Tips from the Ringmaster

Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus head Kenneth Feld on how he keeps all the balls in the air.

BY April 7, 2014

You knew this was no ordinary Speakers Assembly of Southwest Florida luncheon last Friday when you could pick up a box of popcorn shortly after arrival and found red clown noses in a receptacle at your table. Indeed, the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point had many of the trappings of a circus—glitzy costumes and heroic posters also on display—and the man who stepped to the podium was Kenneth Feld, chief executive officer of Feld Entertainment.

He’s the current mastermind behind such entertainments as the Ringling  Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, Disney on Ice and Monster Jam. And he shared some illuminating inside stories behind the success of his enterprise.

His dad founded the company and he told of two learning experiences that helped him move the operation forward.  One came after he introduced the ice show and found it not catching on with the public. He said he went to Disney and suggested adding a Disney segment to the show. The executives  there were unimpressed. As one of them ushered him out the door, Feld, in an inspired moment, said, “Let’s  make the whole show Disney on Ice.” “Let’s go back inside,” said the executive and soon the deal was struck for a Disney on Ice show that has become an iconic success for both organizations.

Feld said that he and his dad pretty much spent their careers in the family business and he looked at his three daughters, Nicole, Alana and Juliette, and wondered if they’d even be interested in becoming the third generation of leadership. In any event, he wanted them to get their college educations and then take jobs   outside the company.  That would bring fresh ideas above and beyond the Feld way of doing things. In the end, all three women   decided to join the company and, he said, have enriched operations with their diverse skills and experiences.

The last question Feld was asked by the audience was, “What’s your favorite act of all time?” Though he professed his love of the elephants and cited the company’s renowned Center for Elephant Conservation—his answer was simple: “The next one.” That’s surely knowing the way forward.

Related Images: