Good morning, my fellow WOE Friends,
Tomorrow is Valentines Day, or the Feast of St. Valentine if you're looking to be less commercial. The other day, I thought to myself how many religious holidays have become commercialized with big business; Christmas, Easter, and Valentines Day. Whatever it takes to make extra money, I guess.
Jennifer and I celebrated early and ate out this past Sunday, to avoid the restaurant rush. Instead of flowers and gifts, we will exchange a homemade card we each make. We'll spend our money on more useful things, like the food at the Florida State Fair. Yes, we're back in Orlando this weekend and we'll be hitting Universal as well. I'll include some pics from both on Monday.
Today's interview is with the creator and mastermind behind the World of Entopia, Steven C. If you haven't read the World of Entopia - The Story, let me give you some background.
I was invited to go on a two-week family/working vacation to the World of Entopia last year, to write about their ten year anniversary. It was the first time my family and I stayed on property. I went behind the scenes and interviewed several of their employee's (six), which I have been posting here.
You have read Craig's interview, as well as Julie's. This interview is with Steven C., the person responsible for all of what takes place here. I don't want to give too much away of what happens on our two-week adventure, because that would spoil the story for you. This interview is from Chapter 7.
I hope you enjoy reading it!
I head out to finally meet the man who everyone says is responsible for all of this. I followed his directions, and just as he said, there was a set of doors to the left of the concession stand in the Dark Room. There wasn’t a sign indicating what was behind those doors, but it did say “Authorized Access Only” on the doors. I went through the doors and straight ahead was a desk with a staff member and a security guard stationed nearby. She greeted me, and I told her who I was and that I had an appointment to see Steven C. for an interview at 11 a.m. She verified the appointment and asked me to verify my identity with a finger scan. After I was confirmed, she told me to take the elevator to the 8th floor. I took the elevator as directed and then the elevator doors opened to a vast and busy room with an array of desks and small offices on the sides. People were busily working on their computers, talking with each other and on the phones. Floor to ceiling windows surrounded the office space so you could see the Dark Room on one side and the State Fair on the other.
I went to the check-in desk and told the young lady that I was there to see Steven C. Before she could answer, I heard a voice from the sitting area next to the elevator I just exited, say; “Peter, it’s nice to see you.” I turned around to my right and a gentleman, slightly overweight and wearing glasses, approached me and shook my hand.
I said, “Steven C?”
“Yes,” he said, “How are you doing Peter?”
“Great, how are you?”
“I’m wonderful. Come, follow me.”
We walked down the center aisle of the office area, past all the desks and what appeared to be hard-working employees. We reached near the end of the room and went into a modest office, with the same type of windows overlooking the Complex as the rest of the room I just went through. He invited me in and closed the door. He asked if I wanted coffee, as he had his own Keurig. I asked for decaf. As the coffee was brewing, he asked me how everything was going and how my working vacation was so far.
“It’s going wonderfully. I enjoy this place so much, and now that we’re staying on property, it’s even better.”
“I’m thrilled to hear that,” he said as he handed me my coffee and sat across from me in his lounge area. “So, have you interviewed any of the employees yet?”
“Yes, Julie the waitress and Jack Minselli, the Illusionist.”
“How were they?”
“I was incredibly touched by their stories and moved by what this place did for them.”
“They are good people. Much like everyone here,” Steven C. said.
“Does everyone have a story like theirs? I asked.
“Not everyone. Some employees are here because they were selected in the opening of the WOE and pursued by us for their talents. We went after many top engineers in the world and spent good money to get them here. Mechanical, electrical, computer and software engineers. Many worked for ride manufacturers and other theme parks before coming here.”
“I said to him, “I bet some of the companies weren’t so happy that you took their people.”
“No, they weren’t, but we offered their people a new world in which to explore all their talents and never have to tamper down their dreams or imagination due to profit. In twelve plus years, since the planning stages of the WOE, we’ve not lost one employee because they wanted to go back to their old job,” he said, “But many other employees needed a helping hand, and we were there to help. They, in turn, help us.”
I said to him, “I hear you have Employee Scouts and Talent Scouts that look for people and talent to add to the WOE.”
“Yes, we do. Sometimes we hear of an act or an employee who might really be very good at something: Remembering names, creativity, detail oriented, very personable, etc. We send a scout to consider them. If they feel they may be a good fit, we’ll sometimes bring in others to meet and interview them. If we like what we see and hear, we’ll give them an offer to try working here and then we see how things go. Usually for 90 days.”
I told him, “the two people I interviewed so far were at their end when the Scouts came along.”
