Subscribe and listen on your favorite platform!
As President & Chief Executive Officer of The Florida Aquarium, Roger Germann’s leadership has been instrumental in guiding this Tampa attraction through the incredibly difficult past few months, with light at the end of the tunnel. Roger has helped the aquarium reopen safely, slowly, and with the guidance of local infectious disease experts so that the aquarium can continue to educate and entertain.
In this episode, Roger and Andi talk about the importance of guiding principles, managing expectations, and always keeping your margins in mind.
Roger Germann: We all live and breathe that mission and it becomes part of your DNA and if that’s what you really, truly believe in, you’ll figure out ways, even in times of COVID and shutdowns to make it happen.
Andi Graham: Leadership is really hard and leading a values-based organization is even harder. Doing so requires making decisions that put people before profits, that honor individuals as humans and that sacrifice short-term wins for long-term sustainable growth. I’m Andi Graham, the CEO of Big Sea, a digital marketing agency based in St. Petersburg, Florida and Colorado Springs, Colorado. We work with organizations of all shapes and sizes and we see leaders and executives who span the entire spectrum of aligning with their own professed core values.
Andi Graham: This is Walk the Walk, it’s a podcast for those leaders who make tough choices in the name of integrity every day, even when it’s hard. Today we’re talking to Roger Germann, who currently serves as the President and Chief Executive Office of the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Florida. He has over 25 years of leadership experience and is widely considered among the zoological community’s top leaders and strategists. Since joining the Florida Aquarium in 2017, he’s actively elevated the organization with several high-profile recognitions including being recognized in the USA Today’s top two aquariums in the U.S.
Andi Graham: He came from a long career at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, which is one of my favorite places to visit and after having been seen on Good Morning America, The Today Show, The Daily Show, National Geographic, Animal Planet, ESPN and even BBC, we are very honored to have him here on Walk the Walk today. Enjoy, he has many, many great sound bites and lessons to learn and it the end you’ll get a little glimpse into the people and leaders that he follows and pays attention to as well.
Andi Graham: This is Walk the Walk.
Andi Graham: The one that you are, which I loved on your LinkedIn profile, is it says wildlife warrior. What does that mean to you?
Roger Germann: Being a wildlife warrior?
Andi Graham: Yeah.
Roger Germann: It’s every day I wake up, every day it’s what can I do today to save wildlife. A warrior in the sense that this organization right now is the Little Engine that Could. I don’t think anybody realizes the scale of impact we have on saving wildlife and when they realize how many employees, what’s our budget and they are going, “What?” But you have to have a warrior mentality to go out there and just tackle it every day.
Andi Graham: For a long time you’ve been really involved, I saw you were on DeSantis’ transition committee and you sat on the Great Lakes Commission with the EPA so you’ve been walking this walk for a very long time.
Roger Germann: Yeah, absolutely. The Obama administration put me on Great Lakes. DeSantis with the transition team. He appointed me last September, it’s coming up on a year. Oh my gosh. On the swift mud, the southwest water, that was appointed, went through the Senate. Just giving back to the community on policy way, and being that warrior out in the environmental wildlife space, but in a different area and then obviously coming in here every day and working with my fellow folks to roll up our sleeves and really truly live our mission. That is the key. People say you can be a mission based organization, but we live our mission. You have to be a warrior to live it.
Andi Graham: And I appreciate it seeing all the mangroves that were planted over the past week or so by all the volunteers. I live in St. Pete so for me I was like, “Oh thank you.” That’s great.
Roger Germann: Yeah, it’s every day. It’s everything we do here. One of things that I always say is the no margin no mission. And so it’s that mentality of we have a mission and in order to fulfill that mission we have to have the margin, so everything we do, which makes us a little bit different, right? You have the aquarium experience here where people pay money to come in and those dollars get allocated towards the mission that you have the philanthropy side, those dollars get allocated towards the mission.
Roger Germann: We all live and breathe that mission, and it again just becomes part of your DNA. If that’s what you really truly believe in, you figured out ways, even in times of COVID and shutdowns to make it happen. And all your cloths, you talk about the employees, so we were able to take care of our employees, that was a guiding principle of us having limited or minimal impact, but also we had to have certain things. We had to have certain things in liquidity, we had to make sure we weren’t compromising animal care, and by the way can we keep our conservation programs going and even in the middle of the eight week shutdown, we had a big coral breakthrough, scientific breakthrough and we released I think four if not six sea turtles back to the ocean. We never changed and strayed from the mission, but again if you keep going back to your question of the warrior, if you don’t have that mentality, and it’s not part of your DNA, it’s easy to go this, this, this, that goes on the wayside.
Andi Graham: Yep, shiny objects, right? Everything looks interesting and useful, but it’s not, so keeping those things as guardrails to me is really what having that mission and having those values is about. And I do want to talk about the shutdown a little bit, because I heard that story and it’s really interesting, but I’m curious right now, because we do, so one of our clients is Metropolitan Ministries, and so their mission is obviously extremely visible right now in the world, keeping people fed and housed in our community while people are struggling economically, financially, mentally, emotionally. That seems to be the bubble up mission, that’s what’s in the news every day, that’s what we’re reading about. How are you, you’re a communicator, your background is in communication, so I’m curious how are you navigating the competing missions that are seemingly … I mean it’s got to be a struggle to say ours is important too in this kind of time. How is that happening?
Roger Germann: You know, it’s a couple things. You’re right, I think that we have a unique business model, and why it’s really important for us, so it’s finding that balance. Number one, we need to be good community partners, and so one thing I will say that we don’t talk much about, but especially during all of the times early on in COVID, we had several organizations in town who asked us if we needed some help. The dollar amounts were smaller, but it was about the fact that they wanted to help us. One of the things I did, is I said, “Let me ask you a question.” They said “What?” I said, “What are the other areas you are focused on?” And they would say things like Met Min, or Feeding Tampa Bay or others. I said, “Here’s the scoop, we’ve been fortunate to go into this shutdown in an extremely incredible growth mode. So like a squirrel we were fattening up, not knowing this was going to happen for the winter. What I’d like you to do is this, if you let me come back when times are different and talk to you about a donation, an investment in the Florida Aquarium, we’ll do that, but I’d like you to take your $5,000 and add it back to Feeding Tampa Bay, it’s part of being a good partner in the community.”
Roger Germann: I think one is that we have made some strategic decisions, so without getting into the story piece, which would be there were some folks who were interested in us, they knew that the COVID hit us, they know we’re a mission based organization, a nonprofit, but we made some decisions to tell our donor, some donors, keep investing in the community, because the community needs to be strong, and when a strong community will support the Florida Aquarium, and ask them to hold onto their dollars, but let us come back at a better time, that’s one. And two is because of our business model where we can rely at least on some gate revenue, and while we’re not hitting all the numbers to stop the financial bleeding, we definitely have slowed it down dramatically. That just allows us to be able to weather the storm a little bit more. Where others, like a Met Min, it’s donations or nothing. And so this is where this business model has kind of helped us a little bit just stave it off. I like to say we were like a championship heavy-weight boxer on March 15, and over the course of the last five months, we’re still a championship boxer, we’re just fighting the middle weights now.
Andi Graham: Oh yeah. That’s good, I like that analogy. So tell me about shutdown. Tell me what happened in the middle of March.
Roger Germann: Yeah, so one of the interesting things we were looking at here at the Florida Aquarium is we got a lot of folks who are around the world, so late January, early February I started talking to some friends over in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and they’re like there’s this interesting bug going around, and we’re being asked to close down, which they had never done as well. And then we started talking to some of the folks in Seattle when it first hit the U.S., they were seeing some of the same things, so nobody knew ultimately what was going to happen, but we were starting to see some indicators and some predictors and wondering in Florida, what’s interesting is that you spend a lot of time looking at the tourism market as well, so if you start seeing things pop up overseas, and you’re wondering what that looks like. But yeah, in March we made the decision like everybody, let’s close down for two weeks, let’s make sure we’re doing our part to be a good community partner, flatten the curve, and we made that two week decision, Disney, everybody else.
