Love Works at Wild Adventures Theme Park

Barbara Kieker

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Wild Adventures Theme Park in Valdosta will host a special guest on Wednesday, June 20 – Joel Manby, president and chief executive officer of Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE), the owner and operator of the theme park.  Manby is promoting his newly published book titled Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders, which details the HFE framework for leadership.

"The book honors the company's founders, Jack and Peter Herschend, who taught me that love does work in business.  By love, I don't mean romantic love but how you treat people whether you like them or not," Manby said.

The largest family-owned theme park corporation in the U.S., HFE operates 26 family-oriented theme parks in 10 states, including Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo. and Wild Adventures Theme Park.  Manby has been president and CEO since 1998 and previously was CEO of Saab North America and a corporate executive at Saturn.

Manby wrote the book after appearing in the inaugural 2010 season of Undercover Boss on CBS.  The HFE culture came through on the show and generated a tremendous response online, by email and letters.  The book launched in May as the #1 seller in Amazon's business management and leadership category and reached #55 in all Amazon books.  Manby started on a book tour in May and is currently visiting the 26 HFE properties to sign books for employees and the public.

"The response has far exceeded my expectations.  I think it shows we have a leadership crisis in our country and people are looking for a better way to lead.  It's been very heart-warming and all royalties go to help Share It Forward, our company's foundation to help employees in need," Manby said.

Seven Words that Define Love
The seven principles detailed in Love Works are paraphrased from 1 Corinthians, a letter written by the apostle Paul more than two thousand years ago.  The principles describe what love is: patient, kind, trusting, unselfish, truthful, forgiving and dedicated.  For about 10 years, HFE has integrated the principles into its hiring, promotion and pay practices.

"We pay for performance on the principles.  If employees hit their numbers by leading in the right way then they receive the maximum reward.  If they do one or the other then they will earn less," Manby explained.

According to Manby, guests will experience the company's culture and philosophy in the enthusiasm projected by its approximately 12,000 employees.  HFE's mission is "creating memories worth repeating" and it relies on enthusiastic employees to help create memorable visits for its guests.

"We realized the level of enthusiasm that guests experience will never rise any higher than what employees experience working here.  It takes years to build the culture.  We've been at it at Silver City for 50 years, at Dollywood for 30 years and at Wild Adventures for only four years.  We seen light-years of improvement at Wild Adventures but we are still getting better," Manby said.

Sharing it Forward
Unselfishness is one of the words that defines love and it describes the focus on the company's Share It Forward Foundation.  Employees make voluntary contributions to the foundation, which the company matches dollar for dollar.  The funds are used to help employees in need. So far Share It Forward has helped approximately 2,000 individuals and families at Wild Adventures.  

"Albert – one of the employees featured on the Undercover Boss episode – is going to Valdosta State University on a Share It Forward grant.  And I talk in the book about Monica, who the foundation helped with the adoption of her older sister's child," Manby said.

According to Manby, 10 percent of the HFE seasonal work force receives some form of assistance from Share It Forward.  Grants are given for catastrophic aid, assistance to single parents, educational assistance and many other forms of aid.

Performance is Proof
Proof that the Love Works leadership philosophy actually does work has to encompass the financial performance of the organization.  According to Manby, HFE outperforms every regional theme park organization in the U.S. in terms of return on investments and efficient use of capital. Beyond HFE, Chick-fil-A, Inc. is another example of a successful business built on a Love Works philosophy.

"You can be professional and caring at the same time.  And you can be caring and accountable," Manby said.

Manby will sign copies of Love Works for employees and the public at 4 p.m. on Weds. June 20 at Wild Adventures.  All of the book proceeds and part of the profits the company earns from guest visits go to the Share It Forward Foundation.

"We hope the community will come out and support Wild Adventures.  It's a small market and we need people to visit the park," Manby said.

More information on Wild Adventures Theme Park is available at  More information on Herschend Family Entertainment is available at  Manby's book is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  More information on the book is available at

About Barbara Kieker

Barbara Kieker is a freelance writer who writes on business-related topics for a number of web-based properties. She also provides communications services to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.