Tim Murphy of Boomers Parks: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Positivity is key! A positive work environment will keep employees at ease during difficult times and motivate them to keep a productive work ethic. Although very tough at times due to the pandemic, the government declaring masks, then no masks, then masks again… inflation, looming recession, and any other outside event that affects the business, as a leader, you must stay positive! I don’t take a side on any of the outside issues thrown at us, but look for the benefit or opportunity that you can see in these issues. There is always an opportunity there…somewhere!
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Murphy.
As CEO of Boomers Parks since 2020, Tim Murphy has taken six family entertainment centers and two water parks, spanning West to East Coast, from bankruptcy to profitability in just a year — in the middle of a global pandemic. When Boomers acquired these parks, they were operating at a $10 million loss. Tim transformed the customer experience to give guests a Disney-like experience and added new revenue streams to generate a 180% increase in revenue in 2021, with sales on a similar trajectory for 2022.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up working at a Family Entertainment Center called Spirit of 76 that my family owned in New Jersey. Thirty-five+ years later, I’m the CEO of Boomers Parks, which owns six Family Entertainment Centers and two water parks with locations in California, Florida, and New Jersey.
I started my professional career at Walt Disney World and have since served more than 150
entertainment, restaurant, and food & beverage brands across more than 10,000 locations in C-suite and senior positions.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I read that Jeff Bezos once said “Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70 percent of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90 percent, in most cases, you’re probably being slow.” One of my biggest mistakes was needing too much information in order to make a decision during the earlier part of my career. Now, I have more experience to gauge situations. A great way to learn from this is to course-correct. If something doesn’t work one way, move in another direction. This will enable you to learn and make quicker decisions.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m most grateful for my father and mother because they got me into the theme park business and helped me understand it. They taught me where you can make and lose money, and other tricks of the trade. Another person I’m grateful for is Abe Gustin Jr., former CEO and Chairman of Applebee’s. While working for Applebee’s, I was able to pick Abe’s brain for four years while we looked at real estate in Florida. I asked myself questions like, “How is he doing what he’s doing? How did he find the best Applebee’s real estate? How does he make a franchise more successful?” Abe really knew what he was doing and was like a father to me.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When businesses engage with local businesses and organizations, it tends to make them more successful. For example: every Applebee’s has a certain area that is locally based within the restaurant, whether it’s a corner of the restaurant or by a booth, there are photos and collateral commemorating local memories. Abe Gustin Jr. taught me the importance of this strategy. Adding local elements to your business shows loyalty. Boomers supports its local communities because it lets people know we’re in it for the long run.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
The hardest part of being a leader during uncertain or difficult times is to have as fair and even handed of a personality as you can. When everyone is going through a difficult time, we need everyone to know that we’re all human, but still need to find a way to be positive, honest and transparent. As leaders, we must tell colleagues what is going on in our company, honestly and frankly. If you can, show vulnerability, be understanding and continue to smile, despite how bad things are. I teach my team that when they walk out of their offices and into our parks, they need to perform for guests. This is a method I learned working for Disney; when you’re on stage as a Cast Member, you need to perform. Workers need to go out, smile for guests, and lead with their core values. Always find the positive aspects in any situation by returning to your core values and translating them, all while understanding that you’re about to be on stage. Put the bad days out of your mind and focus on what’s positive.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Having gone through a pandemic, opens and closes, layoffs, good times and bad times, giving up has crossed my mind. In spite of it all, I ask myself, “What can I impact? What can I do?” and I reground and refocus.
