Connections: Joel Manby
Building a Business of Love
Joel Manby is the CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, which has 26 properties in 10 states, including Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo. Manby has appeared on the TV program Undercover Boss and is the author of Love Works — Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders. Pentecostal Evangel Editor Ken Horn recently spoke with Manby.
evangel: Tell us about your early life.
MANBY: I grew up in a very humble home in Battle Creek, Mich. My father was a failed entrepreneur. For about five years he made about $2,500 a year, so we didn’t have financial resources. But my parents were very loving and very faith-based. We went to church every Sunday — but more than that, we talked about it at home. So even though we had no money, I had a very good childhood. I was very fortunate.
evangel: You were highly successful before you ever went to Herschend Family Entertainment. What were some of the challenges and frustrations you faced while achieving that success?
MANBY: Perhaps I was a success in the world’s eyes, but I did not feel like a success. I traveled all the time. When I was head of Saab North America, at 37 years old, I also worked in Asia and was on the road 70 percent of the nights during the week.
As a result, my family life was crumbling. Anybody in ministry or senior leadership knows what it’s like to travel and be away from your family. Things were crumbling around me, and I did not know where to turn. I didn’t think I could hold my family together, staying in the auto world.
That’s why I am so glad I was able to transition to Herschend Family Entertainment and learn the right way to lead — with love.
evangel: Talk about Undercover Boss. Take us through the experience of being on the show.
MANBY: It was a big risk. Network television is often not kind to Christians, and it is clear that we are a Christian-based company with Christian principles. We are fortunate that CBS chose to tell the real story, and they were very accurate.
The biggest benefit that came out of that program involves our internal foundation, which is called “Share It Forward.” It’s an assistance fund into which employees can contribute. Then the company matches it, and the Herschends pitch in another dollar. We use that money to help our employees in need.
As a result of the exposure brought about through that show, we are now helping over 800 families a year — almost 10 percent of our employees. Undercover Boss really brought growth to that fund, mostly because our employees saw the acts of unselfishness played out in the business setting.
evangel: Your book, Love Works — Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders, is based on principles found in 1 Corinthians 13. Did the idea for the book come to you because you saw those principles in action?
MANBY: The Bible talks about what Jesus regards as a fundamental commandment: Love others as yourself (see Matthew 22:37-40). He also told His disciples that the world will know Christians are His disciples by their love for each other (see John 13:35).
Love, then, is how we show the world we are Christians. When I looked at 1 Corinthians 13, I knew those words described Jack and Peter Herschend. So I took seven principles from 1 Corinthians 13, and I added real stories and tools I had learned from the Herschends — as well as from my own experiences. I put these into a practical format that’s a quick read, with real-life stories to demonstrate how a person can use love in the workplace.
The reality is that most businesses, and many Christians, view using love as something that is done on Sunday or at home. But Monday through Friday is when it is difficult to put love into practice. It is important for any Christian to understand, “How do I live out my faith in the dog-eat-dog working world?” Hopefully, this book does a good job of explaining that.
evangel: The book deals quite a bit with balance: Loving people doesn’t mean tolerating everything. Loving people doesn’t mean you don’t have to discipline people sometimes or go through difficult times. Talk about the issue of balancing love.
MANBY: Most people in business leadership, or even in home leadership, focus on either power or love. The truth is you have to balance those two dynamics.
In business, you have to balance profitability and caring. We talk about that openly in our company. There is a tension between having to hit the numbers and being caring. You can’t do everything employees want or you will never be profitable. But if you just focus on the numbers, you won’t care about the people.
evangel: Talk about what it means to be unselfish as a leader.
MANBY: Unselfishness is a very difficult word to execute. Unfortunately, it eliminates a lot of CEOs in this country. We see too much selfishness. The best way our company reflects unselfishness is through the foundation I mentioned earlier.
We also try to practice what I call “shared sacrifice.” During the recession, we had to make difficult decisions, just like every other company. In one case, instead of laying off about 400 people — which we were going to have to do to protect the company — we all took pay cuts at top leadership. We also froze everybody else’s wages. Through these measures, we protected almost all of those jobs. That’s shared sacrifice: trying to protect as many jobs as possible.
evangel: The book is filled with good, practical, godly advice that would work in almost any company, and in almost anybody’s life. It’s not just for leaders.
MANBY: Let’s face it: As a parent, you’re a leader. Whether you lead a family, a PTA, or a Fortune 500 company, I believe there are principles in this book that anyone can learn from, because it contains the principles of love God wants us to focus on every day.
evangel: What do you hope people take away from this book?
MANBY: I hope, at a personal level, they discover principles that will make them more content at work. They don’t have to leave love at the door; they will be more content in the workplace when they walk through those doors focused on God’s principles of love.
I also hope companies put these principles into practice, because I think they can be more profitable as well as enjoy better working environments.
Herschend Family Entertainment has had double-digit returns from a business standpoint. But we also have the lowest employee turnover rate in the industry. This is because we have very motivated and engaged employees. So I reject the false dichotomy between people and profits.
I think we can help companies, and I hope we help America. I also hope more companies put this book into practice, and we get on the right track in America. I think one reason there’s too much anti-business sentiment is because, frankly, not enough businesses do the kinds of things that the Herschends do. If they did, we’d have more support for the businesses in this country.
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