week on “Undercover Boss” at the Ride The Ducks attraction at Stone Mountain Park in Georgia. As the number one attraction in the theme park, Ride the Ducks accounts for about 5% of its revenue. This CEO wanted to know what made the attraction so incredible. Joel is introduced to Duck Captain Howard and quickly realizes that the attraction’s success is because of the people who work the ride. Howard is a great entertainer and essentially becomes a kid again while making sure the children on board have a great time. Joel can’t help but be impressed by Howard’s wonderful personality, attitude, and performance skills.
Job #2: Silver Dollar City in Missouri
Silver Dollar City is one of Herschend’s flagship amusement parks and is set in the 1880s. Silver Dollar City has a reputation for being the friendliest theme park in the world, and Joel Manby wanted to know why. Once again, it’s clear that this reputation comes from Herschend Family Entertainment’s wonderful employees. An enthusiastic employee named Albert teaches Joel how to give guests the right first impression when they arrive at Silver Dollar City while showing him how to work the front gates and prepare rental strollers.
But what really stood out to Mr. Manby in his second job was Albert as a person. Albert had been working at Silver Dollar City for six years and started when he was only 14 years old. Albert had a real passion for amusement parks, and even had designed some potential new rides on his computer, which he proudly showed Joel. Albert explained he works full time so he can afford to go to school to pursue a career in the theme park industry. In a moment of irony, Albert told Joel that he wanted his job someday, not realizing he was actually talking to the CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment. And the current CEO just couldn’t help but be impressed by his ambition.
Job #3: Street Cleaning in Silver Dollar City
Joel wakes up at the painfully early time of 3:30 am to join Richard in Silver Dollar City before the theme park opens its doors to the public. Richard’s job is to hose down the theme park to help it maintain its reputation as the cleanest park in America. It’s not a job for the faint of heart, and Joel has a hard time understanding why someone would agree to work these unconventional hours.
But after talking to Richard, it makes more sense. Richard is a father of five and wanted a job where he could be home with his family every evening. The pair bonds over being proud fathers to both biological and adopted children. Later, Richard shares even more. He lost his home in a flood a couple of years ago and was still working on making repairs and rebuilding. Joel was saddened by this tragedy and dismayed by the fact that Richard hadn’t applied to the company’s financial aid program for assistance.
Job #4: Dinner Theater On Showboat Branson Belle
Up next, Joel Manby travels to the Showboat Branson Belle to meet the employees and see how the guest experience is holding up. The Showboat Branson Belle has a unique dinner theater experience that requires lots of precise timing and care to maintain. Joel wanted to get the experience as a server onboard the vessel.
For the duration of his shift, Joel shadows a server named Jennifer. She impresses him with her ability to balance friendliness with efficiency. It seems like just a typical night until Jennifer gets a call from her babysitter to inform her that one of her kids was sick. This gives Joel a chance to ask about her family life, and learns that she is a single mom. Jennifer’s biggest challenge is finding childcare so she can work on the Belle, which has become a huge financial strain. The job requires odd hours and sometimes results in servers being sent home early, which means Jennifer would have to pick up her kids and pay the babysitter even if she didn’t get paid herself. Joel notes that he needs to find other ways to support single parents in his workforce.
Job #5: Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey
Last but not least, Joel pays a visit to the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey. As a recently acquired company, Joel was eager to see how Adventure Aquarium operated to create its unique and fun experiences for children of all ages. Joel’s goal in his final job was to learn everything he could about Adventure Aquarium since he wasn’t overly familiar with the establishment yet.
During this shift, Joel meets Mercedes, who is arguably the toughest boss he’s had during his “Undercover Boss” experience. She teaches Joel how to run the touch tank, where kids can pet sea creatures, and clean the aquarium. Mercedes takes pride in her job, pays close attention to details, and works very hard. She expects the same of Joel. Eventually, Joel learns that her great work ethic comes from her gratefulness for this job. Before she was hired by Adventure Aquarium, Mercedes and her son were homeless. This job gave her the income she needed to get her life back on track, and she makes a point of saying yes to every opportunity it presents her.
The Big Reveal
Joel Manby, CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, ended his week on “Undercover Boss” feeling inspired and impressed by all his employees. He knew he had lots of work to do to better support them and was excited to reveal both his identity and his future plans. When his employees were summoned to meet with Joel one-on-one, they were in for a real treat!
Joel only had compliments to share with Howard. In fact, this CEO was so impressed by Howard’s performance he wanted the duck captain to travel to the other theme parks to train other duck captains to be more like him.
Albert inspired Joel to start a new Herschend Family Entertainment scholarship program and named Albert as the first recipient. The scholarship would allow Albert to go to school full-time without working while still receiving his normal salary. In return, Joel just asked that Albert worked in the theme park during the summer when school wasn’t in session because it needs employees as wonderful as him. Albert accepted while holding back tears of joy.
Joel was quick to tell Richard how highly he thought of him as a person. He admired Richard’s attitude and work ethic and wanted to help him recover from the flood that destroyed his home once and for all. Joel tells Richard that Herschend will be donating $10,000 in financial aid to help him repair his home, as well as workers to help him fix it faster.
Joel tells Jennifer that he admires her work ethic, and informs her that she inspired him to do more for single parents working for Herschend Family Entertainment. Because of his experience with her, single parents would be able to receive financial aid to pay for childcare. For Jennifer, this news was a huge weight off her shoulders.
During the most emotional reveal in this episode of “Undercover Boss,” Joel surprises Mercedes with an immediate raise. She instantly burst into tears of joy. Additionally, Joel told Mercedes that they would be helping her furnish her new apartment to make it feel more like home.
Where is Joel Manby, CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, now?
After his “Undercover Boss” experience, Joel realized that Herschend Family Entertainment needed to better support single parents and to improve how they market their financial assistance programs so that people who need it would apply in the future. Joel saw how much people just wanted to do a good job, but had barriers in their way that he could help them overcome. It seems that many of the initiatives Joel mentioned in the show were quickly put into action and still remain in effect today.
Even though it’s been years since his episode of “Undercover Boss” aired, Joel Manby has stayed at Herschend Family Entertainment and is still CEO according to his Linkedin. He has also written a book, called “Love Works,” which provides an outline for successful leadership. When he’s not working or spending time with his family, Joel travels as a keynote speaker to talk about leadership and his experiences as Herschend’s CEO.
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