Feld Entertainment CEO shares insights from globalized family company
Producing a 145-year-old live show means being ready to embrace change, says CEO Kenneth Feld, who runs the company that owns the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. After all, what other show besides the circus has been around that long?
"I can only think of one: Shakespeare," Feld said.
The CEO of Feld Entertainment was interviewed by Sport & Entertainment Management Assistant Professor Michelle Harrolle on Tuesday, kicking off the USF Sport & Entertainment Management Program's second annual lecture series, sponsored by Fox Sports Florida and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Feld runs the family business -- started by his father and now including Feld's three daughters -- out of Sarasota in a 600,000 square foot facility, big enough for two circuses to practice inside at the same time. Feld Entertainment owns and operates such notable productions as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Monster Jam, Disney Live, and Disney on Ice. The company's productions entertain more than 30 million people in 75 countries on six continents, with as many as 5,000 shows each year.
"Whatever live entertainment does with technology, live entertainment will always be with us," Feld told the audience at the USF Marshall Center Oval Theater. "It doesn't matter what culture you're from, if you speak English or if you don't, we excite your emotion."
Feld worked with the business since age five, when he would go to work on the weekends to spend time with his father, who was always working. When his father passed away, Feld took the reins of the company -- at only 35 years old.
"If it's a good experience, you develop a passion early on," he said. "It's really a passion. I never feel like I go to work."
He expanded the company into the entertainment giant it is today, developing Disney on Ice and taking the company global. (His thoughts on the global phenomenon that is Disney's "Frozen": "I've never seen anything like this, and I was around for The Beatles.")
Feld also spoke to the challenges and rewards of working with family.
"For me, every day is Take Your Daughter to Work Day," he joked.
He told his daughters they needed to work somewhere else for two years before coming to work for him, and was surprised when all three decided to join him at Feld Entertainment. He had them write a paper on what they liked about the company and where they thought they could contribute so that he could put each of them where he thought they would thrive.
Working with his daughters has been a growth experience for him, as well.
"I think I learned everything I know from my father and everything I don't know from my daughters," he said.
Kait Jones, a graduate student in the Sport & Entertainment Management program, said she was impressed by how Feld spoke about continuing to develop relationships with his employees no matter how big the company has gotten.
"I thought it was really impactful to see how he manages the people under him," she said.
The most important thing about his line of work, Feld is being flexible and forward-looking.
"People ask me every day, 'What's your favorite show?'" Feld said. "And my answer is always the same: 'The next one.'"