Channel Your Inner Entrepreneur: Five Tips from WhiteWater’s Award-Winning Entrepreneur Geoff Chutter
Every year in February the United States celebrates National Entrepreneurship Week to encourage entrepreneurship across the country. At WhiteWater, we are lucky to have Geoff Chutter as our CEO who also happens to be Canada’s EY Entrepreneur of The Year. As a major figurehead in the entertainment industry, Geoff is well regarded not only for building a company from the ground up, but for becoming the largest and most successful suppliers in the industry. With more than four decades of business acumen under his belt, Geoff has crafted a culture that encourages autonomy, risk-taking, and entrepreneurial behaviour. To help others create organizations engrained with the entrepreneurial spirit, we sat down with Geoff to hear his top five tips.
1. Get the right people on the bus.
The first tip is almost something of a mantra for Geoff—when starting a business, you must have the right people on the bus sitting in the right seats. Mindset is an important dynamic used in the hiring process at WhiteWater to evaluate candidates about their thought processes and grit, particularly because the company operates in the themed entertainment sector, which is focused on creating fun for families. The people on our team must live and breathe the energy of ‘fun’.
According to Geoff, you can teach people skillsets to do their job well, but it is difficult to teach them the motivations and mindsets to succeed—are they positive, glass half full, can do? Perhaps no one learned this lesson better than Paul Chutter who left behind his successful global banking career more than seven years ago to join his father at WhiteWater. Recently becoming president of the company, one of Paul’s first decisions was focused on diversifying and increasing the leadership team that will help the company forge ahead. Creating some new positions around customer experience and sales, Paul has tapped into some of the talent at WhiteWater putting them into new ‘seats’ to help the company start off their fifth decade with fresh energy and perspectives.
Have you identified what traits are important for your team to embody? What attitude or mindset do you want the team to have? If employee X submitted their resignation, would you fight hard to retain them? If the answer is not very hard, why were they still working for the company in the first place?
2. Determine your north star.
A key question for any entrepreneur is to ask what do you want your company to be? Geoff decided early on that WhiteWater’s value proposition would be offering superior customer service. Committed to this goal, WhiteWater recently made the announcement that they moved to an expanded new regional European head office. The combination of a more centrally geographic location (a move from Barcelona to Munich) and broader ‘full service’ roles now located in the region makes WhiteWater even better positioned to deliver the best water parks in the world for European, Russian, and African clients.
Continuing the momentum, WhiteWater recently added a new role, Chief Experience Officer, with Franceen Gonzales tasked with furthering the company’s customer success mandate. Franceen is hugely admired for her work championing safety and as a true advocate for our industry; she understands the challenges operators face and as a connected industry leader has traveled extensively to meet with customers. The creation of this new position will allow the company to deliver on their proposition of customer experience as she uses both her supplier and customer insights to help WhiteWater continue to elevate the customer journey.
As you begin to put together the building blocks of your business, consider what your north star will be: product innovation, operational excellence, or customer service? All decisions should be made through the lens of whichever north star you select. That does not mean the two not selected are ignored, but rather they are not the dominant lens. Apple’s north star is product innovation, but they do a great job at customer service.
3. Think BIG!
As both a designer and a manufacturer of innovative water park products and active family attractions, WhiteWater offers a diverse range of products and services. Rather than just selling parts, Geoff has pushed the company to ‘think big’ and continue to take risks to push the organization forward. Being one of the first manufacturers to enter Asia in the eighties, WhiteWater looked globally for opportunities to grow, eventually expanding to six offices around the globe.
As the Chinese water park industry emerged, Geoff realized these new operators needed more than just great attractions. WhiteWater looked beyond water parks to master planning, applying past knowledge as an operator to create designs that would more fully satisfy guests while being easier and safer to run. Moreover, Geoff diversified WhiteWater beyond being just a water slide company. Looking towards the future, WhiteWater added product lines of waves, interactives, surf, and technology to be able to offer a variety of solutions. Knowing that wave pools were the heart of many water parks, Geoff merged with Barr and Wray North America in 1987 adding wave equipment to the portfolio. Ten years later, Geoff continued to look ahead and entered into a limited license agreement to manufacture FlowRider® for water parks.
