What a weird last day in a theme park giant

posted by Jeff | Thursday, June 5, 2014, 9:52 PM | comments: 0

Today was my last day at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. It was weird. I'm not sure how else to describe it. I spent much of the last two days helping others get up to speed on things that I designed and/or bootstrapped, explained why certain things were best pointed in certain directions, and listening to a few rants about how things will go when I'm gone.

It was weird because I went in never having any expectation of the job ever becoming full-time, but I got really invested and really engaged anyway. That's unusual for IT contractors (it's apparently unusual for trades contractors too, given the shitty work they did on my house). It was a little different this time partly because it went so long, and partly because it's a business that I have a lot of passion for. Being a somewhat new company (they went public early last year), it felt like there was a lot of potential there to make an impact, and I'm proud of the work I did. Sure, it was frustrating to not have park access, and the context that went with it, but there aren't many businesses that combine theme parks, zoos, resorts, culinary, retail, etc. all into one entity.

As I left my desk for the last time, it was strange to think that I wouldn't be going back there again. Maybe a part of me felt like I wasn't finished. Maybe I just hated that I wouldn't see the people every day that helped me get settled in Orlando. I only half jokingly refer to our house as the house that SeaWorld built. What saved me from feeling entirely bad about it was the fact that my next job, which is an FTE gig, has so much potential.

Sometimes I don't think they get much respect, being the #3 player in town, but the company is bigger than Six Flags or Cedar Fair in terms of revenue. Universal is printing Harry Potter money, and Disney is spending on NextGen like it's the Obamacare site, but SEAS is still a fairly large player. I suspect it will go through a lot of cultural changes over the next few years, just because it has never been independent (and technically, I think Blackstone still has a controlling interest). The years under InBev sounded crappy, but the years prior under Anheuser-Busch seemed to be a lot better.

The thing that did get old was the people hating on the company, and bringing up the Blackfish movie. Seriously, I haven't seen it, but that's as much a documentary as Fox is news. I've met the zoological people, and they're good people who care very deeply about the welfare of the animals and conservation. It seems like they're saving a critter every day. No one is trying to exploit the whales while swimming in a pool of money like Scrooge McDuck. While one can't easily predict an alternate universe, I suspect the public awareness around oceans, dolphins, sea turtles and other animals would not be as strong were it not for the company. Mind you, I might be a little biased growing up in Cleveland, where we had a SeaWorld park.

It was a good year. I'm really happy that I had the chance to work there, even if it was just for a year. It wasn't always rainbows and unicorns, but it was definitely interesting and challenging work. I've certainly got the resume bullet points to show for it! Not only that, but my perspective is forever changed about the industry. I used to just be a deeply networked observer, but now I have enormous context from the inside. That's satisfying.


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