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Disney Management Apathy / Hockey Analogy

As a high school kid working at Disneyland I was disappointed to learn that not everyone had the passion for Disneyland that I had. Not every other frontline cast member was enthusiastic about their work environment. The kid I trained with was super excited about his new job but quit shortly after to work at a movie theater where they would allow him to grow a goatee. (Good news, kid I trained with... you can have hair on your face now! Come back.) Few managers seemed to care about the history of the great park. A decade later I was equally disappointed to discover first-hand that higher management was apathetic to focus on any part of the grand Disney legacy.

Let me be clear. Not all park employees and managers fall into this category. There are some who do not. There are those who focus time and energy learning about the company and regularly enjoying the parks as guests. However, it’s been my experience that these people are more rare than you would think.

I’ve not been able understand why someone would (or could) establish a career in Disney park management yet not bother to know park history nor experience its current offerings. It’s been rather baffling that one would be surrounded by this stuff and not partake of it on any non-boardroom level. I’m talking about middle and upper Walt Disney World management who can’t name the Magic Kingdom lands. And managers who haven’t even been the parks unless to attend meetings held there. Then I came up with this analogy.

Hockey. I guess I like hockey. Sort of. I don’t dislike hockey. I went to two NHL games and one minor league hockey game growing up. They were great. I met Wayne Gretzky when I was 14 at an awards ceremony. I played hockey in the street with my florescent-colored rollerblades. I bought a mini hockey stick at the Canada pavilion at EPCOT Center when I was 11. But I've never read a hockey book, learned the history of the teams, or hung hockey memorabilia in my bedroom. I guess you could say I am apathetic about hockey.

Now if I had an opportunity to work for the NHL I imagine the offer would be rather appealing. A big organization. Reputable image. Fun by nature. Some bragging rights attached, perhaps. Say I accepted a management position within one of the teams’ organization. Would I attend a few of their games? Would I learn the team’s history? Would I learn names of the players and get to know the arena? All of these things would be free of charge of course. The answer is yes. I would do these things. Perhaps none of his would turn into deep, abiding passion. Regardless of how much or how little I really really loved the game, I would make the effort. Chances are..... I would end up really enjoying hockey.

I don’t know how much the hockey management culture encourages its people to go out of their way for such things. I do know that Disney management culture does not encourage similar proactive behavior.

Should every Disney park manager obsess over old park maps, learn the middle names of every dead Imagineer, and Tweet hundreds of obscure park facts. No. Should every Disney manager VISIT THE PARKS WITH THEIR KIDS? Yes. Yes they should. Should they have a basic knowledge of company history? One slightly more detailed than the Traditions orientation curriculum? Yes. Should they know the names of the rides and actually ride the rides? I would say so. This is not unrealistic. Six-year-olds know every ride.

So the hockey thing might help me understand what a non-fan might feel. Hopefully it will help some of you. But sadly, I still come up short-handed when trying to understand and explain why oh so many park leaders are unconcerned about such basic things. Even more curious is the fact that they can advance up the many ladders of company leadership never really knowing the company’s product.

On a happy note.... I’m thrilled to hear from so many people who are passionate about so many great things who are pursuing careers in the parks. To you I suggest reading some pointers from our friend Bob Gurr. And good luck!


Other posts you may enjoy:

Why the Decline in Park Maintenance?
Buena Vista Street Model
Marc Davis and His Early Days at WED
THEN AND NOW: Epcot World Showcase [Part 2]
The Wonders of Nature's Wonderland [ PART 1 ]
Swiss Family Treehouse Model


Reader Comments (11)

Good article. I went in expecting a totally different hockey analogy.

I was almost certain this was going to be about how Disney Parks management over the past two decades has been "skating to where the puck is", and how what they should be doing (and what made Gretzky great) is "skating to where the puck is going to be". Because they are totally skating to where the puck is right now and the competition is catching up as a result.

February 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Excellent point, though employees that care in any job are few and far between. It's been like that most everywhere I've worked, where the BS'ers lack of knowledge and commitment is overlooked, and those that go the extra mile continuously are not looked upon with the consideration they deserve. Sad to think this happens at Disney, as you can read about in so many books that discuss management over the years.

I am happy to say that one of our fans just got accepted into the College Program and was hands down the most knowledgable one there. Although he was surprised at how little his co-CM's new about anything Disney.

February 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWDWFanBoyBrett

Nice post, and to hammer the point home, I offer an anecdote as a HUGE fan of Disney and hockey alike. The Stanley Cup Champ Bruins issued 550 championship rings to their organization. That's right. 550. And these are those crazy multi-diamond monstrosity rings. The guy who sings the anthem has one. Any full-time employee who changes from ice to basketball court has one. The stadium ops people have one. The person who designs programs, sells group tickets, works in PR, sharpens the skates and runs the camera. All have rings worth thousands of dollars. The point is you are 100% correct in that there is a culture of teamwork, an understanding of history and a sense of pride in the common goal when it comes to something like being part of an NHL organization. But not at Disney, as you point out.