Roger Germann: But as we started getting closer to the end of the month as you know, everybody was going it’s going to be a little longer than two weeks, so what do we do? What we decided to do here at the Florida aquarium, is we decided to say you know what, we are going to be closed through May 10. And I know I kind of created a couple ripple effect in the neighborhood, because people are going that’s not really providing hope, and I’m like number one, it’s too we don’t know. So let’s align with science, and the CDC guideline originally, which an eight week window when they first came out was right around May 10. So let’s go with May 10. It does two things, one is it gives a longer runway for us to observe and figure out the game plan here at the aquarium, and two is honestly it provided a little relief for our staff. It wasn’t every two weeks, or every week or every two weeks, and they can say look we’re making a commitment to you that through May 10th at least, we can cover you and we will pay you. We’ll pay your insurance, we’ll pay your salary, you don’t have to worry about your rent.
Roger Germann: So it was good for employees and morale and some ease as much as we can provide, and then two it allowed the business itself to really just focus on how to get back online as quickly as we can and safely as we can, and what does it mean for our future, because we were not looking at the next again 24 hours, we’re trying to get the next 24 months and 24 years.
Andi Graham: And that next 24 months is still so very unpredictable, right? How are you forecasting for even the next six months, it’s just such a crazy time?
Roger Germann: It is, and that’s the hardest thing. Nobody has really gone through this, but one of the things we have done again guiding principles, is we looked at a couple things. The Florida Aquarium is bigger than any one person, but let’s look at our business model, not necessarily say oh we need 10% cut here, we need 10% cut here, let’s look at the business model, and then let’s adapt our business model to the changing world, even though we won’t know what will be happening, right? So for instance, to put a lot of energy and effort into events that we do here, when we really truly know that everything probably April to June of next year when you start seeing that come back, so take the energy that we would put to try to book something now and say let’s just call it for what it is and then let’s shift over and have people work on other projects that are important to the Florida Aquarium. Make sure our conservation programs, can you help out over here on the floor, can you do different things.
Roger Germann: So we really truly looked at the business model itself, and as we start preparing for our next fiscal year, which starts October one, the changes that we’re making are more programmatic and business model wise, rather than I need 10% here, I need 5% here, along those lines. The revenues are going to be, I mean the attendance is going to be lower for the foreseeable future, even with a vaccine, because it will take a while for it to actually boost consumer confidence. So we’re looking at the next good six months, which is probably very similar to what we’re seeing here now, and then from there we’re hopeful that we’ll start seeing an uptick back into what we call normalcy, but I think you’re still in maybe summer of 2021 before you start seeing the robust kind of economy and confidence. Also, studying the Spanish Flu it seemed that about a 14 month, 15 month window, although America hasn’t quite figured it out now. People were just we’re done, we don’t even care anymore, it just was too much.
Andi Graham: I know, I know.
Roger Germann: So I think if you banked on that a little bit, that might help too.
Andi Graham: Yeah, that does help, I was reading a lot of studies recently around tourism, we just did a big pitch to a destination so we were talking about travel, and what the statistics look like and it was something around 30 to 35% of Americans felt comfortable traveling already this summer, which is big, they’re all driving something within a close driving distance, but that’s nice to know, so when you reopened on May 10th, I read about the reopening, it looked like you said you were reopening at about 12% capacity versus the 25 that you were allowed, or was that 12% just due to the fact that that’s all that was coming in the doors at that time.