Most recently in the evolution of thinking big, Geoff, along with Paul Chutter, Aaron Mendelson, and Denise Chapman Weston imagined how technology could create a ‘smart park’ and so Vantage was born. In 2018, Geoff hired Phil Edgell, an experienced tech start-up leader, to help bring the idea to market and already Vantage is helping big names in our industry, like Atlantis, with data and insights into how their water parks can perform even better.
The most recent innovation came in May of 2020 when Paul and Geoff launched Endless Surf to the world; a project that had been in development for nearly 24 months. Being a part of the WhiteWater family of brands, the transition to the surf pool industry was quite a natural one. By amplifying our known framework of pneumatic wave technology, we created the next generation of surf park technology—a surf pool that has operational flexibility, built-in software integrations, wave types for all skill-levels, and an entire aura of a true surf experience. Endless Surf redefines the inland surf pool development space by bringing the most flexible customizable waves on the market in the most compact and feature rich design.
How can you think bigger? Can you expand geographically? Can you expand your product line? Can you add synergistic services? How about parallel industries? WhiteWater entered the amusement park market by manufacturing rides where the customer is wearing street clothes by adding water rides. Where do you hope to be in ten years? Use these questions as the framework of your new venture’s planning and think BIG!
4. Understand your principles.
One of the most important things any business leader can do for their business longevity is to establish the principles by which they (and their business) will operate. These principles form the foundation on which trust and relationships are built with stakeholders, shareholders, employees, customers, and suppliers. At WhiteWater, Geoff has facilitated an understanding of the principles of openness, respect, candor, and integrity within the organization. With quarterly townhalls, and now monthly video calls throughout the pandemic, the company exhibits transparency, communicating how the business is doing, and in what direction we are headed. Geoff believes that integrity in business means making a fair win/win deal for both parties, his word is a promise delivered. This way of operating has been at the core of several successful product licensing deals, such as SlideWheel® and FlowRider®, which have gone so well that key personnel have come aboard and joined the WhiteWater team.
Does your business operate on a well-defined set of principles? We recommended writing out your principles so that they are clear, and you can communicate them to your employees. Now, ask yourself if the stated tenets are being followed within your business? Are they the right principles? Make the necessary changes to ensure that your business has clear principles that you communicate and live by in all your business dealings.
5. Drive to win.
Geoff has taught us to drive to win the Canadian way; he likes to win, but not at all costs. We have found that serving a client best is not always about giving a client exactly what they asked for, but about selling them something because it is the best choice to help them be successful. When a customer approaches WhiteWater and expresses interest in a specific product, one of the first things the team does is look at the park and probe a bit into their target market. Because the company operates in an entrepreneurial spirit, if, from our experience what the park is asking for does not lin
e up with what they are hoping to accomplish, the team will use their creativity to recommend different ways the park can accomplish their goal.
The hard work of our people builds respect and a brand that people trust. The drive to win needs to be accomplished in part with your principles: you cannot compromise them to win but must put in the honest, hard work, to get there, even if it means sometimes getting up at 3 A.M.
Are you hungry to win? At what cost? Being a successful entrepreneur takes a lot of work, a lot of vision, and a lot of perseverance.
Make it happen.
Hopefully these five tips fire you up to put in the work to get your business off the ground. At WhiteWater, we strive to live out these learnings in our daily practice to foster an innovative culture that nurtures the entrepreneurial spirit throughout the organization. As you continue to think through how to build your company and shape its founding principles, we hope this article will prove to be helpful and you are able to look back at some of these questions to help guide you.
We will be rooting for you!