24 May 2021 // Thoughts

“Learning How to Win” From Over 20 Industry Leaders

As part of our Host Sponsorship of the recent IAAPA Virtual Conference, JRA was honored to present the session “Learning How to Win by Learning How to Lose: Stories of Recovery and Resilience from Around the World.” In this Manufacturer & Supplier Solutions Talks session, industry leaders across various countries, markets, and disciplines shared their thoughts on how COVID-19 impacted their organizations, their visitors, and themselves. They also shared their hopes for how the attractions industry will eventually reflect on this period of challenge and change. As the panelists discussed their strategies for recovery and resilience, emotions of fear and uncertainty gave way to expressions of optimism, hope, and even a little humor.

“The title of the session, ‘Learning How to Win by Learning How to Lose,’ pretty much summed up what we wanted the audience to walk away with,” said Vice President, Shawn McCoy, who created the concept for the video. “What have these industry professionals learned from the past twelve months? How did the loss and uncertainty of COVID change their ways of doing business? How do they want future generations to reflect on this period of history? And how do they plan to build back better?”


Definition of Adversity

“In general, you’re just dead in the water, and that’s quite frankly exhausting.” – Barb Granter, California’s Great America

“To know that [visitors] jumped through all those hurdles to come to your attraction, and they would walk through our doors, and that meant the world to us, that they chose us.” – Anne Jewell, Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory

“When we found ourselves physically separated, we found ourselves more united.” – Prof. Lim Tit Meng, Science Centre Singapore

The session begins with an introductory message from JRA Owner/CEO Keith James before moving into its first chapter – adversity. In this section, JRA Project Manager Kate Batt posed the question, “what has been the toughest part about the last year, for you, for your business, for your clients or for your guests?” Several of the participants lamented at the lack of momentum, as they were coming out of a record-breaking 2019. They spoke to the fear and uncertainty of not knowing when the pandemic was going to end, as well as their feelings of isolation in the absence of human interaction. In addition, there was the need to immediately shift gears in the face of indefinite closure, leaving Science Centre Singapore Chief Executive Lim Tit Meng with a challenge that was anything but “sweet” …


Definition of Adaptability

“The global pandemic just reinforced our viewpoint that we need to continue to take a long-term approach to the business and not to have any knee-jerk reactions that could…adversely impact not only us, but our partners.” – Matt Proulx, HASBRO

“As we look at going forward, something that doesn’t change is being people, product, and strategy ready.” – Bob Williams, Calaway Park

From adversity, the conversation shifted towards adaptability. How has the past year changed the way our panelists work or the way they run their businesses? Several industry leaders touched on the dichotomy of having to operate from a position of scarcity during the pandemic while at the same time developing plans to scale up once the industry returned to growth. Others talked about their successful virtual initiatives and other “pivots” that they launched in 2020, connecting with their communities through innovation while still demonstrating compassion. But the majority felt that being nimble, embracing change, and adapting were the greatest lessons learned over these past 15 months.


Definition of Resilience

“I hope that people will say that the attractions industry didn’t just survive the pandemic but that we used it as an opportunity to thrive, that we came back and made meaningful and enduring changes…we’re going to be entering a time when the world needs joy and escape more than ever.” – Jenefer Brown, LIONSGATE

“At the end of the day, what I think is probably most important is that we’ve managed through this, we’ve survived, the business recovered, but we did it in a way that really took care of our employees and associates and continued to deliver a great experience for our guests.” – Victoria Lozano, Crayola Attractions and Retail

“I think people will look back and value how cultural institutions and museums helped get us through the pandemic by communicating our storytelling in new ways.” – Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center

Most of us want this pandemic to be a distant memory, evaporating in the mists of time. But in addition to the profound sense of loss we have all experienced, there should be an equally profound sense of pride. We’ve endured; we’ve survived; we’re still here. So, what is our ultimate legacy? Decades from now, when people look back on this moment in time, what do our colleagues hope people will say about the attractions industry and how we’ve handled this adversity?