Roger Germann: No, I think yeah, no, so we can open based on the governors plan at 25%, we chose about 12 and a half, 13% is really where we landed. It was for a couple of reasons. We reconfigured our entire operations, and even though when you come to the Florida Aquarium, you can come in, you go up an escalator typically you kind of walk around a pattern and a path, I mean it still was free-flow. We didn’t have that anymore. So we said, okay, if we want to manage physical distancing, we have to go to online ticketing, we’re going to pick a time slot of hourly, sort of things we had never really done before. 35% of our audience bought tickets online, now you’re asking 100%. Then you have to pick a time slot, and then we created a pathway. You do have to go one way through the facility, so a lot of it honestly was just to say, we need to do this right, because we’re the first aquarium in North America to open, the largest cultural attraction, we knew that if we didn’t do it right, it wasn’t good for us, one but two is we understand at least in the business community the ripple effect. We take that very seriously.
Roger Germann: You and I were chatting a little bit earlier, which is about living that mission and being that next level up, I mean we serve the public trust, so we do not want to get it wrong, so we really, really limited … Right now, we’re probably still running 35, to 40% on our busiest days, and I’m not sure that we’ll go over that, and that we just would feel comfortable enough to go over that at this point, because again we want to do our part. We open, we have to think of the long game, and just be responsible.
Andi Graham: And I noticed that you consulted with Tampa General hospital, which I’m sure was a huge peace of mind for your staff and employees in feeling safe coming back, and I think that’s one of the things that has been a struggle in the public conversations around everything reopening is not just protection of the public, and the people who want to come visit, but then protection of your employees and your team, which seems paramount, because they’re the people there eight hours a day or six hours a day or whatever it is, day in and day out. Really putting themselves at risk. What did Tampa General do for you? What did that relationship look like?
Roger Germann: Yeah, it was great to touch base with them, because you’re right, during the closure, we actually moved everybody remote for the most part, we broke up into teams and as you said, it was for the protection of our staff. We have no guests coming in, but you got to have A team here, and B team here, and you didn’t want cross contamination, because we have to take care of the animals. The reality is every day, we can’t close our doors, turn off the lights and walk away. So we already had that mentality, and when we got ready to reopen, one of things we talked with them about was there’s so much unknown that’s going on, including in the science. So we had them review all of our plans, all of our opening plans, made sure that we crossed every T and dotted every I, and then they came over several times, including the head of the infectious disease team, and not only were just blown away at what we were looking to do, but on the same token gave us some incredible advice.
Roger Germann: And the advice came in two forms, one was recommendations, things like there’s no mask mandate, but we would recommend that your guests wear masks even though all of our staff weren’t wearing masks. Those were the types of recommendations. The other part that they gave us, which I think was extremely comforting, was they walked through, and the science at the time, and they still come back regularly, but gave us updates on what we had in place. For instance, we closed our stingray touch program. We were going to leave it closed while we opened, and we still had it closed for a couple weeks, but when they walked through here and they said look, a couple things are going on, one is salt water doesn’t transmit through salt water, that program probably could be okay, if you could physically distance, and two is they looked at the materials that the exhibit was made out of, and it was made out of predominately wood on the top where people would lean. And they said it doesn’t transfer in wood.
Roger Germann: Those were the kind of cool things where you just learned a lot about your facility, go beyond COVID-19 by the way. We have flu’s and colds and do whatever. If certain things aren’t transferring materials, and so we learned a lot about our operations as well, which was hugely beneficial. And what I will say is I think that seal of approval has definitely helped us maintain a very strong 35 to 40% and while that still seems low, the point is that we have not seen the heartbeat. We have not seen it go up and go ooh, down up and down. We made a very measured, safe approach that’s here and week over week we see attendance grow, but it grows small, but the trendline goes up, and it’s within a solid margin that we can accurately forecast our business on, rather than what’s next week going to be like or not. So that’s helped us, I think financially think through the business of what it looks like.
Andi Graham: Yeah, that’s really neat. Do some of their recommendations and materials and transmission patterns, will those guide construction of future exhibits and things you’re doing? We’re looking at the virus never going away, even with the pandemic, or with the vaccine they’re saying it’s never going away, it’s always going to be here, but like you said, with traditional cold and flu and all those other things, not that you have this knowledge does that okay if we could use wood here, maybe we should instead of something else. It’s such a neat-
Roger Germann: Yeah, well I think the way we would probably look it as I think it’s important now as we design new exhibits or experiences to bring them to the table, now whether that shapes what it looks like or feels like, it’s hard to say. Because for instance, there could be something else that wood is the big transmitter, right?
