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LEADING QUESTIONS: Conner Prairie CEO on missteps, 'The Matrix'

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Leading Questions

Welcome back to IBJ’s new video feature, “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office.” Every week, we sit down with one of central Indiana’s top bosses and talk shop about the characteristics of an effective head honcho.

Ellen Rosenthal, president and CEO of Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, has herded the 19th-century-themed museum through the 21st century's big recession while staying on budget and increasing attendance. She wasn't always so sure-footed, however. In the video below,  she reveals the biggest misstep in her museum career. She also holds forth on fund raising in tough times and what advice she would offer young women today as they embark on careers.



Ironically, this keeper of historical customs and conventions is a big fan of science fiction. In the bonus video below, Rosenthal geeks out on author Neil Gaiman and "Star Wars," and finds surprising links between Conner Prairie and "The Matrix."

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  • Silly
    @ Not Sad: Don't assume that people who disagree with your assessment of Conner Prairie's current state "can't deal with change." You're speculating. I don't like CP's new direction a single bit, but don't deign to assume that, just because we disagree, you should be excluded. I'm glad that you can enjoy it. I can't. On second thought, I guess I will just stay home.
  • Not Sad
    With our membership, Conner Prairie was kind enough to send 4 free tickets to the balloon ride. I do not agree that they have become too commercial. I believe they are improving. Some people seem not to be able to deal with change and thus should just stay at home. We could have picked a zoo membership but my kids and I go to Conner Prairie about every weekend. It is a GREAT deal. There is something new to experience each time.
    • Change
      I strongly feel Conner Prairie is heading in the right direction. As an outsider, it appears as though there is a strong commitment to the future by providing new and exciting interactive history lessons, while keeping their eye on the past and what Conner Prairie stands for.

      I recently became a member based on all of the exciting events and exhibits they have which appeal to myself, my children and my parents all in different ways. I am excited for new exhibits in the future which will give me a reason to re-visit and see whats changed.

      History shows any organization which doesn't change and embrace the future clearly gets forgotten in the past.
    • Change
      I strongly feel Conner Prairie is heading in the right direction. As an outsider, it appears as though there is a strong commitment to the future by providing new and exciting interactive history lessons, while keeping their eye on the past and what Conner Prairie stands for.

      I recently became a member based on all of the exciting events and exhibits they have which appeal to myself, my children and my parents all in different ways. I am excited for new exhibits in the future which will give me a reason to re-visit and see whats changed.

      History shows any organization which doesn't change and embrace the future clearly gets forgotten in the past.
    • Thank you for your feedback
      I'm truly sorry to hear you feel this way however, Conner Prairie must evolve in order to thrive into the future. Our first
      person interpretation in Prairietown remains at the heart of what we do. Attendance declines and subsequent audience research
      in the mid-1990s told us that many people felt one visit to Conner Prairie sufficed for a lifetime. Beginning about ten years
      ago we began to add new experiences to encourage repeat visits. We added 1816 Lenape Camp, 1886 Liberty Corner and then last
      year 1859 Balloon Voyage, which tells an important story of early Indiana aviation history while offering a great immersive
      experience. At the same time as we add new experiences, we continue to make changes to and improve 1836 Prairietown.

      I am always disappointed to loose a long-standing member and would be happy to talk to you about Conner Prairie's future
      direction if you'd like to call me. Thank you for your feedback.

      Ellen M. Rosenthal
      President and CEO, Conner Prairie

    • Wonderful comments
      I love Ms. Rosenthal's enthusiasm for her work. Even more, her enthusiasm for people is engaging. I appreciate that she is trying changes, keeping Conner Prairie from getting too stale. I'm a brand-new member because I can see new life being breathed into this Indiana landmark.
    • CP article
      I totally identify with SAD's comments. I, too, have let my long-time membership lapse for the same reason.
    • Ruined
      With the addition of the balloon and other things within the park that cost money, I feel that Conner Prairie has become too comercial. I used to love going there and feeling like I had truely stepped back into the 1800's. Because of the changes, I let my membership lapse last year (I was a long time member) and have no intention of ever going back. I know the operation needs to make money to support the museum, but the whole look and feel changed with the recent additions. I am sorry to see this happen. There are many who will be willing to pay the price and will still enjoy it, so Ms. Rosenthal will not miss my membership. I just wonder if there are others that feel the same way.

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      1. With Pence running the ship good luck with a new government building on the site. He does everything on the cheap except unnecessary roads line a new beltway( like we need that). Things like state of the art office buildings and light rail will never be seen as an asset to these types. They don't get that these are the things that help a city prosper.

      2. Does the $100,000,000,000 include salaries for members of Congress?

      3. "But that doesn't change how the piece plays to most of the people who will see it." If it stands out so little during the day as you seem to suggest maybe most of the people who actually see it will be those present when it is dark enough to experience its full effects.

      4. That's the mentality of most retail marketers. In this case Leo was asked to build the brand. HHG then had a bad sales quarter and rather than stay the course, now want to go back to the schlock that Zimmerman provides (at a considerable cut in price.) And while HHG salesmen are, by far, the pushiest salesmen I have ever experienced, I believe they are NOT paid on commission. But that doesn't mean they aren't trained to be aggressive.

      5. The reason HHG's sales team hits you from the moment you walk through the door is the same reason car salesmen do the same thing: Commission. HHG's folks are paid by commission they and need to hit sales targets or get cut, while BB does not. The sales figures are aggressive, so turnover rate is high. Electronics are the largest commission earners along with non-needed warranties, service plans etc, known in the industry as 'cheese'. The wholesale base price is listed on the cryptic price tag in the string of numbers near the bar code. Know how to decipher it and you get things at cost, with little to no commission to the sales persons. Whether or not this is fair, is more of a moral question than a financial one.

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