In answering this question, many of our colleagues again leaned on the characteristics of adaptability, innovation, and openness to change. We as an industry created or reaffirmed our commitment to issues such as diversity and inclusion, professional development, and safety. We embraced innovation, and in the face of unprecedented challenges innovated not just creatively, but operationally. We adopted the “audible ready” and became nimble in the face of constantly changing regulations. We collaborated, shared ideas, and created community amongst our peers and even our competitors. Most importantly, our panelists want the industry to remember that we were caring and compassionate – that we looked out for our teams while still trying to create the best experience for our visitors.


Learning How to Win

“We’ve been tested in a way we didn’t expect, and we didn’t measure up at times, but what we have done is come together…Human connection is what we do.” – Jonathan Casson, SONY Pictures Entertainment

“I’m hoping that after this time that we’ve learned some valuable lessons for mitigating the impact of these occurrences in the future.” – Linda Dong, China Leisure Entertainment

“I think after everything we’ve been through; the opportunities are endless.” Denise Beckson, Morey’s Piers

The fourth and final chapter of “Learning How to Win” represents the turning point of the pandemic and its inherent hurdles. From fear, we find hope. From uncertainty, we find purpose. From isolation, we find community. We asked the panelists, “what is one word to describe your thoughts on the future?” Not surprisingly, a few of the participants cheated a bit, unable to contain their emotions to one word or even one sentence. But the prevailing words were “optimistic,” “confident,” “hopeful,” “bright,” “beautiful,” and “encouraged,” as we all strive to achieve not a “boring better” as the Mind Museum’s Maria Isabel Garcia explains, but a “learned thing” – a better that comes from our shared experiences, challenges, losses, and lessons. The video concludes by hearkening back to the title of the session – that only by learning how to lose can we truly learn how to win.

“The JRA marketing team wanted the session to be engaging and insightful to the audience,” said Anita Daugherty, JRA Executive Producer, Media. “So, we seamlessly edited the panel’s thoughts together to create an impactful response to the moderator’s question.” Added JRA Director of Operations, Dana Everhart, “The hardest part about putting it together was editing it down to 20 minutes! The panelists provided such great material that it was extremely hard to choose. I hope we make a director’s cut someday that incorporates all of this incredible footage.”

“We are extremely grateful to our friends, colleagues, and staff for participating in ‘Learning How to Win by Learning How to Lose,’” said Keith James, JRA Owner/CEO. “The participants offered their uncensored reflections of the past twelve months, as well as their (guardedly) optimistic outlooks for the future. We think viewers of this video will learn from them, and we hope they’ll be inspired by them as well.”

Special thanks to IAAPA for inspiring us to produce this video. For information on future IAAPA virtual and in-person events, visit www.iaapa.org.

“Learning How to Win by Learning How to Lose” participants:

Dieter Cornejo Araujo, Partner, VXT Negocios
Denise Beckson, Vice President, Morey’s Piers
Jenefer Brown, EVP and Head of Global Live, Interactive and LBE, LIONSGATE
Jonathan Casson, Vice President of Business Development, SONY Pictures Entertainment
Ahmet Colakoglu, CEO for New Openings, The Land of Legends
Linda Dong, Chairwoman, China Leisure Entertainment
Barb Granter, VP and General Manager, California’s Great America (formerly of Gilroy Gardens)
Maria Isabel Garcia, Managing Director and Curator, The Mind Museum
Journey Gunderson, Executive Director, National Comedy Center
Anne Jewell, Vice President and Executive Director, Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory
Karen Kelly, Director of Exhibits and Education, Children’s Museum of Atlanta
Victoria Lozano, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Crayola Attractions and Retail
Lim Tit Meng, Chief Executive, Science Centre Singapore
Mark Pauls, General Manager, Kennywood
Matt Proulx, Vice President – LBE, Hasbro
Paul Spana, Exhibit Director, Space Center Houston
George Wade, President, Bay Laurel Advisors
Bob Williams, General Manager, Calaway Park
Tom Zaller, President, Imagine Exhibitions

JRA Participants: Kate Batt, Colin Cronin, Christie Gronauer, Wentao Huang, Keith James, Rick O’Connell, Rebecca Parnell, Tony Schmidt, and Randy Smith

JRA Content and Production Team: Anita Daugherty, Dana Everhart, Chloe Hausfeld, Shawn McCoy, Clara Rice

Editor: Mark Cretcher