Andi Graham: Oh yeah, that’s true.
Roger Germann: That’s something I’m like oh my gosh. But the point I think your point really truly is for an experience like ours that has hundreds of thousands of people that walk through that touch things, and interact with animals or interact with people and humans, there is that moment where all right, let’s figure a few things out, and bring them to the table.
Roger Germann: Because not even just exhibit wise, I mean there’s thing we do here from home sanitizers to UV lighting that we’re installing that to your point are just good practices probably from here on out as well.
Andi Graham: Yeah, and who would have thought we need public health officials or infectious disease experts to come guide the design of these spaces, but it’s certainly a good idea and maybe should have considered all along as something we can build into our lives in a new way that would change forever going forward I would think, so how strange.
Roger Germann: Yeah, I think that’s the key. What I hope in the business community is the fact that everybody starts morphing, don’t politicize or get too partisan on this one or any other disease and do whatever. There’s a business learning here that I think is just again, be responsible, because the key for me is you can be open. Again, we’ve been open since May 10th, we’ve opened responsibly. It doesn’t mean we are perfect, and it doesn’t mean things won’t happen, but you can be open, and you can do it responsibly and sometimes I feel like we’re at an either or, whether it’s as a country, or whether it’s in business. Like my margins are so thin, I just have to open up, or have to do this. And I think you have to think of the long game.
Roger Germann: What was unique for us, was we turned 25 this year, so we didn’t get to celebrate as much as we would have liked to have celebrated, but we turned 25, so our responsibility is what’s the next 25 years look like, and everything that we lost, we lost probably close to five plus million dollars just in the shutdown, not even since then, just in the shutdown, but kind of took the approach and said it’s like Monopoly money. It’s kind of gone. Let’s responsibly open over time, we will get back. If we’re doing the things we’re supposed to do, if we’re true to our mission, if we are a world class aquarium, we’ll get back to that growth mode, and then we can pay the business back so to speak over time, but if we falter now, that can have long-term ramifications for years to come, even if the economy is back to normal, people would go I didn’t feel safe at the Florida Aquarium, so we’re trying to protect that brand during these uncharted waters, because it is about the long game and just keep dialing it in as best we can in this short period.
Andi Graham: That sounds like a really reassuring stance and I would assume that your team feel that coming from you. Were there times during that shutdown where you were panicked and had to hide that in some capacity? I know my team too have been, it’s been a lot of fear around what does the future hold, and are we going to make it and all of those things. How did you handle that messaging and just sort of that morale?
Roger Germann: Yeah, there definitely were those times, I tried to make sure that I … I like to jokingly say that I tried to make sure I was up a minute before the first employee got up, and I went to bed a minute after the last employee, that would go to bed, just because I cared about the operation. I think that went into being very confident and measured. We spent a lot of time talking about guiding principles, and I think that didn’t mean that people didn’t have fear, but we talked a lot about the key guiding principles of this business who we are, and so what ends up happening over the last two years, three years since I’ve been here, is I think hopefully a trust factor built up, because I’ve talked about guiding principles and you delivered on those guiding principles, doesn’t mean again that you don’t make a decision or two, but the overall guiding principles.
Roger Germann: So to answer your question, here during not only just the COVID times, but including now, I think the senior staff and staff in general know that decisions had to be made, or may have to be still made, but we’ve proven through our actions that we remain true to the guiding principles that reassures them that we are thinking through what we stand for, why we’re together, what this business is about, so that doesn’t mean again there’s not fear, and it doesn’t mean I don’t stay up at night knowing there’s a decision to be made, or still needs to be made that we don’t even know about yet, as we get to the holidays and other things like that, but the principles I think every business should have those. What’s your guiding principle? What do you do for staff? What do you do for your product? In our case animals and conservation. Where do you stand on things like financial stewardship, we have liquidity numbers that we have to meet every quarter at certain benchmarks. So we’re transparent about those principles as well, and then we act on them. If that helps give a sense. I think that’s why we’re all rowing in the right direction, and people have a confidence as much as they can and comfort being there.
