Valdosta Daily Times


February 3, 2013

A Gathering of Eagles: Theme park CEO Joel Manby loves work

VALDOSTA — We tend to think of love as a feeling, an emotion, a state of being and/or a noun. Joel Manby, CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment which runs Wild Adventures among other theme parks, would like us to think of it as a verb.

After years of working in the auto industry, most notably with Saturn and then as CEO of Saab North America, Manby accepted the CEO position at HFE and fell in love.

Herschend “treated people the way I had always hoped to treat people,” said Manby. “No one had talked about it in other work environments, how you treat people. All they talked about was the bottom line.”

While still a business concerned with making a profit, HFE stressed treating employees fairly and with love. Agape, a Greek word translating to unselfish or unconditional love, formed the backbone of this business philosophy.

After appearing on the CBS show “Undercover Boss,” where he was able to use HFE’s non-profit organization, the Share It Forward Foundation, to financially help some of the employees he met on the show, Manby was inundated with messages of frustration.

“I got thousands of emails from around the world, from people who were as frustrated as I had been,” Manby said. “There’s a leadership crisis in America and the world. People have lost faith in their leaders.”

Compelled by these emails and the promise that 100 percent of the book’s profits would go towards HFE’s Share It Forward Foundation, Manby sat down on his weekends and family vacations and wrote “Love Works,” a book which outlines the business philosophy of Manby, the Herschend brothers, and HFE as a whole. Breaking it down into seven principles — Patient, Kind, Trusting, Unselfish, Truthful, Forgiving, Dedicated — the Love Works or “leading with love” philosophy makes several key arguments.

The level of enthusiasm your guests/customers have can never rise higher than the level of enthusiasm of your employees, Manby says. It’s possible to show good profits while having a basic belief in your employees.

It’s a profitable, long-term strategy to be a forgiving, patient, truthful boss.

“You can care about people and profits,” said Manby.

On Feb. 21, Manby will be the guest speaker at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College’s Gathering of Eagles, a leadership and business growth symposium.

“We have Wild Adventures there and we want to support the Valdosta community. We need to educate our young folk about leadership,” said Manby. “I love the interactivity of these presentations. I love taking questions and talking with people about it.

The Seventh Annual Gathering of Eagles’s theme is “Make Your Business Stand Out.”

“We started the Gathering of Eagles to benefit our students,” said Angela Crance, special assistant to the president at Wiregrass Technical College. “We’re excited Joel is speaking, he has such a different twist on leadership.”

Manby will speak from 8:30 a.m. until noon about the “Love Works” philosophy. The symposium continues through the afternoon with breakout sessions with successful South Georgia business leaders, including Ricky Dollar with Wendy’s, Tom Carroll with Sunset Farms, Tim Kuck with Regal Marine, Chuck and Susan Steel with Steel’s Jewelry, Andrea Schruijer with Lowndes County Industrial Authority and Ernest P. Coulouras with Seal Shield.

Tickets for the symposium are $199 for regular admission, which includes a copy of “Love Works,” and $250 for VIP admission, which includes a dinner with Manby the prior night. VIP Admission is limited to 50 people.

Sponsors include Valdosta State University, America’s Second Harvest of South Georgia, Atlanta Bread Company, Chick-Fil-A, Johnson Distributing, Leadership Lowndes, Quail Branch Lodge, Talk 92.1, The Valdosta Daily Times, and Wendy’s. All the symposium proceeds will benefit the Wiregrass Foundation, which uses funds to purchase new classroom equipment and offer financial assistance to students.

“The best way to get results is to have a basic belief in human beings,” said Manby. “You don’t need to scream or embarrass them. When I have worked out of fear, it has not brought out my best work.”

It’s a philosophy that Micha Hogan and Molly Deese see in practice every day.

“It’s hard to put it into words, but they really care about you,” said Hogan, Wild Adventures public relations manager. “Not just as an employee, but as a person.”

“When we take care of our employees, it translates to how they take care of our guests,” said Deese, Wild Adventures vice-president and general manager. “We put programs behind it. We have Share It Forward. We have a full-time health advocate, Maggee Davis, who talks with and checks in with our staff throughout the day.”

HFE even puts its money where its mouth is, matching employee contributions to Share It Forward dollar for dollar throughout all of their parks.

“We are a business,” said Deese, “but by putting our emphasis on the employees and the guests, we’re more successful and prosperous.”

People who are interested in purchasing a ticket to the symposium should call (229) 293-6190; or purchase it online at

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