I am a runner, and running races is my metaphor of running a business — you have to keep going, keep training. This is what you have to do in business.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
I think of the Napoleon Hill quote: “Effort only fully releases its reward after a person refuses to quit.” I refer to this quote often with my team. There’s a lot of great wisdom in leadership, but every week I think of a specific quote that helps my team overcome hardship. Elon Musk, Jack Welsh, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, the Hilton Family — all of these people were different leaders, it’s what you take from them.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to stay positive. It’s tough, but you have to. It’s essential to record the results of what’s happening and figure out what you’re doing to move them. Give your team hope, give yourself hope and be positive. If I notice I’m being negative because of the nature of the topic (sales, revenue, etc.), I know I just need to stay positive. I take in what the Cerberus board can provide and incorporate new ideas from my team. It’s important to really get granular with the information you’re giving your team. This may be what really helps to change the direction of the situation. Sometimes we lose sight of this, so we must get further into the details because that’s where you can seek a change. What can you do to change the direction? Keep at it, find the positive, focus on the positive and push the positive. This will help you see good results. This helps the team too. Honesty, integrity, and transparency are our core values and we must follow them.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The number one thing to do to boost team morale when the future seems uncertain is to get out and go talk to everyone. You absolutely must show up and be present as a leader. I’m constantly at the parks, talking to team members and listening to them. I often host town hall meetings in the parks and get the opportunity to listen and hear what my team wants, which is a great way to boost morale. It’s important to realize that small talk never hurts. I try to remember the little things about my team members, like their favorite sports team or where they’re going to school, and this makes them feel valued and appreciated. In order to motivate and inspire others, you need to listen. Most people don’t settle down and slow down. As a CEO, my role works best when I simply stop and listen. I’m open to team feedback and want to show them that they’re all important. I want to be transparent about what I do and assure them that they can do it too. Your employees need to know that their leader is human and has emotions just like they do. At the end of the day, we all need to do our jobs and work together with our team. I’m one of them and I will be there for them.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
The best way to communicate difficult news to your team is to do so as quickly as possible. If there’s an issue, don’t hold back, just let them know. If you have struggling team members, you may need to discipline them or explain to them they need to move on. It’s important to be as thorough as possible and give examples of what’s not right. What needs to be fixed? Why is this an expectation? How does it line up with our core values? Do this and move on from it. In addition, I like to continue to reinforce this through our core values.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
This is a good question because there are different factors that contribute to this, like capital restraints, sales, etc. It’s important to create hope. Why are we doing what we’re doing? We want to be the number one leader in family entertainment. We need to try to reach our goals despite uncertain times. How can you lead while working with your core fundamental values? How have we taken care of the parks? Are we doing all we need to do to make sure families love this place? Asking these questions helps growth. A commitment from Cerberus to put more attractions in, even in bad times, because they believe in growth, is an example. Deliver what the future can be, and do it with conviction. People can tell when you aren’t working transparently. Workers can see when you’re being honest and can see when you’re working toward goals that create more opportunities.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The number one principle that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times is to follow your core values. If you don’t follow your core values and stray off course because one group asks for one thing, then you end up losing your focus. You may then have fewer guests coming through your door. Focus on guests and team first — growth, honesty, integrity, and transparency are the values to rely on to form trust.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Positivity is key! A positive work environment will keep employees at ease during difficult times and motivate them to keep a productive work ethic.
Although very tough at times due to the pandemic, the government declaring masks, then no masks, then masks again… inflation, looming recession, and any other outside event that affects the business, as a leader, you must stay positive! I don’t take a side on any of the outside issues thrown at us, but look for the benefit or opportunity that you can see in these issues. There is always an opportunity there…somewhere!
I remember in early November 2020, just before Thanksgiving, we were finally able to open our parks full-time for the first time since our parent company, Cerberus private equity, purchased Boomers Parks in June 2020. This was just before the last big surge of the pandemic as cases of COVID-19 were beginning to escalate before the Thanksgiving holiday. I was feeling a bit of optimism after five+ months of trials and tribulations with our eight parks in California, Florida, and New Jersey with opening and closing and each week and trying to stay positive for the entire team to stay focused. We kept making the parks the best we could make them because this good day was finally about to happen.
The team was more upbeat than normal considering the ‘hell’ we went through for the past five months, but then the COVID-19 cases escalated much faster around and during the Thanksgiving holiday until the first week of December 2020, and we were forced to close the parks. In fact, we only had our Boca Raton location open during the next 9–10 weeks. We were burning so much cash to stay afloat during this time, it was unfathomable that we could survive the closure for too long, but it lasted 9–10 weeks before we could begin to open again, and to make matters worse, I needed to authorize eliminating 80–90% of my workforce during this time. Talk about taking the air out of your sails!
After the initial feelings of ‘why me?’, I have learned during challenging times that my team needed me to be happy, be real about the situation, but more than anything BE POSITIVE! I kept saying to myself “we’ll get through this!” And we did.
But more importantly, my team needed to know that I was there for them and would keep focusing on what we needed to do to make parks great when we did open back up. We made it through this challenging time by being honest and real about the entire situation. We did fully begin to open all parks by the end of March 2021 and we went on to set records for the year in terms of sales and profits. We took the time while we were closed to be ready, to be real, and to be positive!
2. Communicate effectively. Having an open communication strategy with your team will ensure everyone is on the same page.
During the challenging time with COVID-19 and the park closures, we were open and honest with our team every step of the way. It was not easy, but you must be as open and transparent as you can be despite the difficulties.
However, effective communication started at the beginning, before the completion of the acquisition of Boomers Parks by our parent company, as it started with the ten core values in our employee handbook and that we live by daily as follows:
- Honesty, Integrity & Transparency
- Guests and Team First
- Clean, Safe Quality Products & Services
- Clear Vision, Clear Communication
- Passionate, Motivated, Committed
- Accountable, Respectful, Responsible
- Innovative, Take Calculated Risks
- Profitable Sales Growth
- Strategic Partnerships
- Social Responsibility
Although core values are your guiding point to live by and occasionally a team member may fall short at times to live up completely to these ten core values, we use these ten core values as teaching points to ground ourselves. Note above that “clear vision, clear communication” is one of our core values that we live by daily, and thus the entire team works to communicate effectively.
