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Making Moviegoers the Real Stars

October 1, 1997
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Related Topics: HR Services and Administration, Candidate Sourcing, Featured Article
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People are the most important asset, making HR the most important function-no matter what the business. Find out the unique challenges faced by this HR leader-and some strategies for handling universal HR issues.

With movie houses growing from four screens under one roof to more than 20 over the last few years, the number of moviegoers is skyrocketing. The challenge, therefore, is to provide flawless customer service in a situation for which a bag of stale popcorn or a blown-out bulb in the projector can ruin an evening. AMC Entertainment Inc. believes the word perfection can avert such a headache. The company, which created the multiplex (multiple screens in a theater complex) and the megaplex (more than 18 screens with stadium seating and love seats), has made going to the movies more than a mere two hours in the dark-it's an experience not to be forgotten. AMC has taken this brand-new way of presenting movies and combined it with a can't-fail attitude to help usher in a new era of movie-watching. And it all starts behind a door in Kansas City, Missouri, that reads "Human Resources." As director of HR, Marty Stanley is guiding AMC toward becoming a company that's revolutionizing the way people watch movies. She hasn't forgotten the basic point of going to the movies: to relax and escape. When the lights go down and the doors close, all AMC's patrons have to do is sit back and enjoy because Stanley is behind the scenes making sure everybody's movie-going experience goes smoothly.

What is your HR background?
Before I came to AMC, I was vice president of HR for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas City, Missouri. Before that, I worked in Wisconsin and started up all the HR functions for a company called Employers Health Insurance. I was there from 1979 to 1990. It was a company that grew from 200 to 1,700 employees while I was there. I have a degree in marketing, and it was my jobs during college that got me into HR because I worked in student employment and financial aid services.

How did those experiences help with your current job?
Having already worked for a self-made company really helped. Although I didn't have the theater or entertainment experience, I knew what a [business] culture was like. My first instinct was, "How can anybody with insurance and health-care experience fit here?" But it turned out that the cultures were similar. Because I understood the basic mentality of an entrepreneurial environment, it made the adjustment a lot easier.

What's special about HR at AMC?
What astonishes me most here is the people. We in HR are totally committed to the growth and development of our people. For example, at a recent general managers' meeting, I asked everyone to count how many people in the room of 100 had influenced their careers-or whom they feel they had influenced. Some people named 30 to 40 people. We have a group of people who have literally grown up together and who view each other's accomplishments as part of their own. It's phenomenal. When managers are coaching, developing and helping another employee in his or her development, it's viewed as a very positive feather in the cap.

What challenges do you feel are universal to HR?
Probably, it's finding quality talent. Overall, the candidate pool is very small. I think skill levels are increasing, though. I believe the overall workforce is going to start seeing a real skills gap between those who are highly qualified and those who aren't. The skills gap will be a big problem for any industry. HR's biggest challenge is finding enough quality candidates to fill the positions that are out there.

Your managers are the ones running the show at the megaplexes. What do you look for when you recruit them?
First of all, megaplexes are a big operation. When it comes to our general managers, there's one for each location. In that same location, there may be up to 15 theater managers working under him or her. We did a recent assessment of our theater managers. It turned out that one of the top skills needed was an ability to develop employees. The other was developing listening skills. We work with a lot of young people who need to be coached and developed. But when it comes to customer service, listening is the number one priority.We want to hire people who take ownership of their jobs and who grow, develop and challenge themselves-people who are entrepreneurial and innovative. We also look for people who want diverse duties. This could include marketing of the theater complex and the scheduling of both films and employees because in our megaplexes, there could be as many as 150 employees.

With so many people coming through the doors on any given day, what kind of service does AMC expect to give?
We want the movie-going experience to be extraordinary. Most moviegoers don't even know what goes on behind the scenes-that's providing seamless service. Everything needs to run smoothly so the customers don't even know what's happening. They think all they do is show up, buy tickets, get their popcorn, watch the movie and leave. We don't draw attention to what it takes to deliver good service because our customers are there to escape. We make sure the facility is clean, the popcorn is fresh and the film is well-presented. Everything we do has to be perfect. The customers are there for the experience.

What makes AMC different from other movie theater chains?
One of our slogans is, "We're changing the way the world sees movies." And we are. We've changed the industry by creating multiplexes and megaplexes. Now we have an agreement with Planet Hollywood called Planet Movies by AMC. There will be AMC movie theaters along with Planet Hollywood restaurants. It will be a place to go for total entertainment. Anybody can build a megaplex. But it's our people, how they maintain our facilities and service our customers, that make the difference.

Workforce¸ October 1997, Vol. 76, No. 10, pp. 27-28.

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