The long, long days of a theme-park ex­ec­u­tive

The National - News - Business - - Front Page - David Dunn busi­ness@thena­

Len­nard Otto is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of IMG Worlds of Ad­ven­ture, Dubai. In his 13 years in the re­gion, the South African has been part of man­age­ment for Mad­i­nat Jumeirah and Wild Wadi, and oper­a­tions man­ager for The Lost Cham­bers Aquar­ium at At­lantis The Palm and Aqua­ven­ture Water­park.

Mr Otto, 31, was oper­a­tions di­rec­tor run­ning Abu Dhabi Cor­niche, be­fore open­ing and man­ag­ing Wadi Ad­ven­ture in Al Ain. Mar­ried with two daugh­ters, he joined IMG two years ago. The park, which opened last year, is now adding a mul­ti­plex cin­ema.


I try to wake up be­fore the kids. If the weather is good I sit out­side, have cof­fee and read the news on­line. Be­cause we’re en­gaged with busi­nesses in many coun­tries, some­times there’s a lot hap­pen­ing late at night.


I have break­fast with my daugh­ters, who are four months and two. I’m a crea­ture of habit and have the same ev­ery day – Weetabix with hot milk.


I live at The Villa, so it’s a five-minute drive from work. Once I hit the of­fice, the day starts mov­ing fast. I sign doc­u­ments. There are usu­ally ur­gent things to be cleared be­fore the park open­ing; it could be pro­cure­ment based, con­tract based, VIPs com­ing, com­pli­men­tary ser­vice, celebri­ties or FAM (me­dia) trips.


I have a meet­ing with the ex­ec­u­tive team to plan the day. Do we have events, is any­one im­por­tant com­ing? Based on on­line book­ings we es­ti­mate how many peo­ple are com­ing for the day. About 15 per cent to 20 per cent of tick­ets are booked on­line – typ­i­cally, in this mar­ket, it’s about one per cent. When we started we had a big fo­cus on book­ing on­line, which al­le­vi­ates stress on tick­et­ing coun­ters. You have guar­an­teed busi­ness and man­age man­power bet­ter. We have 28 restau­rants, al­most 600 F&B em­ploy­ees and 150 peo­ple main­tain­ing rides. Last Eid we reached ca­pac­ity – 20,000 – on sev­eral oc­ca­sions.


I have a meet­ing with the own­ers to talk about the day, strate­gies, what is hap­pen­ing. They con­cep­tu­alised this park and cre­ated brands like The Lost Val­ley. They’re vi­sion­ar­ies when it comes to con­tent and very hands-on. Our num­bers have been healthy; hence we’re look­ing at a sec­ond phase ad­ja­cent to this –IMG World of Le­gends – larger than the ex­ist­ing park. We don’t have an open­ing date yet.


Be­fore peo­ple come into the park the char­ac­ters come to the main en­trance. Morn­ing starts with a big show. Ev­ery­one wants pho­tos. We’ve had a good win­ter; although the weather is hot, peo­ple still come. From Eid un­til next Eid – that will be our peak. Once the park opens, I usu­ally go into back-to-back meet­ings – per­for­mance re­views, busi­ness re­views, plan­ning ini­tia­tives or with po­ten­tial in­vestors or de­vel­op­ers. Lunch isn’t some­thing that hap­pens very of­ten. I live on cof­fee.


I walk the park at least once a day with ei­ther my head of oper­a­tions, F&B or head of re­tail to make sure the level of cus­tomer ser­vice is how it needs to be; the en­ter­tain­ment is high, the en­ergy level high. I’m here seven days a week. I try to join groups to see how they’re re­act­ing.


I grab a bite. Our Chi­nese restau­rant is prob­a­bly my favourite. We have a chef from Shangri-La in Shang­hai. We have spe­cial dishes he cre­ates for us– the more chilli the bet­ter.


I catch up on pa­per­work and emails. We have a team of 1,600 peo­ple and I’ve al­most 200 man­agers. One of our fo­cuses is to grow the brand out­side of the UAE. A lot of in­vestors see theme parks as a great op­por­tu­nity within their coun­tries, but they might not have the knowl­edge to run that, or have ac­cess to the brands. We’re one of the largest global brand hold­ers for theme parks, so we’ve been in dis­cus­sions. The model of “in­doors” hasn’t been done much glob­ally. This will grow and the brand will grow in­ter­na­tion­ally.


I leave the of­fice. I try to make it for bath time and put the kids to sleep. Some­times we play ten­nis, go for walks.


We have din­ner. I love steak and en­joy bar­be­cu­ing. Some­times I come home and the fam­ily is asleep so I bar­be­cue by my­self. Spaghetti bolog­nese is my sec­ond favourite. My wife makes the best. Then I lie on the sofa, watch­ing ac­tion movies.


One last round of emails be­fore I go to sleep around 1.30am.

An­tonie Robert­son / The Na­tional

The IMG chief ex­ec­u­tive Len­nard Otto works at the theme park seven days a week, start­ing his day at 6am.

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