Under CEO Joel Manby’s guidance, SeaWorld has become the largest animal rescue organization in America
All of creation is involved in God’s great redemption story.
Under CEO Joel Manby’s guidance, SeaWorld has become the largest animal rescue organization in America. In this conversation with Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee, Mr. Manby, who is a member of The Army’s National Advisory Board, explains how SeaWorld is taking on the enormous threats to the health of our oceans, and calls for private as well as public entities to include the ethos of love as essential in the equation for success.
War Cry: How have you worked to turn around SeaWorld?
JOEL MANBY: I shared with our board before I took the job what needed to happen. I knew it was a great company. I knew I had a great cause. It was a company that cared deeply about wildlife. There were five things that we focused on with the board.
The first was to transform the brand from being known as animal entertainment that is not the rising tide anymore, and be who we really are: preserving animals and their habitats around the world. We’re the largest animal rescue organization in America but no one knew that. We call that experiences that matter. When a family comes to SeaWorld, they’re contributing dollars to huge rescue initiatives that cost over $10 million a year.
The second step was making sure our experience in the park matches that but not always with live animals. We use technology. We theme our rides with animal-focused stories. For instance, we built the longest, tallest, fastest coaster here in Orlando but we called it Mako and we partnered with Harby, an artist, who is also a marine biologist. He’s a folk hero in Florida who is very focused on stopping shark finning which kills 75 million sharks a year. It’s wiping out an entire species. When you ride Mako it goes towards stopping shark finning.
The third thing was dealing with our problems head on. We had serious, negative issues from a trainer death and then a documentary and legislation that came out against us. We decided to make the difficult decision to end Orca breeding and transition to an Orca encounter, more what the animal does in the wild and about the plight of the whale. We also partnered with a former adversary, The Humane Society of United States, in big ocean life issues like shark finning.
Financial discipline was the fourth thing.
The fifth was looking at other ways to grow our business strategically whether it’s resorts or other related services.
Why should people feel good about where SeaWorld is going?
JM: This may be the biggest transformation of a private company in business in recent years. We’re going from animal entertainment to improving the ocean’s health and cleanliness, animal health and related environmental issues. Americans love redemption stories, and we are a redemption story.
There are so many things we’re involved in to make the earth better, healthier and to improve the lot of animals. The more people know that, the more they’re going to love and support SeaWorld.
In what ways can the entertainment industry and ecological concerns be compatible?
JM: In all ways. The biggest enemies of animals are pollution, poachers and human development. Occasionally there’s nature-based issues but for the most part, they’re man made. God created the world and asked us to be a steward over it. As a species mankind hasn’t done a very good job. These issues are huge. They’re bigger than any one company, any one country, any one organization. It’s going to take much more than just government agencies to solve the problem. Private enterprise has to be involved because all of this takes money. That’s the ugly truth.
You can’t stop pollution and poachers and human development without having some resources to regulate, put poachers in jail, stop pollution of corporations, and have the needed government laws. Governments are not able to do it on their own. Our governments are having a hard time keeping people from being poor. Animal issues are always going to fall to the bottom unless there are private enterprises that are really focused on it. That’s why what we do is so important. The more companies use their resources to do good things the better off our society is going to be.
Do you think we’re making progress?
JM: We are making progress.
One of the reasons I wrote Love Works was to get the message out there that you can care and have a really successful organization.
How have you applied the concepts of Love Works to SeaWorld?
JM: Love Works represents the principles I learned when I was at Herschend Entertainment, the company I ran before SeaWorld. It’s taking 1 Corinthians 13—as Paul described it and Jesus called us to do—as our number one commandment. Jesus said we are to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. He used the Greek word agape.
That is not the emotional love that Americans think of when
they think of love. It’s how you treat people regardless of how you feel about
them. It’s applicable in all walks of life and certainly in the business world.
We can treat people with respect and kindness and forgiveness and truthfulness
even if we don’t like them or are frustrated with them. It means not only
measuring what people do—like hit sales numbers, hit revenue numbers, hit cost
targets. It also means what kind of leader you want to be. We want to be honest.
We want to be straightforward. We want to be forgiving. We measure not only
numbers, but also how you go about doing it.
It’s a unique concept and we haven’t got it fully going here, but at SeaWorld it’s also about loving all creatures. At Herschend, it was much more about loving employees. At SeaWorld, it includes loving the guests as well as loving nature and wildlife.
How does your Christian faith interact with your professional life?
JM: It should be completely. There should be no dichotomy. I practice spiritual disciplines, morning quiet time, and have accountability with other believers. I’ve been part of an accountability group for 30 years; we meet on the first Friday of every month. I worship at church where I find my spirit, my attitude of prayfulness throughout the day and being consistent to those seven words of love that I wrote about in Love Works (patient, kind, trusting, unselfish, truthful, forgiving, dedicated). I find it’s fully integrated.
When I get off my game and I get too busy for quiet time, too busy for God, I start to do it too much myself. I start to wear down, I start to get weary and I start to worry too much about what the world thinks, not Who I really should be pleasing. The stress of SeaWorld and the turnaround that we’ve been under actually drives me to my knees more. In that sense it’s been a good thing because I’ve been more dependent to get through it with my faith because it’s too big for any one man or woman’s ability.
What led you to serve as a member of the Salvation Army National Advisory Board?
JM: I didn’t know much about The Salvation Army. When I was asked to serve on the board, I thought of bell-ringing at Christmastime. I started reading the history and I realized they’re one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world. Jesus commanded us to love other people and have compassion for them. The Salvation Army does that in spades.
When I interviewed for it, the humility of the organization—I get emotional thinking about it—the humility of the people who serve is such a good example and a reminder for me. I get caught up in this fast paced materialistic world of business—then I go to a Salvation Army board meeting and I feel good because of all the good that The Salvation Army is doing. I’m reminded of Jesus’ humility when I see the people of The Salvation Army. They are giving and humble people and that is a good thing.
Anything else you’d like to add?
JM: I want to encourage everyone in the Army. It’s got to be difficult trying to serve sometimes due to the lack of success you may see in people you’re serving. The Salvation Army is a great organization doing great things. It’s an incredible honor for me to serve.