As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Friedman.
With over 25 years in the live entertainment industry, Adam has played a key role in building and growing iconic brands including Banc of California Stadium Entertainment, Nederlander Concerts, House of Blues, and Universal Concerts. He has promoted, produced, and toured premium live entertainment including music, comedy, family entertainment, sports, and a wide range of special events and has developed, operated and programmed award-winning entertainment venues across North America.
In July 2020, Adam was named Chief Executive Officer of Jurassic Quest, a leading family edutainment company and producer of the largest North American touring dinosaur exhibition where he’s charged with the continued growth and global expansion of the company. In 2019, Jurassic Quest produced 96 multi-day events in 34 states selling more than one million tickets in large arenas, convention centers, and exhibition halls. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company was the first to quickly pivot to an outdoor drive-thru exhibition which has been a breakthrough success in the touring business.
Adam sits on the Advisory Boards of Universal Production Music, a division of Universal Music Group; Ampsy, a social media aggregation firm specializing in live event marketing; and Songlily, an online music licensing marketplace. He is a past President of the North American Concert Promoters Association and is an Executive Committee member of the City of Hope’s Film, Music and Entertainment Group and the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started my career as a real estate lawyer at a large Chicago law firm. I was a young lawyer with a little bit of money in my pocket and I was a big music fan, so I was in the nightclubs every night listening to live music. Over time, I got to know the venue operators and bands which lead to me representing some of the bands, their managers, and a few of the concert venues. Through this experience, I realized that, instead of practicing law, I wanted to work in the live music business. I started making phone calls and ultimately got a job as a business affairs lawyer at MCA Concerts which was a wholly owned subsidiary of Universal Studios and Universal Music Group. Over the course of the 1990’s, MCA became the number one concert promoter and venue operator in the country. I eventually moved from business and legal affairs into business development and ultimately management, buying concert promotion firms, acquiring music tours, and building concert venues across North America. MCA was the market maker in the ’90s and was the Live Nation of the time, although certainly nowhere as big as Live Nation is today. It was eventually acquired by House of Blues, so for the next 5 years I ran House of Blues Concerts and was fortunate to be part of the team that built one of the largest live entertainment brands in the world. From House of Blues, I became CEO at Nederlander Concerts, a part of the Nederlander Producing Company of America, one of the top theatrical producers and theatre owners worldwide. After a successful re-branding of the company as the preeminent operator and promoter of some of the most iconic entertainment venues, I started my own live entertainment consulting company working with major promoters, venue operators, content creators, talent firms and financial investors with respect to the development, operation and programming of entertainment venues and touring. One of my clients was the Bank of California Stadium in Los Angeles and they were building a $400 million new soccer stadium at the time. I was asked to design their programming strategy and as my scope of work expanded they ultimately asked me to join as President of stadium entertainment. After launching the Stadium in 2019, I returned to my consulting business. When the pandemic hit in 2020, I was concerned that live, in-person entertainment was going to be sidelined for quite a while. I got a call from the owners of a company called Jurassic Quest, a touring company that showcases large animatronic true to scale dinosaurs through exhibitions across North America. They had just come off a 2019 run of touring two shows that generated over a million tickets across 34 states, and they were looking to take the company to the next level in building out the core program, adding other content and more tours which would act as lead generators for branded merchandise and distributed media. I loved the prospect of working with a super talented group of people on content that is loved by all worldwide-dinos, and I joined as CEO in June of this year.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
So here I was the new guy at MCA, I’m 28-years-old and used to working for a big law firm. My direct supervisor at MCA was also the president of the company. One day he said to me, “Hey listen, I’m having a really big party at my house and you’re invited. I hired a parking company to work the party, but I want you to review the contract they sent over.” I’m thinking wow, this is one of my first assignments and for the president of the company, so I go ahead and review the contract. I had made all of these demands like, “this isn’t right and this language is wrong” and I’m feeling really good about it, and I sent the contract back to the parking company all marked up in red. I show up to President’s house the night of the party and there’s no parking company. He comes over to me and says, “I just called the parking company and they’re not sending anyone because they said my lawyer was too tough…we have no parking for the party tonight.”
Thank goodness he had a great sense of humor! He laughed and said, “Well, I’m glad you’re on my team, though we need to figure out when and when not to play hardball.” And that’s the lesson I learned. At the end of the day, you might be right on paper and you may have the skill set to negotiate every last thing, but it’s all about relationships, and how people feel when they’re working for or collaborating with you. It’s not always about being right, or getting the last dime, it’s about how to peacefully coexist with other folks to do great things.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
There’s two parts to this, there’s the purpose of — what’s your strategic growth plan and how are you going to transcend boundaries? How are you going to get market penetration and differentiate your brand? Then there’s the people-purpose, which speaks to things like — are you doing something that helps people or entertains them? Entertainment is healing whether it’s music or live shows.
