Rodney Fong is the third generation to run the family-owned Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf. He is also president of the San Francisco Port Commission and chair of the Board of Directors for the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. He tells us about the impact his grandfather continues to have on his life, the power of nature and how a little appreciation goes a long way.
Who has had the biggest impression on you in your life?
My grandfather. He was an immigrant and came here to San Francisco at 13 years old, worked every odd job from shoe shine boy to house boy and saved and started small businesses … and eventually got into the Wax Museum. It’s a complete rags-to-riches story. The work ethic that he has, I grew up with. He instilled that in me. I ate lunch with him almost every day.
Is there a “Golden Rule” by which you live?
Treat people with respect, listen to both sides of the story first before forming judgment, and at least say “thank you” to someone several times a day.
Where or to whom do you turn to in tough times?
I turn to my grandfather, who is not here with us anymore on this physical plane … and I turn to anything related to the San Francisco Bay. Fort Point is a beautiful place to stop and reflect, Crissy Field, Ocean Beach. Generally for me, things with water, related to the Pacific Ocean.
Where do you find inspiration?
From family and nature. Studying people’s patterns — good and bad — is interesting. That can give you inspiration of what not to do as well. As well there are some great people out there doing great things. You’d be surprised how much, when you applaud or appreciate someone, how that comes back and gives you encouragement to go on.
Is there something about you that people would find surprising?
They’d probably be surprised that I ride my bike quite a bit, even in a suit. That I don’t speak Chinese. That I didn’t graduate from college. That I’m dyslexic.
What would you most want to hear your colleagues say about you?
That I’m fair. That I treat situations and people fairly.
How did the family business, the Wax Museum, begin?
My grandfather had purchased this property here [Fisherman’s Wharf] in the early ’60s. It was an old grain warehouse. It sat vacant. There was a World’s Fair in Seattle that was finishing, and a gentleman had a wax museum as part of the fair and was seeking a place for the show. He came in as a tenant of the building and was later arrested for tax evasion. He was taken away, and my grandfather took over the wax museum, legally of course. He began to open other attractions, retail stores.
What are some of the more popular figures?
We just finished a great [President Barack] Obama. Albert Einstein, Eddie Murphy, Willie Brown, Elvira, The Chamber of Horrors is always popular, Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt, Tom Selleck.
How do you see your role in the world?
I hope to entertain people with the Wax Museum … and always have a larger impact on people. We have a family foundation and give $30,000-$40,000 a year to local San Francisco groups, underdog organizations.