From the top, Kenneth Feld, the president of The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, keeps the world-famous circus financially afloat. But, for one day, he climbs down the corporate ladder for a day's work in the trenches and learns to talk to the animals on The Early Show's "Changing Places" series.
"I always dreamed of running away and joining the circus," says Feld.
Instead, in 1967, during his sophomore year in college, Feld's father purchased Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus. After he completed graduate school, he worked with his father in all facets of the company, assuming the role of CEO in 1984, when his father died.
As the head of the circus, Feld is in charge of a global enterprise made up of nearly 2,500 people.
"Kenneth Feld is proud to present the one, the only, the Greatest Show on Earth," announces the ringmaster before the opening of the shows.
But presenting and participating are very different feats. To live out his fantasy of performing under the big top, Feld took off his tie and made friends with the elephants as an assistant to animal trainers Sara Houcke (billed as the Tiger Whisperer) and Brian French, the elephant trainer.
Feld's job for the day is to clean and feed the elephants.
"It requires a really big hose," says French.
"Now I know the true meaning of 'watering the elephant,'" he adds.
The president wasn't too successful targeting the water hose. He gave French more of a bath than the elephant.
Next, Feld labored to carry loads of bananas, bread and carrots to feed the animals. After lunch, it's spa time at the circus and time for a pachyderm pedicure.
"I'm trying to be dainty, and I forget: This is 10,000 pounds," says Feld as he files the elephant's hoofs.
"You have to have the feeling and the touch for the animals, and the love," explains Houcke. "And if it's not there, you can't do it."
You have to remember that the elephant Feld was tending is a 8,000-pound animal. So, workers have to watch their feet. When the show has to move from one arena to another, sometimes, there is only one way to get there — you walk. Feld was able to lead a parade of pachyderms through downtown Denver. "This is a piece of cake," says Feld.
But, you're not a performer without a costume. And what good is a costume without an elephant? Feld had both — tights and all.
"When you ride the elephant, you have to make sure you don't fall down," says Houcke.
"I don't even know how to ride a bicycle," replies Feld.
But, with a few tips from the experts, Kenneth Feld, CEO, became Kenneth Feld, elephant master, as he paraded on the back of an elephant around the circus rings.
After a ride on a very big back, Feld is not quite ready to return to the corner office.
"I think now I'd like to try the trapeze," says Feld.