The next generation of Felds is flying high with the circus

The word “circus” has fallen upon hard times. In recent years, this seemingly happy child-focused event has often been subject to less-than-favorable use in describing such activities as a “media” or “political” circus.

Essentially, a beloved symbol of childhood has become an oft-used synonym for “chaos.”

If you think your office is like a circus — probably because you and your co-workers struggle to keep several balls in the air simultaneously — try actually keeping several balls in the air simultaneously and think again.

In the case of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, chaos would be the last word to describe its time-honored business practices.

The meticulous planning and preparation necessary to transport 300 people and 95 live animals from town to town is nothing short of a creative and logistic miracle.

Barnum, Bailey, Ringling and Feld

Feld Entertainment has owned and operated The Greatest Show on Earth® since 1967. The Felds have owned the legendary brand longer than Barnum, Bailey or the Ringlings did.

The Feld family’s operation includes a sophisticated mix of traditional business savvy coupled with a new generation of creative thinkers — sisters Nicole, Alana and Juliette Feld.

On the decision to relocate Feld Entertainment’s headquarters from Vienna, Va., to Ellenton, Fla., Feld’s Vice President of Corporate Communications Stephen Payne explains, “Feld Entertainment has deep roots in Florida. The company had a production support facility in Palmetto for many years. It made sense to convert an old industrial facility in Ellenton into the largest live entertainment production facility in the state and finally bring all of the company together under one roof for the first time.”

Learning the ropes

Nicole, Alana and Juliette grew up with clowns, acrobats and elephants serving as a backdrop for their childhood.

As parents, Feld Entertainment Chairman/CEO Kenneth Feld and wife Bonnie wisely stressed the importance of education and encouraged their daughters to discover their individual passions.

While Nicole insists she and her sisters were not groomed to follow in their father and grandfather’s footsteps, Alana whimsically suggests, “Perhaps we were groomed our entire lives and didn’t know it.”

Kenneth’s most important lesson was one of respect — for the business, the employees and the audiences.

Even when the young sisters asked to perform, the practical patriarch insisted upon a regular three-show performance day.

“We were not circus brats; we were taught to respect what everyone did,” recalls Nicole.

For many of us, lines can easily blur between parental and managerial skills. However, when one is in the “people business” with a focus on family values, nothing beats good parenting.

The next generation

Though many family businesses struggle with the concept of integrating new generations, Nicole, Alana and Juliette literally bring a lifetime of experience — as both impressionable children and educated adults — to a business whose sole purpose is to celebrate a child’s imagination.

Nicole says with acknowledgement, “It’s a huge responsibility to take care of a brand that is a national treasure.”

As with any business, there will undoubtedly be challenges — but what good is a circus without a balancing act?

Just ask Kenneth and Bonnie. When it comes to the exceptionally grounded and articulate Feld sisters, it’s the elder Felds’ focus on parenting over profits that truly deserves the final bow.