Andi Graham: And I think if there’s anything we’ve seen over the past even six months, and now we’re watching it in a spotlight with schools reopening is there’s no black and white, and it’s so easy for outsiders to look in and say, well you should have stayed closed, or you should have done this, or you should have done that, but there’s just so much gray area, that not having those principles, gives you nothing to bump up against. And so those principles are really what help you sort of, like I said, stay on the guardrails or stay on the rails moving in the direction that you feel confident in and comfortable with. Go ahead.
Roger Germann: No, I was going to say, you’re exactly right. It’s not that things aren’t going to happen, but like you said, you’re talking about staff. I mean we’re going to do everything we can in our power to make sure that we do the things we do. Masks, and temperature checks and I mean we’re never going to be able to stop something from happening, or do whatever, but if we keep staying with those and they feel safe every day when they walk in, and like you say, you don’t need to look for a blame or an and or or, we should have Monday morning quarterback, we haven’t had that, and that’s been really good for us, as far as getting through this medium period of time, but we’re still in it for a much longer period of time. You have to have your staff energized and believing in those principles.
Andi Graham: So talk about staff energy, how tough was that when you are used to being together in a space day after day, after day and all of a sudden everybody’s scattered in their living rooms with kids and dogs and all the things going on, how did you all stay connected?
Roger Germann: Yeah, it’s a lot tougher than people think. There were a couple of things during the shutdown especially, because that’s when a majority of our staff were working remotely, and only what we call, in this case, everybody’s essential, but we’ll call the essential workers were coming in. So we did a couple things. We got some online platforms and some communications amongst the staff. The folks who were here would load up photos and videos of the animals so we could still stay connected there. We did what a lot of people did is we created little communities. I think we had the daily high-five, and it was just a report from things that were happening, people shared stuff. We tried to do the best that we could during that time, and then eventually when we opened, slowly bringing people back along those lines.
Roger Germann: But yeah, it was difficult, but especially because we were such a forward facing organization, and a friendly family organization that relies on the energy of each other from there, but I also think that the fact that going to our earlier comment, which was the fact that there was so much anxiety in the world and understanding these guided principles, that it wasn’t there were times where it wasn’t a matter of if I didn’t hear something, something’s going on, it’s we trust the system, so I think that helped people stay close together. Our volunteers have probably had a harder time than our staff, because our volunteers really get more isolated both in communications, even though they were part of daily high-fives, but it’s taken a much longer time to bring them back, because we’re at limited capacity. So they’re still out there looking in saying, “We can’t wait to come back and help.” You’re trying to limit the amount of people that are here, because our goal is to be a good community partners and keep trying to flatten this curve as best that we can, but be open.
Roger Germann: But yeah, we have a Zoom meeting recently, we’re trying to figure out how we can get a couple hundred employees on big Zooms and stay connected. It’s not easy, but it’s been a fun challenge.
Andi Graham: It has been a fun challenge. We’re going through the same thing. We were not a remote organization, and now we are all of a sudden. There’s a point where we had to sit and say all right, let’s think about ourselves as a remote organization and stop thinking about how we used to do it. How do we do it now in this space, in this time.
Roger Germann: It’s interesting what you said there because it’s the not how to used to do it, right? And I think that’s where the senior team has looked at that a lot. When we talk about the business model, even when we were trying to put together our new budget coming up, we were like don’t compare year over year. We have to what is the model and how does the model align to market conditions, consumer confidence, along those lines, and how do we have to do something differently. And what I will say is what’s been great about our growth over the last several years is even folks that have been here for a long time that bought into the vision of where we wanted to go, and then the team that’s newer that has come to join this, it’s easy to say as a leader like if anybody says this is the way we always did things, blah, blah, blah, will happen, but it’s another thing to live it, and I will tell you, especially the senior team as we looked at everything, we’d all have those conversations. We’d all sit back and look at that. We may talk about something like “Well, remember … ” You count that anymore, it’s a different, different world.
