Valdosta Daily Times

May 10, 2013

Wild Adventures staffer on ‘Undercover Boss: Epic Employees’

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — A Wild Adventures employee returns to national television this evening in “Undercover Boss: Epic Employees.”

Four years ago, Albert Sandford worked as a trainer of new admissions employees at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo. In late 2009, Herschend Family Entertainment was celebrating 50 years of being a family-owned business, and cameras were a normal part of the job as media covered the unique nature of a business being started and operated by the same family for a half century.

So, it wasn’t unusual when a camera crew arrived in October 2009 to film Sandford train a new employee to deal with the public.

“When you come to work for Herschend, we think of each new hire as a new addition to the family,” Sandford says. As a trainer, Sandford was the man to

initiate that family approach to welcoming and preparing new employees for the corporation’s work environment as much as preparing them for the duties of their new jobs.

What Sandford didn’t know was that the man he trained in front of the cameras was Joel Manby, HFE’s president and CEO. Manby was in disguise for what was then a new show, “Undercover Boss,” which had yet to air.

In a filmed reveal, Sandford later learned Manby’s true identity. It was an emotional moment.

“Undercover Boss” viewers only saw Manby and Sandford working together for a few minutes on the episode which aired March 2010 on CBS, but they spent the entire day working together at Silver Dollar City.

“If you treat your co-workers like family, you open up to one another,” Sandford says, “so we established a personal connection, but this took place over a full day.”

Sandford was not only surprised to learn Manby was the company’s CEO and that the filming was for a network reality show, but he was surprised to learn he qualified for HFE’s employee programs.

Unlike some CEOs on “Undercover Boss,” Manby didn’t lavish cash and gifts on the company employees he encountered. Instead, he strengthened HFE’s existing programs and ensured that the employees he met while undercover qualified for them.

Under HFE’s Share It Forward program, Sandford qualified for a full scholarship to the university of his choice, with the stipulation he must continue working at a Herschend park each summer.

Though raised in the Branson area, and with family still there, Sandford was not satisfied with the types of business programs offered by Missouri universities. With his then-fiancee, Christie, Sandford looked for a business program offered by a university near other HFE parks.

They discovered Valdosta State University, a neighbor of HFE park Wild Adventures.

“We found Valdosta State University, this gem of a school in South Georgia ... with a stellar business program,” Sandford says.

Albert and Christie married and the Sandfords relocated to Valdosta by fall 2010, when he enrolled in VSU and took a job with Wild Adventures. The park also hired Christie, who works in the finance department. She is enrolled in radiology classes at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College.

Since arriving at Wild Adventures, Albert Sandford has earned promotions to become a supervisor of admissions.

He describes the work as “very fulfilling. Some people may think I have received special attention or I’m an exception because of the show, but I wasn’t given anything that isn’t already available to everyone else. ... I earned them through programs already in place.”

The Sandfords will not be in town to watch the special “Undercover Boss: Epic Employees” episode with fellow Wild Adventures employees tonight.

Having completed his junior year last week and still a few weeks before the park opens daily for summer, the Sandfords are in Missouri, on a pre-planned vacation, to visit family.

“Undercover Boss: Epic Employees” is scheduled to air 8 p.m. today, May 10, CBS.