Now there’s COVID, pre and post, and that also affects purpose. Our initial purpose was to further develop programming that entertains entire families in a really fun environment for a very fair price — “edutainment” not just entertainment. Jurassic Quest is educational, it’s fun and at the end of the day we bring a lot of joy and happiness to people. We’ve done it really successfully throughout North America and we look forward to bringing this kind of programming to other folks globally. During COVID, this aspect of our purpose has become even more well-defined. It’s how do we pivot and how do we execute on the initial purpose of bringing entertainment in a world that is now highly regulated and restricted and makes it almost next to impossible to tour and enter and exit markets? Our purpose now is all about safety, where we provide entertainment that’s respectful of all protocols to keep communities, and our crews, safe. Our success in achieving this purpose makes our company feel great because we’ve been able to bring joy again to folks who had been waiting for something to do besides just looking at a screen, or just staying at home. We’ve had over a quarter of a million cars since June and over a million people have come to see the show…that purpose is why we get up every day with smiles on our faces.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
The principle is baked into the question and that is there will always be ups and downs, but it’s your ability to absorb them and keep the trajectory moving forward that allows you to achieve and accomplish great things. If you think that every day will always be a win, you’ll get thrown and held back by normal adversity and never get to the finish line. Understanding this, and surrounding yourself with great people who are like-minded and invigorated by challenges instead of sidelined by them, produces solutions that glide over the inevitable bumps that life brings.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with them a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We have been personally blessed that no one in our direct family has had COVID. Our kids are 17 and 13 and have been remotely learning since the pandemic began which has posed some challenges. We are a close and supportive family and have helped the kids find ways to stay connected while being safe, instilling in them that you can still have fun as long as you follow the protocols including wearing masks and staying socially distant from friends. My 13-year-old rides his skateboard every day with about six kids whose families honor safety protocols, so he gets that socialization which is so critical to the education and growth process especially at his age. My 17-year-old daughter goes to the beach at least a couple of times a week but she travels in a separate car from her best girlfriend and they stay socially distant on the beach, so they’ve found a balance of safety and being respectful of other people. Through this, we have found a way to maintain an active and enjoyable lifestyle, while following the various protocols. I will say that these challenges pale in comparison to those who have had the virus directly impact their families and my heart goes out to those families.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
As we tour Jurassic Quest across the country, we’re dealing with various markets in different cities and states all of which have varied levels of restriction including testing protocols, so there are many hurdles to pass. We have a team of people who are constantly looking ahead to make sure that we’re going to markets where we can satisfy the various requirements and still bring our show to entertain people. In doing so, we have crews of 40 people with two different shows, and we have to keep them safe too as they are often in close proximity with each other. An example of a challenging situation due to the pandemic is when we traveled from Detroit, Michigan to Massachusetts which has very restrictive COVID protocols in place. To enter Massachusetts, our crew needed to get tested for COVID using something other than a rapid test which required a 72-hour quarantine while awaiting results. We took the test in Detroit with 40 different crew members, but we discovered that the test we were given did not comply with the test that was required in Massachusetts. We retested everyone, but when we arrived in Massachusetts the results were delayed, and we had to open our show the next day. We scrambled and at midnight drove our COVID negative crew members from Philadelphia to Massachusetts and switched the crews. They opened, but that’s a real-life example of some of the daily challenges of touring right now.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Communication is key as fear is typically generated from the unknown. I find that your anxiety usually reduces the more that you talk about it, the more you try to become educated about it, and the more you share ideas and thoughts with others. From the start, we’ve tried to be as knowledgeable as possible, but we also focus on other things in our life, and we don’t sit in front of the TV taking it in all the time. We stay apprised of what’s happening, so we’re informed and doing the right thing for the safety of ourselves and our friends, family, community, but at the same time we don’t overly focus on it.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the post-Covid economy?
We are blessed. We have an exceptionally successful product and programming that has been well received with high demand across the country allowing a safe entertainment for kids and families during this challenging time. We certainly plan on doing that throughout the balance of the pandemic period. What we discovered interestingly enough was that the outdoor drive-thru model, initially designed to be a substitute for the indoor show due to COVID, may end up becoming a new business model for us. After indoor shows are safe to resume, we may continue to do the outdoor show in tandem because we’ve gotten lots of positive feedback from families. Many people have told us things like “you know, we enjoyed doing this more than going to some other entertainment indoor events. We’ve enjoyed this a lot because it’s a ton of entertainment, but it’s not a day long thing. It’s nice to be able to just go and spend an hour and entertain the kids, and then go do other things or take them back to do their homework.” The opportunities, post-COVID are there and one thing we’ve also realized through this is the unbelievable demand for live entertainment. Once the pandemic is mitigated whether with a vaccine or other protocols, we believe that the demand for live entertainment is going to be exceptionally high, and in fact we’re investing now in more programs, and investing in more assets to go out, because we think it’s going to be very robust.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I think that it’s going to affect us in a multitude of ways, some positive and some not as much. I spoke earlier about anxiety; I think there’s going to be people who have a hard time going back to the lives that they enjoyed pre-COVID. On a positive note, we all hear about the disadvantages of communicating on screens and being remote, but there are benefits to this including the decreased impact to the environment. We’re hearing for the first time that people can actually see the fish in their waterways, or the traffic on the highways is less, and there’s less air pollution. Quite a bit of it is going to be about perception. And in terms of fear and anxiety, I believe that we can get through this, it’s just a question of the mindset with which we approach it.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the post-Covid economy?
What we do starts now, not at the start of a post-COVID economy. There is no choice but to come back and to come back strong, believe in your business and invest in it. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re not shrinking back, we’re hiring more people, acquiring more assets, and developing business strategies that will not only be successful now, but will also transcend COVID. This includes different programs, other than just Jurassic Quest and dinosaurs, but other related entertainment properties where we can build a critical mass of these multi-content touring shows to take them globally — and then ultimately branch out and grow into branded merchandise and distributed media. Now is the time to do it. It’s not a wait until we get past COVID. Quite frankly, if you just look back in history, the companies that succeeded or the individuals who found the most entrepreneurial success, were always the ones that took action at the time when people expected them not to.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Believe in yourself, believe in your business and go out and grow it. Don’t be afraid.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I worked for the President of Universal Music Group worldwide, his name was Zach Horowitz and he said, “It’s not about the assets. It’s not about the money or the markets, it’s all about the people.” This totally changed my perspective as what has become very clear to me in 30 years of being in the business and just living life in general is that you can’t do it alone. You can be the smartest person in the room, or have the most money but at the end of the day, unless you surround yourself with great and collaborative people, none of it will be as successful or as enjoyable without those people.
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