Roger Germann: And, we also put a temporary moniker on it. We said look, think of the FY21 budget for us as a temporary budget. It doesn’t mean that this isn’t going to happen again in the future or this isn’t. Right now it’s not happening so we need to make certain adjustments. But if you think of it for temporary, and then maybe the FY 22 budget you can compare year over year to FY 20, I mean those numbers look the same. Maybe that business model look the same, but right now let’s not do it, and to everyone’s credit, we don’t even talk about what we used to do, or even six months ago, it is about what does the future hold, what’s the current conditions, what does the next six, 12 months, 18 months look like? How do we remain successful?
Andi Graham: Again, that’s another neat lesson to take going forward, even when things do stabilize and normalize once again. It’s keeping that creative ability to pivot and again, we work with so many different businesses and industries, but one thing my partner and I have noticed is when people are forced to do so, they can change really fast. It’s having that reason to do so, that impetus has been so interesting to watch folks get through that.
Roger Germann: Yeah, and that’s a great point. One of the things that I did when we started getting closer to the March shutdown, so it was early March, kind of knew something was going to happen, and then preparing for it. For the month of March, I really spent a lot of time looking at the great depression. I went back to the great depression, and there are certain similarities, there were differences, but the similarities and I studied what businesses did, you’re right, it sounds again what is so interesting in the business world is we say these things. People write books, and you read these and these cliches like of course innovation and you spur, Henry Ford said this, and Thomas Edison and whatever, but the point is they did something about it. It’s not a matter of reading those actions, and so one of the things I did is a lot.
Roger Germann: I spent a lot of time while the team was working on making sure the animals were taken care of, the physical facility was taken care of, then there was another team that was branched off that was saying what do we need to look at when we reopen, whenever that is, but we put the target date of May 10 eventually, as the leader you provide confidence and vision, and you ask good questions, but I spent a lot of time looking at the Great Depression and the businesses and companies that not only survived, but thrived. Sometimes people go, oh they thrived on the backs of … oftentimes that not the case at all. They had certain principles that worked, like employee caring and things. So they were in a position that when the depression was ending as well, they could take advantage of it. And I think that was our biggest strength.
Roger Germann: One of the reasons we could open as quickly as we could, but also what we’re seeing right now is the fact that we didn’t become anemic, we still were very, very strong living off of the hibernation eating financial success that we were having, but allowed us to be strong to reopen, and allows us to be strong as we move forward, as strong as one can be like I said. From a heavyweight class down to the middle weight class, but we’re still fighting as a champ, not as a battered boxer who is just trying to stand up.
Andi Graham: Yep, and I do feel incredibly, it does give me some peace of mind that the economy was so strong when we had to shutdown. There were a lot of people who were in really good positions that enabled them to weather this, or have been at least sort of weathering this. That is a good place to be. So you talked about reading about the great depression, are there any other leadership principles or philosophies that you follow? Are there authors that you love that you go back to when you’re thinking about your own decision making and your own leadership?
Roger Germann: Yeah, I mean I’m a big sports guy and I know sometimes my staff will accuse me of being too over sports at times, and they say it in a fun way, but I’m a big sports guy, and I think a lot of leadership comes from some of the best coaches that are out there, because what they do is they can find individuals that are superstars and nurture them, and on the same token, it is a deep commitment to team and teamwork. One of the quotes I talk about regularly is Michael Jordan, and Michael Jordan who to me is the go to as far as basketball goes, and doing whatever, but even Michael says, “Look, individually we can win a bunch of games, but collectively is when you win championships.” And that sticks through. I find a lot in sports for a couple reasons one is just I think the teamwork and how you bring out the best in everyone, and that is a collective good. And it plays over here. I also find it very funny, especially when it comes to players, there are just some funny quips that they do. You think business can be taken so seriously, so you’re going to read, and I love the Jim Collins stuff, and that’s probably lean on that a lot more, and while it was fresh for the moment, there are just some key things that stick out.
