Whitman at Work: Building Success One Brick at a Time
Marketing Management and Supply Chain Management
Business is a series of calculated risks, and a lot of what I learned at Whitman planted the seed for that. The diverse curriculum helped me to build muscle memory to handle things that come about unexpectedly in the work environment every day.
You might say Stephanie Johnson ’05 built her most recent career opportunity brick-by-brick — Lego® bricks, that is. After working for Liz Claiborne, Ralph Lauren and the Simon Property Group, Johnson was recently recruited to lead the opening of the Legoland® New York Resort in Goshen, New York.
“It was one of those opportunities where you say to yourself, ‘I really have to be a part of that,’” she explains of her decision to take on the position of divisional director of the biggest amusement park in the Northeast.
Johnson joined Legoland New York in January 2020, while the theme park owned by Merlin Entertainments was under construction. Just six weeks later, she found herself in the midst of a global pandemic. Construction on the park came to a halt for two months, but, even as work resumed, Johnson had to put all her skills to the test, as many of the manufacturers, creative teams and project managers were from all over the world—often causing significant delays.
“It forced us to look at everything we knew about operating a theme park,” she says of the experience. “I told my team, ‘This is going to be the most challenging thing you do in your career, and we’re all going to get very comfortable with change and work as hard as we possibly can.’”
With the pandemic still looming, opening the park was not the only challenge. Making sure that guests had a safe and outstanding experience was paramount. “Everything we do at Legoland is ‘for the love of fun.’ We were not only building a theme park; we were building a lifetime of memories for families,” Johnson says.
To do so safely, her team looked at every aspect of the guest journey, turning to the digital space to make as many things as possible contactless — digital ticketing, hotel check-in, a Google assistant to respond to guest requests and even an app for ordering food.
Through it all, Johnson took on tasks she never imagined when she first accepted the position with Legoland New York. She became very good at both construction management and project management, and she had no problem picking up litter and making hotel beds, as well.
“As a manager, you have to show your staff that you will do whatever it is that needs to be done, and you expect them to do the same,” she says. “Our staff worked long, hard hours and faced a lot of challenges. Everyone was doing things outside of their job description to make sure this theme park opened successfully.”
Johnson credits some of the decisions she made during those difficult days to lessons learned at the Whitman School, where she began as a marketing management major. After some encouragement from Professor of Supply Chain Practice Gary La Point, she decided to make herself a more well-rounded job candidate by adding a second major in supply chain management.
“Learning about the operations that get your product to market, the “lean” business environment and the principles of supply chain management that can be applied to any workflow was one of the best things I could have ever done,” Johnson says.
“Business is a series of calculated risks, and a lot of what I learned at Whitman planted the seed for that,” she adds. “The diverse curriculum helped me to build muscle memory to handle things that come about unexpectedly in the work environment every day.”
In the end, Legoland New York Resort didn’t have the grand opening originally planned but instead opened in phases, beginning in May 2021. That decision maximized the success of the new theme park, and Legoland guests were soon lining up at the gates. The park became fully open to the public in August 2021, and Lego fans of every age were finally able to walk through 10 cityscapes (built from more than 22 million Lego bricks) in Miniland, fire a water cannon in Lego Pirates, transform into a minifigure on the Lego Factory Adventure Ride and take a class with a Lego master model builder at the Lego Creative Workshop.
Looking back over the past two years, Johnson is glad she took the opportunity at Legoland New York, despite the many hurdles. (She also earned the title of “coolest mom ever” from her Lego-loving sons, age 9 and 4, with husband Jeremy Johnson ’04 (A&S). In true Legoland fashion, she encourages others to use their imaginations and take chances to succeed.
“My advice to students looking to get into the workforce is that you don’t necessarily have to be the smartest in the room, but be the most hard-working person in the room. Take on the biggest challenges or the additional projects. Get some face time with company leaders, and also voice your point of view,” she says. “Legoland New York Resort is truly the world’s biggest toybox, where if you can imagine it, you can build it. That’s not unlike the choices you make on your own career path. Imagine it, and make it happen.”
By Caroline Reff