What happens when Dan writes back?
|Weeks passed. I watched, eagle-eyed, for the mail to come for so many days. With time, reality set in and I started to come to terms with the idea that I may have pursued a dead end. He certainly was a very busy man, why would he take the time to respond to a letter from a nephew from a family he probably wished he could forget.
So, I rededicated myself to my Master’s thesis. The prospect of a potential connection with the President of the Walt Disney company had served as an effective distraction from the project and I had a deadline to meet. The project was still a passion for me, but it had lost a little bit of its magic.
One day, though, a shift I was working at Disneyland ended in a very unexpected way. As I approached my locker to change out of my costume, I noticed something taped to the outside. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an envelope with my name on it. The outside of the envelope revealed nothing about who might be responsible for it. I quickly changed my clothes, grabbed the envelope and ran to my car. Sitting in the driver seat, I tore open the envelope. I was too curious to wait until I got home to find out what it was. I unfolded the piece of paper I had pulled out and saw that it was a letter. My heart skipped a beat.
First of all, congratulations on finding me. Not a lot of my family, for whatever reason, has been able to put two and two together to figure that I’m actually me. I also apologize for the unorthodox delivery method. The return address on your letter got smudged before it got to me and I didn’t want to leave you hanging forever.
To be honest, I had no idea I had any nieces or nephews. I’ve been out of touch with my family for so long, nobody was even married yet. I know you’re curious to know what happened so many years ago. It’s not that I’m not willing to give you my side of the story, I just don’t feel like a letter is the most appropriate way to tell it.
I’m glad to know of another extreme Disney lover in the family, it gives me an interesting idea. I am extremely impressed with the creative way you’ve found to constructively center your life around Disney. I would be more than happy to add some weight to any proposal you make to colleges to convince them to pick up the class.
I would love to meet with you as well. If nothing else, a relationship with you could do a lot to begin reconciling myself with the rest of our family. You could talk to me about any ideas you might have for the company and I would be more than happy to let you pick my brain about my experiences. Maybe you could come over for dinner one night soon, you could meet my wife and my sons. That would be nice.
I couldn’t believe it. It was far friendlier than I had trained myself to expect. He wanted me to come to his house for dinner and meet his family. The only thing I couldn’t stop thinking about was that one line in the letter. He wrote that the fact that I love Disney so much gave him an interesting idea. He didn’t say what that idea was though.
I sent him an email right when I got home. I let him know that I got his letter and that I couldn’t wait to meet him and his family.
“What do you think it means?” I asked Eric that night.
“He said it gave him an interesting idea?” Eric asked.
“Yea. He says that and then just moves on to something else.”
“Weird. Do you think he’s trying to fill some kind of position in the company?” Eric asked.
“I mean, I guess it’s possible.” I said. “I just don’t want to get my hopes up like that.”
“But you are going, right?” Eric asked.
“Of course, I’m going! It’s just a matter of when.” I told him. “Hopefully he replies in the morning.”
The next morning, I was refreshing my inbox like every five minutes to check for a reply from Dan. At precisely 9:46 AM, the subject line at the top of my inbox read “RE: Hey Uncle Dan”. He was so glad to hear back from me and invited me to come over for dinner on Saturday. The email came on Thursday, so I had two days to wildly speculate with Eric about what my uncle might have been thinking.
After what felt like two years, rather than two days, it was finally time. I got in my car and made the journey to my uncle’s house in the Hollywood Hills. I pulled up and was shocked by how huge it was. I guess I really shouldn’t have been, he was the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world. I took a deep breath, walked up to the door and rang the bell.
“Luke! How nice to meet you!” I was greeted as Uncle Dan opened the door. “Come on in!”
“Thank you! It’s really nice to meet you too.” I said as I walked in.
He led me in to the living room where his wife and sons were waiting.
“Luke, this is my wife Abigail and my sons, Will and Aaron.”
“Nice to meet you all.” I said.
“Nice to meet you.” Abigail said.
“What’s up?” Will said.
“How’s it going?” Aaron said.
“How old are you, Luke?” Dan asked.
