The iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has come a long way from it’s debut in 1924. Back then the star attraction was actual animals from the Central Park Zoo: lions, tigers, camels and elephants among them.

John Piper

John Piper

Today’s parade dazzles with giant balloons, extravagant floats, and riveting performances. That requires a a dedicated team of artists and technical wizards who work their magic from the custom-designed Macy’s Parade Studio in Moonachie, N.J. Their leader is John Piper, vice president of Macy’s Parade Studio, who keeps the crew on a strict deadline, encourages their talents and ensures all the moving parts come together in late November every year.

We spoke with Piper about his leadership style, management tips and how his team brings the parade to life.

How do you manage the host of workers — painters, carpenters, sculptors, engineers, etc. — who create the parade elements?

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration! First of all, everyone at our studio wears more than one hat and is cross-trained in multiple disciplines. The key is to get the team members engaged from the beginning so that everyone shares the broader view of the whole process and doesn’t get bogged down in any one phase.

What’s your advice for working on a strict deadline?

Allow “deadlines” to become the challenge or goal for the entire team.

By the Numbers:
  • 2015 cast:: 17 giant character balloons, 27 floats, 12 marching bands, 1,100 cheerleaders and dancers, and 1,000+ clowns.
  • 3.5 million: Estimated number of spectators who will line the 2.5-mile route.
  • 50 million: Television viewers.
  • Float dimensions: Towering up to 40’x28′ (fully inflated), floats must fit into 12’x8′ boxes for transport through the Lincoln Tunnel.
  • 50: Number of lines on a giant balloon, manned by 70+ handlers.
  • 1931: Last year that balloons were released at the parade’s end.
  • $50: Bounty (paid as a Macy’s gift certificate) for all returned balloons.

What are some of your tips for success?

It is imperative to maintain flexibility throughout the process to give team members the ability to refine and streamline elements for the betterment of the end product. Everyone comes to this with a passion for their work. Tapping into each person’s passion and allowing it to be part of the process is the key to success.

What are your favorite and most difficult parts of the job?

The people, their passion, and sharing in something that is bigger than all of us is my favorite part of my work. On the other hand, there is no changing the date for Thanksgiving. There is no such thing as “not ready.”

What parade year has been the most memorable for you?

2001. After the tragedy of 9/11, the city, the country and the world needed something to bring back normalcy to our lives and help us believe that we were going to be okay. I believe that everyone sighed a bit of relief as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marched throughout the streets of New York.

Images: Macy’s Parade Studio

ABOUT Rian Ervin

Avatar photoRian Ervin is a freelance journalist and writer with experience in emerging and enterprise technologies.