On every team and management call, we stress at least one point of the ten core values above to discuss what it means and why it was created, and to show how other great companies and leaders in industries have used these ten core values. And as leader, you must act in accordance with your core values to display to others that if the top leader, the CEO, can live up to these core values, then everyone must live by these values in Boomers Parks as there are no shortcuts.
It’s fundamental to a company to adhere to your value system and that itself sends a direct message to your team (and guests and vendors) on how and what we at Boomers Parks do to effectively communicate. This provides your team with an open communication strategy that ensures everyone is working towards what the company values the most.
3. Challenge how you will get to the next level. Have a vision of where you’re heading and make sure your team is on board.
From day one at Boomers Parks in June 2020, I needed to set the vision and tone of our new direction. On the first company call after acquisition and before I could get out to the Parks, I needed to set the vision. It could have been me against our 650+ team members (and the team grows to over 1,000+ during full summer operations).
So, I started with implementing core values on day one both verbally and in writing in our new employee handbook (i.e. honesty, integrity, transparency, guest and team first, clean quality products and services, profitable growth, innovative risk taking, etc.) that the company would run by which was not something everyone was accustomed to from the previous bankrupt company, APEX Parks Group. The previous company allowed each of the Parks to make their own decisions without very much input from corporate. People usually do not like change, let alone the changes we needed to make to get everyone on board with the new processes and turnaround the company to profitability from bankruptcy.
I made myself a presence, everywhere at every Park to talk with team members and guests. Yes, I was hands-on and out at every park… all the time. And frankly, this was a shock to the system. We needed to move from season passes and giving everything away for nearly free, to implementing pricing strategies, new food and beverage, a plan to repair broken attractions and buildings, and to clean and paint the parks. And little by little, even with all the openings and closings due to the pandemic, we achieved that.
However, along the way, I needed the senior team to buy-in, and they did. I also needed to sever ties with individuals that did not follow the core values. Some of the senior team reluctantly bought in, but when they saw our success, they became believers. Then we needed to push our messages down to the Park managers, and again when they saw the successes we were having, they became believers too. Then to the Assistant Managers on down to the front-line hourly ride attendants, hosts, food and beverage workers, front desk, and sales.
In addition, I have weekly calls with the entire management team to be transparent with our weekly and monthly results, good or bad, trying to point out the positives on a bad week. But the main things that I like to focus on and reinforce weekly are our core values on every call and with every meeting I have in person. That alone gets us to the next level by following and sticking with our core values that you live by every day to strive for success.
4. An opposing viewpoint, or a difference of opinion, is always welcome because it helps us build stronger bridges to overcome challenges and achieve successful solutions.
Opposing viewpoints are healthy! Although when I took over the company as CEO, I had a certain vision and plan when joining the company, I have also been around long enough to know that I do not know everything about every state, region, and municipality to know every little detail that affects those areas. So, hearing different and opposing viewpoints is healthy and needed. I like when team members have a different viewpoint that can aid the company’s goals and we can tweak their idea for a great contribution to the company. I call that “plusing” their idea for the best outcome to help the company.
Initially when I took over Boomers Parks, I dictated the goals to the team, but surprisingly the team bought into the methodology and started to perform the functions and goals on their own with only an overall vision and strategy to obtain the goals, which makes my job easier as CEO.
5. Motivation, passion, and commitment are helpful in good times and essential in down times, lubricating the engine that drives success.
As stated in my core values above, “Passionate, Motivated, Committed” have been a requirement to be a part of the Boomers Parks team since I started.
We can all be passionate when things are going well, and we want more of the same that motivates us and commits us to the values of the company. We saw this during the reopening of Boomers Parks in March 2021, after the effects of the pandemic resided and we set records for both sales and profits for the year ended December 2021. It was a remarkably successful year after we reopened and drove us to be passionate and motivated to think of ways to create new revenues, profits, and expand the business either through acquisition, franchising, and creating new attractions that can set Boomers Parks apart from the competition for years to come.
However, that same motivation, passion, and commitment needs to be there even when things aren’t going well.
When the pandemic was in full swing, I had to lay off 80%+ of my workforce (and close the Parks, due to a lack of customer demand and concern for team member safety, as well as state laws). At those times, when it seems like everything is going wrong, I stop myself and say, ‘do I know how lucky I am to be the person in charge of such a wonderful and caring company?’ There are so many people in the world who do not get this opportunity, even after a lifetime of work. At that moment, I give it my all. I forget about the problems and the stresses of the day, and go smile, show my team how excited I am to be there and let them know that I am committed to make whatever situation we are in better for them and for the company. And I remind my team that I have never quit one of the thirty marathons I’ve run, and I am not about to quit when times become difficult with this company. I just stress that we need to work on the problem and become more innovative — that’s part of our core values.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Jim Rohn says it best, “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If you keep elevating yourself and finding better friends, you discover more opportunities. You elevate yourself to other people to get new ideas and become a better person.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Follow me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/timmurphyceo/
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Tim Murphy of Boomers Parks: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.