Gregg Walker, AB ’94, did not run away to join the circus. He took the less traditional route of Ervin Scholar studying economics at WashU, then Yale Law and a long and fruitful investment and deal-making career that led him to Goldman Sachs, Viacom and Sony.
Walker now finds himself CEO of Big Apple Circus in New York City and president and chief operating officer of Remarkable Entertainment, an immersive live entertainment company whose productions include dinner theatre and two shows created for Virgin’s new cruise line.
Big Apple Circus is a one-ring circus that performs October through February in a tent in Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center. Known for its intimacy, none of its 1,600 seats is farther than 50 feet from the action. Today, it’s a popular destination for both tourists and New Yorkers. But it was not always so.
In 2016, the then-nonprofit emerged from bankruptcy with a new lease on life as a for profit venture for its 2017–18 run. At the end of that season, Remarkable Entertainment began consulting and ultimately became owner-operator for 2018–19. In Walker’s first six months as CEO, revenues increased by nearly 75 percent.
“I attended circuses growing up, but I attended three-ring circuses, which have a very different feel — large, enormous and loud,” Walker says. “I much prefer the show that we create. I think what we provide is more equivalent to a Broadway show.
“It’s the fun and excitement and the thrill and the danger, but it’s all very intimate, up close and personal.”
Walker’s biggest surprise during his time with the circus has been how much hard work and effective teamwork it takes to pull the whole thing off, and especially the work of the circus performers.
“I’ve been amazed by the sheer level of unselfish commitment you see from people who work around the circus community,” he says. “On a typical weekend, we’ll do five shows. During the holiday season, we’ll do two shows every day for a week.”
Walker says he first learned about that kind of teamwork during his two terms as president of WashU’s Student Union, juggling a $1 million budget and walking the tightrope of student politics.
“I learned quickly in my student government days that to accomplish anything, you need a good group of people,” Walker says. “There is no such thing as the best person. There’s only putting the right people together and giving them the empowerment and the resources to succeed.”