goBeyondProfit CEO Interview: Changing Love from a 4-Letter Word to a Core Business Strategy
Friday, June 10th, 2022
Herschend Enterprises and their CEO, Andrew Wexler, were recently nominated and selected as the first 2022 goBeyondProfit Champion. We sat down with Andrew and learned how he credits seventy years of success to love as the core business strategy.
Changing Love from a 4-Letter Word to a Core Business Strategy
“Love is literally a four-letter word. Love is a complicated word. In fact, the Greeks had four words for love. Eros, which is what most people think of, and that’s the emotional love that you have for your spouse or significant other. And then you have philos, brotherly love that you have for those that are close to you – it’s a relational type of love. And then you have storge, which is parental love or the nurturing love you have for your child. All of those “loves” are emotions, feelings. But the fourth type of love is called agape and it’s a verb. Love as an action, a choice you make.
We founded our business culture in the action of love. We commonly say “love in action” to describe how we want people to behave and treat each other.
When Herschend Enterprises started it was easy for people to understand what “Leading with Love” meant because they could see our founders every day. Our employees understanding was based on their actions, how they treated each other. They were role models. But as we grew and geographically expanded, people weren’t able to see the founders every day.
We’re standing on the shoulders of giants, the founders, the previous leadership. They all created the foundation. My predecessor, Joel Manby, helped codify the language that we use to talk about “Leading with Love”, that common language we use so people across the organization. We have nine defined behaviors and a purposeful structure that allows employees throughout the organization to be trained based on these defined behaviors. Everybody understands it and everybody’s aligned.
The resulting culture doesn’t happen by accident. My leadership team and the leaders throughout this company make it real, day in, day out. You see it every day at each of our properties, whether it’s how we create memories worth repeating for our guests, or how they take care of each other, or how we’re involved in the communities that we’re in. Our team really believes in it and they act on it. And they know that they have the permission to do what’s right. That’s how we take this timeless concept of love and operationalize it in our day to day business.
When I became CEO, I felt like my purpose was to make sure “Leading with Love” is real and authentic throughout the organization. I commissioned a book to collect all the stories that have occurred over the years, examples of how we’ve loved our guests, our communities, our employees. Stories help people know what “Leading with Love” looks like, which is really the key to making sure it’s authentic. Stories help people understand that they have permission in the moment to act in a way that is uplifting or loving of another person.
A story from Dollywood is a great example. One of our hosts came upon a family. It was a father and two kids, and they were clearly distraught. People come into our parks and we want to make sure they’re having a fun time. So our host walked up to them and asked, “What’s wrong? Is there something I can do to help you?” And they said, “Well, we didn’t have enough money for the whole family to get in, and so mom is in the car.” This employee just knew that this was the antithesis of what we were trying to achieve. She knew that she had permission to lead with love. She took the family to the front gate, refunded their tickets, had the dad call mom to come meet them at the front gate and she let them in for free. Then, she gave them their money back from the original ticket purchase so they could have money to spend throughout the day.
That’s just an example of somebody being empowered to “Lead with Love” and take care of somebody else. Even though financially in the moment, that might not seem like the best thing to do, I think in the long run there are great returns from that type of action.