The Next Generation
Being part of a family that owns and operates a park comes with its own special set of circumstances and challenges. Working alongside one’s parents, children, siblings, and other relatives can be quite different than navigating the dynamics of a traditional workplace. Three people who are helping to carry the torch of generations before them shared their insights at the Expo’s annual Family Matters EDUSession.
When asked to cite the top blessings and frustrations of working in a family business, Deno Vourderis of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park in New York said that disagreement within a family can hurt more than it would in a normal job.
“My generation has ideas on how we want to modernize our small park,” he notes as an example. They run into resistance, however, when older family members get scared and cling to how things have always been done. To help cope, Vourderis says that he’s learned the value of patience and incremental change.
As for blessings, he says keeping the Wonder Wheel spinning is the “glue that keeps the family together. At the end of the day, we love each other even when we’re angry with one another. That’s family.”
Lauren Crosby, fourth-generation owner of Indiana’s Holiday World, said that she, her siblings, and their mother faced a difficult situation when her father, Will Koch, died unexpectedly at a young age. The loss of his leadership, Crosby said, left them “in charge of this theme park that we were not ready to take on and run ourselves.” They reached out to a family business counselor to help explore what roles they should assume and larger, more existential issues such as how best to keep Holiday World operating. “They’ve helped us get through conflicts before they blew up and things we should be thinking about for the future, like succession planning,” she says, adding that she highly recommends the value of counseling.
Jeff Whiting, a fourth-generation member of the family that owns Whiting’s Foods at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in California, also addressed succession. While there hasn’t been any formal hand-off, he said that he feels like the transition is already happening. With his uncle, Ken Whiting, heavily involved with IAAPA as its outgoing chairman of the board, Jeff said that he’s been overseeing the company’s day-to-day operations. It’s great to have the wisdom and oversight of those who preceded him, he noted, but added that he has his own vision.
“Every younger generation wants to be able to take the business to the next level and do better than the previous generation,” says Jeff.