“I’m 24.” I answered.
“Great. Aaron is 25 and Will is 27.” Dan said.
“Well, I hope you like burgers.” Abigail interjected.
“Of course!” I told her.
We made our way to the dining room and sat down to eat. During dinner was my chance to pick Dan’s brain about his experience with the company. Still, nothing had come up about whatever special idea Dan had about me. I found out that Aaron and Will were quite the Disneyphiles due to their upbringing. If nothing else, it was great to suddenly have two more cousins that were so cool. It was after we were finished eating that things got especially interesting.
“Hey Luke, would you mind speaking with me in my office?” Dan asked as we finished up at the table.
“Sure.” I said. This was it. It had to be. This had to be where Dan would reveal whatever idea he had to me. We went into his office, he closed the door, and we sat down.
“Luke, I seriously can’t tell you how fortuitous it is that you found me when you did.” He started.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Well, I’m sure you can tell that I’m not exactly a young man anymore.”
“Right, but you’re not that old.”
“Thank you. But, I won’t be able to run this company forever and somebody will have to take my place. I may have gotten where I am by working my way up through the company, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
“What are you saying Uncle Dan?” I had an idea, but he was being awfully cryptic.
“What I’m trying to say is, I’m planning on retiring within the next few years. I’ll need a worthy replacement, and from what I’ve seen, I think you’re a perfect fit.”
“Are you serious? But, I’m only 24. I can’t run a company! I’m barely making it through my Master’s program.” I blurted out.
“I understand that it’s a lot to take in. But, I’m still planning on working for a while. You wouldn’t be taking the job on Monday or anything. I’m here to mentor you and get you ready to take the job.”
“But, why me? Wouldn’t one of your sons want the job? Won’t they be upset with you choosing me over them?”
“Look. Aaron and Will may be above average Disney fans, but they’re not the kinds of guys who want to run a multi-billion-dollar company. My gut has a really strong feeling about you for this job, Luke, and if you want it, it’s yours.”
“Do I have to decide right now?” I asked.
“Not right this second. But I’ll need to know fairly soon. The sooner the board approves, the sooner I can start mentoring you.”
“Tell you what, take the rest of the weekend and think it over. Why don’t you meet me for lunch at the commissary on the lot on Monday and we’ll talk about your decision?”
“Sure. That sounds fair.”
“Ok. Well, I hope you decide to take it. I know you would keep the company moving in the right direction.”
I stayed for a little while after that, but Uncle Dan’s proposition had me in a mental fog that kept me distant from any conversation. So, I excused myself to leave and went home. I knew Eric would be eager to hear what the mysterious idea turned out to be and I was hoping he would have some advice on the matter.
“He did what?!” Eric asked.
“I couldn’t believe it, but he really did. He asked me to replace him as CEO when he retires.”
“Are you going to do it?”
“I don’t know. I have until lunch on Monday to decide. Oh yea, I’m meeting him for lunch in the commissary on the Disney Lot on Monday to discuss my decision.”
“Wow. Well, you want to, don’t you?”
“I guess so, but like, when I’m older and ready, you know?”
“I get that. But, the opportunity is here now. It won’t be here when you’re older and feel ready.”
“I would have the ultimate say on everything the company did. What if I mess it all up?”
“But, you won’t.”
“How do you know that?”
“Well, I guess I don’t. Look, every CEO makes a bad decision now and then. You’ll make some too. But, you’re not stupid enough to ruin everything.”
“So, you think I should take it?”
“I think it’s a dream come true for you and a chance that you’ll never get again.”
“Yea, you’re right.”
“So, you’ll do it?”
“Yea, I think I will.”
“Good. I think you’d really regret it one day if you let this go.”
Eric was very reassuring that night. I needed it. My mind was spinning so fast, I guarantee it wouldn’t have slowed down enough by lunch on Monday to decide on my own. At this point, I still only knew that I would accept the job. I had no clue what I would be doing or how I would do it. I could not wait until that lunch, hopefully it would give me a shred of clarity.
“Hey Luke!” Uncle Dan greeted me when I walked into the commissary.
