The following material has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Welcome to the Carlsbad People, Purpose, and Impact Podcast with Bret Schanzenbach, the President and CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce.
Brett spoke with Kurt Stocks, the President of LEGOLAND California. Kurt grew up north of Sydney, Australia, which according to him, is actually similar to where he is now in Southern California.
The Power Of Experiences
Before coming to Carlsbad, CA, Kurt Stocks spent 10 years in Asia, which is where he eventually became connected with LEGOLAND and Merlin Entertainment. Like any adventure, he explained that this journey was entirely unexpected, especially given his background:
“It wasn't intentional. I've never had a career that was ever leading me towards … theme parks and hotels and aquariums and waterparks. I started my career in the health and fitness industry. I used to work for a company called Fitness First Health Clubs out of Australia.
At one point, they were the biggest privately owned health club across the globe, which was something similar to the Equinox that you have here in the US. It was actually my first job after studying. Eventually, I got an opportunity in the business in Australia to go to Asia.
I had six or so years in the business in Malaysia. For whatever reason, we were in the process of almost exiting because our business was selling and it was a good time for us to potentially exit Asia. We'd been there for six years when we only went for two. Then, all of a sudden, this opportunity popped up for the LEGOLAND resort in Malaysia.”
According to Kurt, his first response was to reject the offer. It took some discussion to convince him to accept the opportunity, but what sealed the deal was going to LEGOLAND with his son:
“I understood more about not only the business, but the Merlin Entertainment Group. I took my eldest son, who was only three at the time, to the resort in Malaysia. We just had a blast and I said, ‘I've gotta be a part of this.’
I still tell the team here in California, ‘Never forget how powerful our experiences can be.’ It was my experience on that day with the staff in Malaysia and the interactions with my son [that led me to be a part of this business].”
When Kurt began at LEGOLAND Malaysia, he took on the role of general manager, and learned valuable leadership lessons for the theme park and hotel industries.
“[Part of] the nature of what we do in the theme parks [is] take the lives of our staff and young children into our hands when we put them on the rides. I probably didn't have an appreciation for how much focus and intensity and responsibility there was from a safety perspective.”
Now, this perspective is part of his DNA and is crucial to his leadership. After six years, Kurt’s experience at LEGOLAND Malaysia positioned him for the opportunity to become president of LEGOLAND California—the biggest LEGOLAND theme park in the world—when the former president, Peter Ronchetti, retired.
LEGOLAND & COVID
Just six weeks after Kurt Stocks and his family moved to California in January 2020, the COVID lockdown hit. Not only was the lockdown difficult for their family, it was also a tough period for LEGOLAND, which is one of the biggest employers in Carlsbad and North County.
However, the global nature of the theme parks and the leadership acumen of LEGOLAND helped prepare them for the shutdown:
“Fortunately, most of our permanent salaried staff we were able to put on furlough and maintain their benefits ... That's a credit, hopefully to our planning, but also to the Merlin Group, overall. They recognize [in] a business like ours, you can't replace a lot of the experience and skills that exist in that business quickly. So, we knew we had to protect that core workforce. And I think we did that. We saw close to 70% of our furloughed staff return, [and] we had almost 1200 staff furloughed for 12 months … But fortunately, we haven't seen a lot of the same issues that a lot of the industry have seen.”
Everything Is Awesome - Again
Recently, LEGOLAND held the grand opening of LEGO MOVIE World, which is based on the LEGO MOVIE franchise. It is the biggest investment that they have put into the park since they opened in 1999, and due to the movies’ popularity, it seems it will have great success.
Certainly, the process of reinvesting and reinventing never ends for the theme park. The forward-thinking culture of LEGOLAND allows them to continually develop business opportunities, build new resorts, and maintain the quality and safety of the parks.
According to the data, since LEGOLAND California opened in 1999, 1.5 hotels have opened every year. The theme park is a linchpin to the entire region’s tourism industry. With the opening of the LEGO MOVIE World, the excitement and optimism are palpable in the Carlsbad region.
Everyone is excited to see LEGOLAND get back on track. Typically, the 4th of July is a big day of celebration in the park. When asked if they are planning on having their celebrations and fireworks again, Kurt responded, “Absolutely.”
This year, with city approval, they will have fireworks at their “Red, White, And BOOM!” and, due to the state easing restrictions, the park should be unrestricted as of June 15th.
Connect with Kurt on LinkedIn.
Check out the awesome things going on at LEGOLAND California.
Did you like what you heard? This show is produced by Imagine Podcasting dba Heard Not Seen Media, Inc. For more, visit Imagine Podcasting at https://www.imaginepodcasting.com/.