Emagine’s Gesture Put Marquee Value On Empathy

Chairman Glantz covered health insurance for 100 theater staffers through Covid, reaping their gratitude and loyalty.
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Paul Glantz has practiced empathy as a company chief for a long time. At Emagine Entertainment several years ago, he began connecting with audiences by starring personally in the shut-off-your-cellphones pre-feature video shorts on the chain’s movie screens. One time, Glantz appeared as a Jedi knight, then as a shark during the “Baby Shark” meme craze.

Last year’s government-mandated shutdowns of Emagine’s couple dozen theater complexes across the Midwest were a serious matter, of course. But Glantz—who’s chairman of Troy, Michigan-based Emagine—found different ways to display empathy that is helping successfully usher his company through the pandemic to the other side.

“My overriding theme is that in order to have teammates that care about guest experiences, we have to care about our teammates,” Glantz told StrategicCHRO360.com. And he imparted some lessons for other business leaders in exercising empathy effectively.

So while Emagine had to lay off about 1,000 part-timers and other employees almost immediately as Covid struck in March 2020, Glantz retained about 100 theater managers and other key employees on an indefinite basis. And at the point when government unemployment benefits about equaled Emagine’s compensation of most of his remaining staffers, he furloughed them—but continued providing 100% of health benefits for them and their dependents.

“It wasn’t inexpensive,” he said. “But I like to put myself in the shoes of others, and if I were placed in that situation, I wouldn’t want to have to make a decision between buying groceries or health insurance.

“Plus, we knew that we had to both keep our senior leaders intact to run the business and keep our assembled workforce of senior theater managers, because they are the institutional knowledge of the business. It would have been devastating to lose them. So of course, there’s enlightened self-interest here.”

And indeed, as Emagine has reopened and brought its 28 theaters up to speed—and prepared to bring on four more that it acquired during Covid—the company has been reaping the result of staffers’ gratitude. Also partly encouraged by about a 10% boost in compensation by Emagine, including a raise in starting pay to $12 an hour from $10, former employees have been streaming back. Recruiting at the four added theaters, in western Michigan, also has gone well.

“We’ve had wonderful feedback from them,” Glantz said. “They’re grateful for our support, and we’re not facing the type of challenge maintaining our workforce that I think other businesses are struggling with. We’ve had very little turnover; very few people have left the company.”

For Glantz, the concept of “teammates” extends to Emagine’s dozens of small investors. For the first time for any of his business ventures in a quarter-century of capital-raising, Glantz was forced by the government shutdown mandate to return to his backers for more funds to help offset the $46 million in losses compiled during the pandemic.

“I committed as much as I could personally while still keeping my household afloat, so I was gratified that my investors said, ‘We get it, and we’re behind the business,’” Glantz recalled. “We not only raised enough in our ‘savior round’ but investors also supported our expansion. It was heartwarming to see that these folks who’d been with us all along felt like it was a business worth saving and supporting.”

In considering the impact of empathy in a business leader, Glantz said that his decision to extend health benefits throughout the furlough “didn’t take a lot of thought, and here’s why: I always have a long-term vision for the company, and I don’t want to make short-term decisions that can stifle the company’s future prospects. I think we will remain in business and ‘this too shall pass.’ And I didn’t want to be short-sighted about what would help recruit and retain talent.”

Glantz said a pleasant “unintended consequence” of keeping 100 idle staffers whole on health insurance was that a federal employee-retention tax credit from the pandemic “is going to pay 100% of the costs of the health insurance. When you do right by others, most always it’s going to pay dividends for you.”

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