Travel with a trunk

  @FortuneMagazine January 16, 2014: 6:44 AM ET
ROA03 kenneth feld

CEO Kenneth Feld, sans elephant tie (he has hundreds), checks up on the talent.

(Fortune)

I'm on the road about four days a week, going on about 44 years. Our shows operate in over 70 countries, and then we operate in North America in 135 different cities. Everything we do travels.

Whenever I get someplace, the first thing I'll do is run three to five miles. It really helps me with the jet lag, and then I go automatically on whatever local time is.

The circus cast is composed of 120 human performers. Then there are 55 to 60 animal performers. There is a crew of over 100. And they travel on a train that's more than a mile long -- the largest privately owned train in America. We have people from about 15 to 17 different countries working together, so there are all these languages. You've got that on top of these performers who are probably the greatest athletes in the world.

I never like to wear the same tie twice in a year. I have so many circus neckties. I must have 40 neckties with elephants on them. If anybody ever says they like my tie, I take it off and give it to them. One of the best places to find neckties is international airports.

I don't take the train, because the train is also the home for all of our people who tour with each circus unit. I'm primarily flying by commercial airlines.

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I typically like to read, if I can, four or five papers a day.

The absolute best way to navigate is Google Maps. They work everywhere. You could be outside Baltimore, you could be outside Copenhagen up in Lapland, and they work.

I've been traveling since 1968 and spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe before the Iron Curtain came down. With the circus one of the interesting things is that art -- and circus is the universal art form, really -- and sport always precede politics. For instance, we had performers from the German Democratic Republic [formerly East Germany] before the U.S. government had relations with East Germany.

The first time I went to Mongolia, I flew into Ulan Bator, and on a third-floor walkup was the U.S. mission. They had no embassy at this time. This was 1989, maybe 1990. The Mongolians took me to a contortion school, where they actually teach people to become contortionists, which is weird for everybody else. But this is like you've found manna from heaven if you're in the circus business.

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I can go for 10 or 11 days with only a carry-on. I am averse to checking in luggage. I always take running shoes. There's nothing better than a gray suit because it works for everything.

Now my daughters go find the talent. The one piece of advice I gave them: If you see an act and you're impressed, never make a deal until you see it again the next day. Preferably with no costumes, no music, or anything. If you still like it, you know it's going to be great.

This story is from the February 3, 2014 issue of Fortune. To top of page



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