“Coincidence,” Steven C. said. “Tell me about yourself and family.” I talked for about twenty minutes, explaining all that I’ve done. I told him about my failed business, my supervisor days, Sally and Jennifer and her cancer.
“That’s remarkable Peter. You’ve worn a few hats in your time and gambled,” he said.
“Yes, I did. Unfortunately, I lost,” I added.
“You did what you thought was right at the time. Unfortunately, running your own business maybe wasn’t the right fit for you, and I’m sure the timing of the recession wasn’t good either.”
I explained, “With my eyes not being too good, I can’t really do very much.” So, Jennifer brings home most of the money. I wish I could earn more. I also wish I could be working for a theme park, instead of just writing about them. I would love to help design attractions, especially at Halloween. We used to have our own yard haunt for a few years. What a blast.”
“Peter, if you and Jennifer were to switch places, would you blame her for trying to do something better for your family? No, of course not,” he said. “It wasn’t like you went to a casino and gambled all your money away or burned it up doing drugs.”
“No, you’re right. I just feel bad that we can't make more money and with Jennifer being sick now, I wonder what will happen if she gets worse.”
“Peter, don't worry. I’m sure things will work out,” Steven C. said. “Now, I’m sure you’d like to hear a little about me. Well, there’s not much to say. I’m lucky to be where I’m at, and I count each day here as a blessing.”
“How did you get started? How did all this happen?”
“Well, I’m the same age as you, and I’m also married to a beautiful wife and have a wonderful daughter. My wife’s name is Lisa, and she’s my assistant. My daughter's name is Laura, and she is a music teacher here at the WOE. She’s 23, married, but no kids yet.”
“I’ve always loved going to theme parks, concerts and family vacations, much like you, Peter. But for some reason, I didn't enjoy many of those places or events the same as everyone else. Instead of me just watching a band play on stage, I would be watching the lights or the crowd. I would think how much better the concert could be with better sound, lighting, seating and lower costs. I would cringe going to the bathroom and seeing urine all over the floor by the urinals and toilets, the stall doors that wouldn’t lock, the sinks that wouldn't work, and the smell. The women always have it worse because there are never enough stalls.”
“I know what you’re saying. I’ve written about all these same issues in my blogs,” I said.
“I know you have. You feel the same as I do when it comes to these issues. We have standards that are higher than what’s out there today. Whether it be for concerts, attractions, rides, shows, hotels, food, and costs. Everything we do here is set to a much higher standard than any place else in the world.”
“How do you do it? And how did it get started?” I asked him.
“Well, I worked at several places before working here, but that isn’t really important. How this got started was simple. I met an individual over thirteen years ago, who has a lot of money and wants to remain anonymous. I gave him all my ideas for a new theme park/entertainment complex, and he loved them. I spoke of how we could help so many people and help keep shareholders and investors from controlling our decisions by always putting profit before people. We would need to keep WOE private. This individual offered to pay for the entire project.”
“Do you mind if I ask how much that was?” I asked.
“Let’s just say more than two billion and less than ten. They never wanted to be paid back. But they always have free access privileges to come and go whenever they want.”
“Does anyone know who they are?”
“Only a few,” he said. “We have a few residents that are here, whose main job is quality control. They are always observing and taking in guest reactions. They report on employee courtesy, efficiency, quality of the food and friendliness of the service. Then, they report back to me. I do much of the same thing; I watch, listen, observe, study and then suggest innovative approaches or solutions. I help them create new shows, rides, and attractions. That’s how we improve and get better. It’s also worth going outside of the WOE and looking at how everyone else is doing things, and why and how they are doing them.”
“Sometimes, you can see an act or a show or a band and think, ‘Man, what they could use in this show is this,’ or ‘how you could add a few elements to this act to make it really ‘POP!’ That’s why we are always looking for the best entertainment and employees in the world. We want to find people we can help, and they can help us get better in return.”
“What about the national acts you bring in? The big-name singers, bands, and entertainers? Do you find them, or do they solicit you?” I asked.
“Both,” said Steven C. “Some request an audition to perform, and sometimes we approach them.”
“They must audition? Even if they are a national or internationally famous act or singer?” I asked.
“Yes, everyone that requests to perform at the WOE or the Harmony Theater must first audition. Even if they’ve been around for 30 years, they must do an audition before being accepted or declined.”
“Why? If they’ve been playing for so many years? Who else does that?” I asked.
