David McKee – Entertainment Benefits Group
David McKee knows people will be returning to theme parks, shows, concerts and sporting events in the post-COVID-19 world.
But he could quote Tom Petty by adding, “the waiting is the hardest part.”
As the chief technology officer for Entertainment Benefits Group, McKee guides the development and structure of the technology the company uses to offer tickets, activities and accommodations for thousands of attractions, events and hotels. Before 2020, EBG was burgeoning, growing at double-digit rates annually, he says.
In 2020, theme parks were shuttered, sporting events were played in front of cardboard fans and concerts went virtual. If nothing else, the new normal also created pent-up desires to get out and do things in person again. And EBG is ready to meet that demand in 2021, McKee adds.
“Obviously, COVID has impacted our industry more than almost any other industry. It was a very drastic year for us,” he concedes. “But the good news is, from a tech perspective, we’ve always been nimble and we have been able to take advantage of opportunities and successfully monetize our acquisitions; we can change on a dime to meet market conditions.”
In the fun business
Headquartered in Miami with offices in New York; Las Vegas; Orlando, Florida; and Austin, Texas; Entertainment Benefits Group is an e-commerce company that specializes in live entertainment and travel. It sells millions of tickets for attractions such as Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and other theme parks, Broadway shows, concerts, ski resorts, hotels, sporting events and more, McKee notes.
The tickets and accommodations can become part of corporate perks offerings for EBG’s customers through three of its programs. These “closed loop” systems are the largest portion of the company’s business, and only an organization’s employees or those with access to the platform can see the prices.
EBG’s Member Engagement Solutions enables membership organizations access to the resorts and events with special offers and discounts. The company also offers separate “white label” platforms to support programs offered by large membership-based organizations including Sam’s Club, AAA and other e-commerce partners.
“With such a wide diversity among the companies we collaborate with, there are so many exciting challenges because each partner works differently and has its unique needs,” McKee says.
Before 2020, EBG’s services and support were rapidly gaining popularity as the company sold more than 10 million tickets annually, serviced more than 40,000 clients and reached 60 million users, according to its website.
Since he joined the company in 2014, McKee has seen its IT team grow from three software developers to nearly 40 in support of the in-house tech it uses.
So while the screeching halt to travel and closed resorts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 a challenge, he says the pause also allowed for some needed tech reassessments as well as hastening the company’s ascension to the cloud.
“The nice thing is we’ve really been able to look at processes. That can’t always be done during rapid growth,” he adds.
Of course, while theme parks were shuttered, so were EBG’s offices, which resulted in a shift to remote work in two weeks. During that time, a virtual call center was created, virtual private networks were added, and 100-foot-long cables were shipped to employees having trouble with their Wi-Fi because entire families were now at home and online at the same time.
“The biggest change was around connectivity, because when on-premises everything is hard-wired and redundant to keep going in case of disruptions,” he says. “All of it had been tested, too.”
McKee and the IT team also created a support desk Teams channel that recently assisted an employee whose dog ate a modem, he recounts. McKee actually had a mishap of his own while working remotely from home in the Florida Keys, when a truck knocked over a utility pole, taking internet and cell phone communications with it.
Dog-eaten modems aside, McKee says that staff adapted well to the virtual environment—so well that phishing attempts made by employees to test security were rejected.
“Having a state-of-the-art system in place doesn’t help if it’s not adopted by employees and built to support customers,” he explains. “Here at EBG, we’ve been able to evolve quickly and grow by double digits over the years by never losing sight of who we are—and who we can become.”
Building a tech career
The tech boom of the 1990s drove McKee’s shift from finance and operations at Alamo Rent a Car to IT. As director of customer innovation from 1991-99, he helped develop the company’s internet reservation services. It was a process that also caught the eye of IBM.
In 1999, he joined IBM Global Services as an executive consultant, working with clients in the travel industry to develop enterprise resource management and customer relationship management platforms, as well as analyzing pricing and making risk assessments on customer contracts.
In January 2004, McKee left IBM to become vice president of advanced engineering for Wyndham Vacation Ownership, creating its internet strategy and providing the IT infrastructure to support it. In October 2008, he became senior director of integration and web solutions.
He shifted to Wyndham’s resort operations in July 2010 to create and implement its social media strategy. In October 2011, he took on the role of strategic interactive project manager for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Online.
In 2013, EBG recruited him to build its IT infrastructure and strategy. He joined the company as vice president of technology, was promoted to senior vice president of technology in January 2018 and became CTO in October 2019.
“I always want to make a difference—that’s why I join the companies I do,” McKee says. “But there’s no doubt success comes in being nimble and open to other perspectives and ideas to create truly meaningful results.”
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