“Hey Uncle Dan!” I said.
“How was your weekend?”
“Oh, you know, contemplative.”
“I bet. Shall we grab lunch?”
“I’m anxious to hear what you’ve worked out.”
We got some food and then Uncle Dan led us to a table in the Coral Room, so we could talk more privately.
“So, let’s get right down to it, shall we?” Dan suggested.
“Alright.” I agreed.
“Well, is it a yes or a no?”
“Umm, I had a really long conversation Saturday night with my roommate Eric. He really helped give me some perspective, my mind was racing at record speed.”
“Sure, that’s understandable.”
“Anyway, I came to the realization that this job really is a dream of mine and I would regret it for the rest of my life if I let it go now. So, I guess this is all just a long-winded way of saying, I want the job.”
“Fantastic! This is going to be so good for you!”
“So, now that I’m taking this job, what’s this going to mean for my Master’s program?”
“Oh! I definitely want you to finish that. Like I said, I won’t actually be retiring for a while. Plus, a Master’s will give you some weight in the approval process with the board.”
“There are going to be some changes that will be more immediate.”
“Well, the time is fast approaching to end your time at Disneyland. I’m going to want you to start shadowing me as much as you can.”
“Alright. I guess you gotta give up a good thing for a better thing, right?”
“Exactly. Soon, you’ll have the ultimate decision on every single thing that happens there, in Florida, Paris, China, Japan, everywhere.”
“Exactly. So, off the top of your head, what is one thing you would do right now if you had my power at this very moment?”
“Geez. Umm…I would love to cancel Frozen 2, and or Frozen on Broadway.”
“Oh man, me too. That’s a good first lesson for you. While you will have ultimate control, you still need to remember that it is a company. You need to make money.”
“I’m just so tired of it, you know?”
“Oh, I know. But properties like Frozen are just too big to cut off. Think about it this way, with the money you bring in from the overrated properties, you have more resources to give to more experimental projects.”
“I guess that makes sense.”
“You’ve always got to look at the greater good.”
“You said all you have left to complete your Master’s is your thesis, right?”
“Yea. Once I finish the curriculum it’s done.”
“Ok. So, here’s how things are gonna go. I want you to really dedicate yourself to finishing the degree. I know you’re reluctant to give it up so soon, so the Disneyland job can stay while you finish it. But, when the degree is done, Disneyland is done. At that point, you’ll become my apprentice full time. You will spend the days shadowing me at the office, come with me on business trips and all that. Agreed?”
“Ok. That sounds fair.”
We finished lunch. Uncle Dan went back to work and I made my way home to keep working on my thesis. I had been working for a few hours when Eric got home. He picked up some food for dinner and we ate together on the couch while I watched Aladdin for the umpteenth time to refresh my mind as I wrote curriculum on it.
“So, he just like delivered an ultimatum to you at the end of lunch?”
“I mean, sort of. He outlined how my life should go until he retires and asked if I was okay with it. But, you know, it was clear there was only one answer to the question.”
“Man. How do you feel about it, though?”
“It still freaks me out, you know? The whole idea of being handed control of one of the biggest companies in the world before I’m 30 is still intimidating. But, the more people talk about it, the more I get used to it.”
“I’ll say it again dude; if anyone can do it, you can.”
“Thanks man. Do you know how much I’m gonna make when I take control?”
“Dude, you can move out of this dump for sure!”
“Like I would leave you here.”
“That’s why we’re best friends, man.”
Starting the next morning, every waking hour of my life was spent either working on my thesis or working at Disneyland. I had mixed feelings about it. I somewhat resented the complete lack of free time I was allowing myself, but I was also savoring the final days of my life when I wouldn’t have the well-being of thousands of people on my shoulders.
A couple weeks into it, I couldn’t keep it up. I needed a break, and I was going to take it. One Saturday I talked to Eric and we decided we needed a day off and that we would go to Disneyland. I may still have been working there, but it was still the best place to unwind. I called Aaron and Will and talked them into coming and keeping it quiet with their dad. It felt so good to give myself a day when I didn’t have to get anything done.