“Because many bands, singers, and entertainers, surprisingly, don't practice like they should. They don't rehearse and try to get better. Many just come back to the stage for money reasons. They may not even put on a good show, but they used their name recognition and made their money. Too much partying time and playing around and not taking their craft seriously. If they don't pass our audition, they are encouraged to keep practicing until we feel they can perform at a very high level and add to our top-notch entertainment. Some may never play here, and that’s unfortunate. But, if a guest is going to spend money to see an act, show or concert, then you better believe it will be the best entertainment with the best seating, lights, sound, and environment possible.”
“We have higher standards. Our attractions and rides hardly ever break down because the maintenance is above and beyond ordinary. Our employees are the best there is, and our atmosphere is made to entertain and relax you when you desire it. We are a mix of the best in entertainment and everything you love about vacations, to create a Utopia – the best in everything, all combined.”
“We also focus our attention on providing a very family-oriented environment. There is never extreme foul language used even in the comedy or concert venues. The drinking is limited to certain areas of the Complex and very closely monitored. We don't want anyone drunk and disorderly or starting problems with others.”
“We are a theme park,” he continued, “an entertainment complex, hotel, employee/family haven. We are a theme park 3.0. We have taken the theme park experience up a few more levels. And we do it with a commitment to investing first in our employee’s and our Complex. Always improving, striving to do more and to reach new heights. NO restrictions on where our imaginations can take us and no limits on caring for our most precious asset, our people. This philosophy is what makes The World of Entopia the best place for entertainment and vacations, and the best place to work, anywhere in the world.”
I said, “Everything you just said is remarkable. I wish everyone had this philosophy.”
“They could if they wanted to,” Steven C said. “But they choose profit over everything else. No matter how big they dream or how big of an idea to make something great, their accounting office always cuts it down to something smaller and less than what it should’ve been. There are many good companies out there with good intentions, but none of them provide what we do, especially at this scale and magnitude, especially in the entertainment industry! ‘Human selfishness causes many to not be treated fairly.’ Most in our industry don't mind socking you for parking, concessions, ticket prices, an unclean environment or broken rides or attractions being down because they’re not well maintained or are being ‘refurbished.’ It comes down to greed, and as long as guests keep paying and going to their parks, concerts, and hotels; then why should they change?”
“What do you think about Walt Disney?” I asked.
"Walt Disney had great intentions and was a visionary. Unfortunately, those leading the Mouse empire since then have made it hard for many families of modest means to really enjoy a vacation there. Disney now tends to cater to the higher income guests and many longtime Disney park visitors who cannot afford the prices are being turned away. I’m not sure that’s what Disney himself wanted."
"The Disney Company has a great engineering department and still creates some of the best attractions, parades, and fireworks show anywhere. But the ride maintenance is always lacking, and frequent breakdowns are commonplace. For some guests, a trip to Walt Disney World or Disneyland is a once in a lifetime experience. How disappointing it must be to have your favorite rides break down or be closed due to ‘refurbishment’ on a once in a lifetime visit, not to mention long lines for many attractions, in the outdoors."
"But, for many, the lure of the Mouse and princesses is what they’ve come for and just being there can be worth the time and money. Disney has shareholders, and they expect dividends and the stock price to rise. If you don’t produce, then you’re out of the leadership position. We don’t have that burden here. Our profits go back into our own company and our community. I still love going to Disney, because it’s a place I grew up with, and our daughter grew up with. But it doesn’t take me long on a visit to get frustrated by the enormous crowds, strollers, long lines and unreasonable prices."
“We’re not just here to entertain vacationing guests or provide great concerts, we’re also here to help those who work for us and our community. It’s part of taking care of good people and being a good steward of our profit."
With that, Steven C. thanked me for coming and doing the interview. He said he had other things to attend to but would be happy to meet with me for lunch down the road and talk with me some more. I thanked him, and he walked me back to the elevator and then invited me to bring Jennifer and Sally the next time, maybe for lunch. As he shook my hand, he looked me in the eyes and said, “it was really nice meeting you, Peter. I look forward to seeing you again soon. Enjoy your stay here at the WOE.”
I felt so grateful for this opportunity.
As I went back downstairs in the elevator and headed back to my suite, I just knew for sure how and why the WOE is the way it is, and I just interviewed the man responsible for it all. How genuine, caring and humble he is. A man who is not put on a pedestal and worshiped but is well regarded as someone who continues to help so many. I feel like the entertainment aspect of the WOE is merely a way to draw guests in, to help the guests and to earn money to help many of those who work and entertain here. This isn’t ordinary by any means, but maybe it should be.
Thanks for reading! Until next time,