Roger Germann: Again, we’re keeping the flywheel going here at Florida Aquarium. It may be 35 or 40% and it may not be enough money to pay the bills and do whatever, but we’re going to come out of it less in debt, and that’s a positive in this day and age for a nonprofit. Those are the kind of things that I try to pay attention to.
Roger Germann: I also read for me what’s interesting, and I post this every morning on my social media post, but I wake up every morning and I read a dozen quotes from all over. I mean it could be from somebody from Aristotle and Plato to John F. Kennedy, to Henry Ford, or whatever, and so every morning I get these inspirational quotes, and then I post one of them. Kind of what I feel like for the day. And so I feel like every day, I’m trying to keep sharp, and a lot of those principles, I walk into a meeting and people don’t have a clue of where it comes from. That to me has been key. It’s not that there aren’t the big business books that are out there, and the leaders who grew, but it’s my own style and I try to tap into what energizes me that relays over to the business side of the house, and so far it’s worked.
Andi Graham: It does seem to be working. I did start following you on Twitter and I saw all those quotes, which are great, where do you find them? What do you follow?
Roger Germann: I go to a whole bunch of different pages honestly. Some people have said, “Do you get one in your inbox and whatever?” No, you know I follow a whole bunch of stuff. Some of them can come from just reading the daily news, some of them come from some of these quote sites that I go to, I’ll go to three or four different ones regularly. I try to figure out what I try to do for the most part is I try to find folks who maybe aren’t as active right now and/or in some cases alive. I know that sounds kind of weird, but unfortunately as we know in the social media world especially is people glom on to a certain person right now. Or oh my gosh becomes polarizing, so oftentimes I won’t even give credit to who gave the quote. Sometimes I will, depending, but I try to look back in history more, because we always jokingly say if you don’t pay attention to history it will repeat itself. And we do see a lot of repetition here.
Roger Germann: And I find it ironic that I’m sure like you 100 years later we’re looking at things from the economy standpoint like talk about the great depression, but I spent time studying the Spanish Flu and what business leaders and what government leaders and what community leaders were doing at the time. It was just inspirational stuff that’s there that shows that life moved on and lived on.
Andi Graham: We did it, we’re going to do it. It’s going to happen.
Roger Germann: Absolutely. Without question. I think that’s still the key. I follow politics, came out of politics a long, long time ago. So I follow that, and what I mean by that not necessarily as party do whatever, but just having friends who are doing polling. Like we do in marketing. You’re looking at audience attitudes and things like that. The economy and optimism those numbers still you can watch any one of the Sunday morning shows and do whatever, it still is up there. Battle ground stuff seems to be focused on social and the way we handle-
Andi Graham: COVID.
Roger Germann: Yeah, the public health crisis, pro or con. But the economy and optimism is still there, and I think as long as we have that optimism, you can forget the economy, as long as Americans have that optimism, we’ll get through it all. So I hope we never lose that, even in spit of all the things we see on television or read in the newspaper or see on social media.
Andi Graham: I totally agree. Roger, I really appreciate you spending time with me this morning. If people want to follow you and get their inspirational quotes, where can they find you?
Roger Germann: Yeah, you can find me on Twitter, I think I’m RogMan, it’s one of those ones where you start forgetting. On Twitter, that’s probably the best way to go, LinkedIn is another place to go. Type in Roger Germann Florida Aquarium, you can track me down. I do have a Facebook page, I try to keep it slightly more private. But yeah, I’ll always keep trying to be out there, and just promoting positivity and optimism and like I say, life’s too short, we are very blessed as a people, and I’m very blessed. Much is given, much is required, give back to everybody, and I appreciate you having me on here to talk a little about some business insights and where we’re going.
Andi Graham: Thank you Roger, I appreciate it.
Roger Germann: Thank you.