Enjoying the Ride
By Candace M. Little
November 1, 2009
Ironically, Rich Allen, former COO and recently appointed CEO of Logan-based S&S Worldwide, Inc., one of the top roller coaster manufacturing companies in the world, doesn’t enjoy riding coasters that much—at least not like he once did. For him, the real ride is managing people and processes.
His background is in the meat processing and packaging business, and he will tell you meat and coasters have absolutely nothing to do with each other. But, he says, “Successfully managing people and processes requires the same leadership skills no matter what industry you’re in.” This managerial spirit comes from almost 30 years of managing one kind of company or another, with the last 12 years at S&S.
The company’s major competitors are mostly European, but Allen says because of the company’s innovative technology and reputation for excellent customer service, S&S still has a strong presence overseas even when customers may pay higher freight costs. Allen is looking forward to launching a European coaster in Germany next spring, where the Nurburgring Race Track will be home to the world’s fastest launch coaster—reaching speeds of 135 miles per hour in just 2.5 seconds.
While S&S continues to break world records, Allen is reluctant to acknowledge his own success. “I don’t focus on my personal success,” he says. “I don’t know that I’m particularly successful. I’ve just had the opportunity during my career to work for and be mentored by very excellent people.”
Allen shares three pieces of advice he’s learned from his mentors and his own experiences: 1) Understand your industry and your own company; 2) Improve your weaknesses and become knowledgeable in things you don’t understand; and 3) Always give your employees opportunities to contribute and grow.
Allen has followed his own advice, becoming knowledgeable in other business areas besides the meat business and roller coaster industry. He also forced himself to master accounting when first starting out. He didn’t like accounting in college, but by pushing himself, he was able to improve his own skills and in the long run, improve the company he manages.
Allen says success comes from having intelligent employees and giving them the latitude to grow. “I don’t mind being the dumbest guy in the room,” Allen says. “If I surround myself with intelligent people, I don’t have to work as hard to make the company successful.” But, he says, you have to give people the opportunity to be creative and let everyone’s voice be heard.
Over all, Allen believes in always delivering a quality product. Sometimes providing quality can mean the company makes less, but Allen says the profit is not the only important consideration. “I would much rather deliver more than the customer was expecting, even if it requires lower margins, in order to maintain the integrity of the company’s reputation.”
With more than 150 of its air-launched rides and coasters installed in 29 countries, Allen plans to enhance the company’s performance by implementing a new customer-driven operations plan and continue leading S&S to even greater success in the amusement industry.
“[Businesses] need to give what their customers expect—and a little bit more than what they expect.”