Episode 16: Riding the Rollercoaster – Rex Jackson, General Manager of LEGOLAND Florida, on Rebuilding the American Theme Park and The Magic of Resilience

Rex Jackson has known action and adventure for two decades, beginning with his early days as a store manager at pre-Netflix Blockbuster Video. Since then, his wild ride has taken him from the most iconic brand at the largest CPG company in the world, to the (dining) table of some of American’s most recognized restaurants, and now, to one of the world’s most visited theme parks. Through it all, his recipe of resilience, belief, and kindness has carried him through the ups and downs.

On this Episode of The Besomebody Podcast:

15:10 Taking a risk for your career. “That was a risk that I took – to go ahead and lean in and take the risk to be at the company I wanted to be at, maybe not in the function, and see if I could earn my way into the brand management track. A year and a half later, I was able to make that transition.” -RJ

22:25 Don’t get left behind. “As business leaders, oftentimes we get those blinders on one or two metrics – whether it’s market share, household penetration, or stock price – that we use as the barometer for success. In your case, it sounds like what people were so focused on, that they didn’t see or weren’t thinking enough about the emerging trends and threats around them.” -KS

29:29 Merlin’s ‘we care’ value in action. “Closing the resort is one thing – that’s the business side of it, but the impact it has on the employees was the toughest decision…We ended up furloughing over 90% of our employees at LEGOLAND Florida. But one of the things I’m proud of is that there’s a Merlin value called, ‘We care.’ We took that value to heart from the very beginning of the process – even before we started talking about who was going to be furloughed and what departments. We outlined a set of principles that we wanted to follow as we went through this process – some of those principles were things like, being transparent. Not withholding information if we didn’t have to. Communicating it in a timely manner, and over-communicating when necessary. When we first furloughed…the CARES Act had not been passed yet, so we didn’t have visibility into what the government was going to do as a benefit for people. To our credit, to Merlin’s credit, we were able to take care of our furloughed employees. Our salaried staff we furloughed at 90% pay and our full-time hourly staff we furloughed at 50% pay.” -RJ

44:42 We’re all connected. “As things have evolved, I’ve seen that people want to rally together and want to support each other. Yes, there’s the fear and anxiety to some extent about going to some of these places, but it’s also like, ‘Yeah! LEGOLAND was the first to open in Florida of all the theme parks. Let’s go support them!’ That whole ecosystem feels more connected than ever.” -KS

45:23 Resilience & recovery. “Ultimately, there is an American spirit that is going to show through over the course of the next 12-18 months as the country recovers from this pandemic and comes back online, so to speak. I think you’ll see that American spirit shine, and the recovery will be a success story. I still think it will be faster than what people think but may not be as full as what people hope for.” -RJ

58:19 Kash’s One Big Thing. “They did something that just a couple months ago people said they could never do. When you think of everything that we’ve learned here on the Besomebody journey, and every time that we’ve been told we can’t do something. And every time every entrepreneur has said, ‘That idea isn’t good enough,’ or ‘That idea isn’t going to make it.’ All those negative things that people tell you about why you can’t do something, why you shouldn’t do something, why you won’t ever win when you try it. Rex Jackson and his team prove a lot of people wrong.” -KS