Sunday, October 31, 2004

Scott Fernandez, president of Fernandez Entertainment, inherited the the company from his late father and grandfather and is responsible for taking the company into the modern era.

It’s been
quite a ride
for Fernandez

The 101-year-old company
has remained a family affair
while broadening its appeal

When you grow up a descendent of carnival pioneer E.K. Fernandez, you're raised on a steady diet of business basics served up nightly at dinner.

"It was Business 101 at the dinner table," said Scott Fernandez, E.K.'s grandson and now president of Fernandez Entertainment.

"It wasn't, 'Oh, what's up with your math homework?' We talked about lease negotiations, financial issues, corporate law. So my schoolwork suffered but we got a pretty good grounding in business."

The Fernandez fun-manufacturing empire is now 101 years old but more of a family affair than ever.

Though it has grown in the past century into a multimillion-dollar hydra with carnival, arcade and merchandising divisions, it remains 100 percent owned and operated by Scott and his mother Linda, with help from Scott's sisters Shelley and Sydney.

The company's steady growth over the years has made a team effort imperative.

Scott's grandfather E.K. Fernandez founded the family business in 1903 originally as a photo supply operation, but soon brought the first circus to Hawaii. He went on to entertain locals with a range of specialty acts, including performing elephants and lions, acrobats and dancing bears, rodeos, and ice shows.

Under Fernandez's son, Kane, and his wife Linda, the business grew into the games-and-rides dynasty that it is today.

"As kids, we'd be out there working the carnivals side by side with our parents. We didn't really know any different," said youngest sister Sydney Fernandez.

But Kane passed away in 2001, forcing another generation to step fully into his shoes.

Though they all come together on financial issues and big-picture strategy, each member of the family has a "zone of responsibility" as they call it.

Linda runs the Fun Factory arcade chain, which has grown to more than 20 outlets in Hawaii and the mainland.

Scott's zone is the carnival and productions enterprise, which includes the state fair, the annual Punahou Carnival and more than a dozen other events each year.

Older sister Shelley, meanwhile, offers guidance on merchandising decisions, while Sydney deals with bringing in new video game machines and other equipment and churning out the old.

Scott Fernandez, right, president of Fernandez Entertainment, stands next to Porpilio "Pop" Tamala, 77, who has been with the company for 57 years.

Even Linda's four grandkids (soon to be five -- Sydney's expecting) serve as an unofficial focus group for the company's varied offerings.

"They all make an excellent team and it's so enjoyable to work with them," said John Field, vice president and treasurer of Punahou School, who works with the Fernandezes on the school's annual carnival.

The family and business have had a mutually strengthening effect on each other, Sydney said.

"Knock on wood, we've been fortunate. I think because everyone has worked so hard together, we now all have the same goal and that is to see the business thrive," he said.

Fernandez family membership doesn't guarantee an ownership share in the businesses, though.

In the late 1980s, Kane put Scott in charge of setting up the company's food-concession operations.

"Then he told me, the best thing about it was that now I had to buy it from him," laughed Scott. "He was a great guy but really taught us the value of all this."

Another practical reason for that, however, is that estate and inheritance taxes make it more attractive to buy in than inherit.

Though separated by decades, today's Team Fernandez faces much the same challenges that E.K. did, namely how to keep traditional entertainment formats fresh and new.

This includes acquiring the latest thrill rides for Fernandez carnivals and keeping up on hot trends in stuffed animals and other merchandise.

"Keeping the public entertained is a constant challenge. You always have to be on the lookout for the next 'never seen' item," Scott said.

But the Fernandezes know the business remains rooted in the carnival-barker spectacle founded by E.K. Fernandez a century ago. In a throwback to that era, they brought back a traditional sideshow in this year's state fair, complete with white tigers, sword-swallowers, and the like.

Fernandez Entertainment remains a throwback in other ways as well.

"Whenever you go to one of our carnivals, you can always find Scott within a few minutes, walking around, making sure things are going smoothly," said Sydney. "E.K. was the same way."



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