Turnaround of the Year: Small Company
Company: Clearwater Marine Aquarium
David Yates, Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Behind the scenes of Dolphin Tale, an inspiring motion
picture about a dolphin who survived against all odds, is the turnaround story of Clearwater
Marine Aquarium, an equally surprising and successful tale.
A marine life rescue and environmental education center located in Clearwater Beach, Florida,
Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) rescues marine life, with a goal of rehabilitating them and
releasing them back into the wild.
CMA’s mission was well-liked and appreciated by the community, but the company failed to
bring in proper management expertise to develop and implement a sustainable revenue and
organizational model. CMA was on the verge of collapse, and in 2006 hired a new CEO with
turnaround experience as a final attempt at survival.
A multi-step turnaround plan was established. The new team decided to bring out-of-the-box
marketing and media concepts from their experience in the corporate world. To begin the
restructuring process, CMA gained institutional control by developing a defined organizational
structure, establishing clear lines of authority and staff conduct policies, making key staff
changes, and restructuring the accounting, animal care, and guest services departments.
CMA also initiated a progressive media campaign to drive awareness. The campaign utilized
local, regional, national, and international media from CEO David Yates’ background with NBC,
and focused on the inspirational story of Winter, the dolphin who lost her tail but survived and
thrived, and now wears a prosthetic tail.
Next, CMA instituted immediate revenue enhancement plans. Every revenue item was analyzed
and a model was developed that did not rely on donations or governmental support for
operations. CMA enhanced its accounting procedures with new financial reporting formats. A
first-time budget also was established with monthly forecasts.
The aquarium’s remarkable turnaround has gained international attention and substantial
media coverage, making it one of the most publicized and talked about organizations in the
world in 2011. Filmed on location at CMA, the hit movie Dolphin Tale helped increased
attendance and revenue by over 300 percent. The movie campaign produced the area’s largest
tourism promotion of all time.
In conjunction with the movie, CMA installed a new efficient staff structure and implemented
an organized animal care and rescue plan. CMA is now 100 percent USDA and FWC compliant,
had substantial positive cash flow in 2011 and 2012, and is now one of the area’s most credible
The organization expects Dolphin Tale to be the number one movie of all time for tourism
creation, with a five-year projected economic impact to the Clearwater community of more
than $1 billion, while creating and sustaining thousands of jobs.
The inspiring tale of Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s turnaround is likely to be retold for years to
come, inspiring other distressed companies and nonprofits.