The tennis ball benchmark

Lessons in teamwork from a family-owned amusement park business in Norway

Cornell students tennis ball benchmark

Photo: Mona Anita K. Olsen
Håkon Lund challenges Cornell University students to pass tennis balls in rapid time.

Mona Anita K. Olsen, PhD
Cornell University

Students and visitors in HADM 3135/6135: Conversations with Entrepreneurs, a course I teach in the Hotel School at the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University, welcomed Håkon Lund from the Lund Group to the classroom this past semester. In this class, guest speakers from a variety of backgrounds share their entrepreneurial stories to highlight the challenges and benefits of entrepreneurship. The course illustrates the importance of the entrepreneurial mind and entrepreneurial thinking for professional career development for both students who plan to pursue a career in corporations and for those who start their own ventures. The objectives of the course are achieved through a combination of networking activities, entrepreneurial pitching activities, alumni interviews, reflective assignments, entrepreneurial career planning assignments, and an entrepreneurial journey project.

I first learned about Lund’s work at the European Hospitality Forum in Stavanger, Norway, in 2016. As he was a delight to work with at the Norwegian School of Hotel Management, I was thrilled when Lund accepted the offer to make the trip to Ithaca, N.Y., to share his story. He is a fourth-generation Lund and runs the enterprise. He ended up in western Norway when his parents bought Kongeparken in Ålgård, Norway, in 1997.

The Lund Group is one of Europe’s oldest amusement companies, established in 1895. Today, the company operates theme parks in Norway and Sweden, runs some of the largest music festivals in Norway, and owns companies in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It has won numerous national and international awards. Among other attractions, it is known for the Children’s Fire Station, which won the Themed Entertainment Association Award 2011, and Gråtassland, the Themed Entertainment Association winner in 2014.

The Lund Group has a great passion for building a unique service culture. The goal is to create magical moments and experiences for both guests and team members. In Lund’s engaging presentation, he shared examples of how he has built their service culture in addition to three major turning points in his career as an entrepreneur. Lund discussed how he continued to develop his teams and provided an overview of how attractions were created. He also stressed the importance of finding your passion; students were encouraged to think about their talents and passions in addition to where they see opportunity in various ecosystems. Students were then asked to brainstorm how they could leverage those things to create a revenue stream for themselves and others.

Lund also engaged students in a team activity with tennis balls. Each group was given one tube of three tennis balls and challenged to have each ball touch each team member’s hands before going back into the can. Students initially passed the balls around in a simple circle and competed the exercise in decent time. Lund then encouraged them to consider another benchmark from a previous session he led in Europe. The time from this previous session in Europe was more than 90 percent faster than what the Cornell students initially accomplished. With the benchmarked time as a frame, the Cornell students adjusted their process and drastically improved their results. The balls no longer went around in a circle; there were a variety of methods utilized, such as creating a chain link with hands. The theme of the activity was to stress the importance of communication in a team, understanding the end goal and purpose of an activity in an entrepreneurial environment, thinking outside the box in a nonlinear fashion, and, most importantly, identifying measures to benchmark all activities over time.

Lund encouraged students to read Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek and Everybody Matters by Rob Chapman and Raj Sisodia and watch the Ted Talk “How to Start a Movement.”

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