Les Pardew, President and Founder of Mystery Escape Room

Pete CodellaIn Their Words

This article is part of a series featuring business executives who choose to live and work in Utah. If you know of an executive we should interview, please contact us.

When Les Pardew founded Mystery Escape Room in Utah in 2014, he did not foresee their rise in popularity due to the coronavirus pandemic. Mystery Escape Room is now the nation’s leading escape room company and a hot-spot for team-building activities.

The business began offering on-location experiences in Utah and Arizona and dramatically increased the number of online experiences due to COVD-19. In-person experiences almost completely evaporated after the pandemic, so the company faced the challenge of adapting or going out of business.

Whether online or in-person, live facilitators guide teams of four to twelve people to work together, discover clues, and solve a mystery to escape different-themed rooms before time runs out.

The company has won numerous Best of State Awards, and it is Utah’s only escape room to receive more than 2,000 five-star reviews on TripAdvisor. Pardew has also installed escape rooms on 20 Air Force bases across the world.

Before entering the escape room business, Pardew spent 30 years creating some of the world’s most loved video games. He also helped found Saffire, Alpine Studios, and Pardew Studios. Pardew is the author/co-author of 16 books on digital art, traditional art, game development, and business.

What recent professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
We can connect families, companies, and co-workers wherever they are, which is extremely rewarding. Through technological advancements, we bring companies together so members of their organization can connect once again and provide a much-needed lifeline to companies and families. Last year, we had 8,000 events from May to December. So far this year, we have managed more than 3,300 events.

We also manage corporate events for half of the companies on the Fortune 100. I never thought a little company in Utah could have clients like Amazon, Walmart, Google, Facebook. Apple, Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase, AT&T, and others. We worked hard, and now we have some of the best companies in the world coming to us.

What attracted you to Utah?
I came to Utah to attend BYU and fell in love with the state. After graduation, I moved to Philadelphia to work for an animation studio, but I didn’t see a clear path to owning a home for my wife and three children. I was offered a job at an animation firm in Utah and drove here to discover the company went out of business. We decided to stay, and I started doing freelance work developing video games and later founded three companies. 

What do you like most about living in Utah?
We think Utah is a great place to raise a family. We love the wholesome environment, the good schools, and the friendly neighbors. Utah has a wonderful mix of up-to-date technology with beautiful landscapes. We can have the best of both worlds.

What do you like most about doing business in Utah?
Utah has an active and vibrant entrepreneurial community, and the people have an admirable work ethic. The state has an excellent combination of technology and workforce dedication. That, combined with a highly educated workforce, makes it a great place for finding employees who like to work.

What advice do you have for individuals considering starting a business, or relocating their business, to Utah? 
You have an open mind. It is a conservative environment; Utahns embrace new ideas and thoughts and are also morally grounded.

What is your primary challenge of doing business in Utah? 
The geographic isolation of Utah. Traveling to California or back East to see other escape room businesses can be challenging.

What is your business philosophy?
Life is about being creative, innovative, and doing unexpected things. I focus on items that others don’t and find ways to make them work. The Mystery Escape Room has been a perfect way to use this philosophy because I am constantly trying to solve puzzles and find solutions to succeed.

Tell me a fun fact about yourself.
When I started college, my first major was physics, and my wife wanted to know why I was majoring in a class I hated the most. I changed my major to art. I am now a firm believer that you should do what you love.

What have you learned from watching so many teams in escape rooms?

You have to manage differently if you want to have an innovative team that solves problems. Most executives are good at managing day-to-day activities and making lists of things to do. But most leaders don’t understand how to be innovative.

I’ve developed “The Pardew Principle,” five elements of developing a problem-solving team:

  1. Leadership-–A good leader is inclusive and allows everyone to participate.
  2. Common purpose—it’s important to have a mission and common goals. You can’t have someone on your team with an ax to grind.
  3. Trust and respect—You have to develop a lot of trust and respect because, at some point, you’re going to fail. Some ideas are better than others, and people need to feel safe to make suggestions. 
  4. Effective communication-–The cure for confusion is communication. Good communication will always be the answer to any problem. 
  5. Good organization—Both people and ideas need to be organized. People need a good understanding of the ideas so they can quickly and effectively put them into action.

Les Pardew is the president and founder of Mystery Escape Room the nation’s leading escape room company and a hot-spot for team-building activities. Connect with him on LinkedIn.