It's too bad, because the Disney company has so much culture and camaraderie to offer...and plenty of interesting ways to incentivize.

February 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSmaha

The classic example of what you described was Paul Pressler. I was always amazed that during the Eisner years, they hired snooty Broadway types who thought Disney was corny. They came in thinking they were going to 'fix' Disney. It's sad to think that so few in decision making positions know or appreciate Disney. There are thousands upon thousands of fans out there, can't they be hired somehow?

February 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDK

the funny thing about that last post is that I hear it all the time in my chosen career field. I run a retail website that sells toys.

I'm on a property-specific forum practically every day; every one of those days there are constant negative complaints that the company doesn't care about the brand, and that they refuse to take the input from the passionate fans.

It appears this is the case in all industries then. Welcome to the world of dealing with people, folks!

Though if it makes you feel better, a writer once said it best: 97% of people are terrible at their chosen careers.

So, don't take it too personally.

February 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRuss

Love this article as I enjoy reading and researching everything that has to do with Disney managment and why they do the things they do. In fact I recently wrote an article about Disney executives and the reason they decide what type of attractions we've been seeing comming out in the parks... you know the generic, typical ones.... not the 100% new, straight out of the imagination that has nothing to do with an exsisting Disney character or movie like Horizons. Feel free to check it out at under my column "The Mahne Attraction". Please write more articles on this topic and I appreciate your insight!!

February 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Mahne


February 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

This is a really intriguing topic and touches on why so many of us have warm feelings about Disney World and Disneyland from being a kid that aren't generated as much now. I still love going to the parks and think there are great attractions, but there are too many weird examples of bad show or just awful rides to not consider the fact that management doesn't care. If the people at the top don't care, that feeling permeates across a company. Individuals may love what they do and show their excitement every day at work, but it's not going to create a culture that really cares with that attitude.

April 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDan

It's like it everywhere but from my recent visit the overall service at WDW was still the best and had the highest concentration of really passionate employees of anywhere I've ever been. That's one of the reasons me and my family like visiting. All corporate structures suffer in that way, it's been studied scientifically. Wish I could give a reference but it on a Horizons BBC2 documentary. Sociopaths who talk the talk but have no substance or ability to deliver work thrive in the corporate environment.

I think in some categories WDW Florida has been overtaken when it comes to star attractions. I have a feeling if my family gave medals for rides in a 2014 holiday none would go to WDW, though Everest and Twilight Zone are very good. The overall parks are still ahead in my families eyes but more for consistency and service. Eg, Harry Potter Land is great and the ride amazing. But lots of that park are concrete and lacks much soul even if the rides in it might be great. But for every good queue there's a very very boring one.

On the flip side someone somewhere in an organisation does need to be able to take a balanced view, play devils advocate etc - but yeah you'd of thought you'd at least need to know a bit to get a job in the first place!

June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathan

To me it goes beyond passion... It's just good business sense to know your product. It's good to see people interacting with the park. It's hard to make the right decisions about something when you don't even have basic knowledge needed to make the call. That will keep you from making positive progress.

Walt never would have made the call for the Utilidors at WDW had he never been at the park to witness the cowboy walking through Tomorrowland. Some things need to be seen.

Good post. Sad reality. I'd love to work there one day. Wish everyone felt that way.

June 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Sanders

This is a great post. I too wonder how they progress in the organization. Is it that, once they hit a certain level, the company is just like any other company, selling products to customers? And therefore no real thought is given; management by numbers? Or they think it's all too "kiddie?" I really hate that one. Or maybe it's the phenomenon of living near the [insert local attraction] so never feeling the need to go. But I'll guarantee you this: if bosses came in on Monday tanned and smiling from a weekend in the park, their underlings would make it a priority too. Which leads me to your conclusion too, I believe, that the problem is institutional. Your hockey analogy is spot on. I've used my own simile for getting an opportunity that I should be happier about: "like getting to meet Oprah." I know a big part of our population would love to meet Oprah, but if it fell to me I'd agree, then have a brief, awkward exchange and tell people forever more that I met Oprah, that we talked for a bit and it was a real hoot. I feel like DIS is Oprah to these managers we're talking about, and they're just using the company as a stepping stone, never fully investing but instead using the time as something to laugh about later when they're in a more "acceptable" firm, remembering the time they had a lark in CA/FL.

June 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeastly Kingdomme

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