Robert Caruso

"C" is for cookie and Caruso, the president of Langhorne’s Sesame Place theme park.

Robert Caruso, president of Sesame Place, celebrates "35 Years Of Furry Fun," posing with birthday cake at the park. (TOM GRALISH/Staff Photographer)

Sometimes you really have to wonder what business leaders are thinking. Dial back 35 years to 1980, when Anheuser-Busch, the beer company, ran amusement parks and decided to open Sesame Place, the first - and only - Sesame Street-themed park in the nation.

Big investment, brand new venture, new park in a new state, and who did they get to hire the workers?

A human resources intern from Temple University.

"It was baptism by fire," said Robert Caruso, 62, the intern who never left and is now president of the park. "It was a great experience. [Management] ended up saying, 'Hey, we'd like you to stay on. Could you go to school at night?' I did, and a year later, they made me full time.

Now the park is celebrating its 35th anniversary. Were you ever tempted to leave?

When I came to work here, my intention was never to stay at Sesame Place. I really wanted to go work for Anheuser-Busch, on the beer side of things. I mean, beer sounded appealing back then.

So why didn't you?

I went for an interview in Houston, where one of the breweries is. They actually made me an offer to relocate. I said to my wife, "I think I want to make a career out of the theme park world as opposed to working with a beer company." She said, "If that's what you want to do, do it." I've never regretted it.

What do you like about it?

On weekends, generally when I'm here, I start my day out by standing up at the front gate. I get to see thousands of people coming by. I can see smiles on people's faces. I mean, they're coming here just to have a great experience, to have fun with the family.

Do you ever go on any rides just for your own pleasure? What's your favorite?

I've been on every ride. [My favorite] is Vapor Trail. It's a great family coaster.

Sesame Place's parent company, SeaWorld, has been under scrutiny since the 2013 documentary "Blackfish" focused on orcas that the company held in captivity. Has Sesame Place been affected by the controversy?

No. We've been growing. Attendance. Per capita revenue.

What's the key number you use to measure success?

Attendance is king, even if you have to discount. You've got to get the bodies here. Then figure out ways to sell them things to make up for whatever you discounted on the ticket.

Do you have to have a new ride every year?

We probably don't need to build new rides as frequently as they do in the Orlando market because the competition is so challenging down there.

You don't have any kids. What's it like being around them every day?

It's like having 100,000 kids. Whether it's our team members or the guests who are here, you're just inundated with kids.

Sesame Street employs a lot of teenagers. What has changed over the years?

Back in 1980 when we hired kids, they wanted to work 60 hours a week, if they could. Now, they'd rather work less than 30 hours. You used to have to have seven-day availability and be able to work any shift. If you didn't have that listed on your application, you didn't get an interview. Now, it's, 'Tell us when you're available, and we'll create a shift that's going to work with your schedule.'

How do you manage that?

We have to hire more people.

What's the pay like?

We pay just above minimum for entry level, and we adjust pay levels accordingly, depending on the skill set. Lifeguards are always more challenging to get, as are entertainers - the folks who are going to be in costume.

What impact would raising the minimum wage have?

I hesitate to speculate on future legislation and prefer to focus on maintaining competitive wages within our local market and industry.

Any advice for young people trying to snag first jobs?

First impressions are critical in a competitive job market. Take the time to research your future employer before the interview. While you may have a particular job that interests you, be open to other opportunities, and get your foot in the door.


Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.

jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769@JaneVonBergen