Luke's apprenticeship goes international.
|Very little time had passed since I began my apprenticeship of Uncle Dan before the first big public event, and boy was it a big one. One of the tasks I was given by Dan before I even started was to be sure my passport was current, and I had the requisite shots for overseas travel. You see, I finished my master’s and started at Disney in late May 2016 and on June 16 of the same year, a little place called Shanghai Disneyland opened. I was so beyond excited, it was the Disney park I attended internationally.
“Now, I know you’re beside yourself with excitement, I’m very excited also.” Dan said on the way to the airport. “But, at its core this is a business trip.”
“I know. I’m doing my absolute best to hold it together.”
“I can tell, it’s a good sign of maturity.”
“I just want to say how grateful I am that you let me come along on this trip.” Eric interjected.
“Oh, of course! Happy to have you.” Dan said. “And don’t worry, both of you, there will be plenty of time to have fun. I’m just afraid you’ll be pretty bored these first couple days.”
“I’m sure I’ll be ok. If all else fails, I do have a good book I can read.” Eric said.
“Can Eric come with us when we do things like walk through the park and stuff?” I asked.
“Yea. I mean, he really can be around for any of it, it just might not all be too interesting.”
Our flight to China was the longest I’ve ever been on by a longshot. It was also the most unbelievable flight ever. We flew on one of those planes with like uber first class. You know, like oversized seats that can lie fully flat and you can put your feet up and you get actually good food and all that kind of stuff. All those amenities really help the time fly on a seventeen hour flight.
Once we landed in Shanghai and made it through Customs, we picked up our luggage and there was a limo waiting to take us to the resort. We were staying at the Disneyland hotel on property and were put up in the penthouse suite. It was the night of the fourteenth. The next day we were doing walkthroughs of the entire resort in the morning and pre-opening press events throughout the rest of the day, so we took that night to have dinner and catch our breath a little bit. Once we were settled in a bit, a car came and took us to a nice restaurant in Shanghai.
“So, I haven’t told you this yet, but I have a request for you Luke.” Dan told me at dinner.
“What kind of request?” I inquired.
“I don’t want you to just stand at my side during the press events tomorrow. I want you to have the confidence to make statements.”
“But, I haven’t been nearly as involved with this project as you.”
“No, not directly. But, haven’t you paid attention to the press releases and every other available bit of info on the project?”
“Yes. Yes, he has.” Eric interjected.
“So, there. You can do it.” Dan encouraged. “Take it slow. Test the waters in the first one. And, I think you should take control of the third.”
“You want me to lead one?”
“Yes, the faster you can build your confidence, the better. You’ll have control before you know it.”
“Alright, I’ll do it.”
“Good. You’ll be fine.”
The thing is, I wasn’t convinced I’d be as fine as he said I would be. After dinner we went back to the hotel and spent some time in the suite before going to bed. Well, Eric and Dan went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I thought I was coming on this trip to observe things, now all of a sudden, I had to take the lead in a press conference covering a brand-new Disney resort. Sleep was a distant memory that night.
Since I wasn’t going to be falling asleep anytime soon, I got up to take a walk through the hotel. Because the resort wasn’t open yet, there wasn’t anybody else staying in the hotel. It was kind of spooky walking through a pristine empty hotel. I took the elevator down and found a secluded corner of the lobby. I sat there alone in the silence with my thoughts, really trying to build up the confidence to be able to make official statements on behalf of the Walt Disney Company.
“Umm, I don’t really know how this works yet, but I could really use some advice right now, Walt.” I said aloud in the half-lit lobby.
At first, it seemed not to have worked as I sat in the silence for a few moments. But, eventually he appeared in front of me.
“So, what’s he got you doing this time?” Walt said as he sat down beside me on the couch.
“I have to take the lead at a press conference for the resort tomorrow.”
“A press conference? Ah, that’s a piece of cake.”
“Piece of cake? You’re telling me you weren’t nervous at all the first time you had to hold a press conference?”
“Of course, I was. But you shouldn’t be. I learned from all of my press conferences that what the press thinks is just not the most important thing in the world. Everyone is going to have a bad press conference at some point and it’s not going to derail your career or anything. Besides, it’s a press conference for a new Disneyland, there’s nothing you can say to make people not want to come here.”
“Yea, but I don’t want to start my time as CEO with a bad reputation with the press.”
“Now look, Luke, this company is no place for a wishy-washy guy who worries about every little thing. You’ll never make it as CEO if you’re not willing to take chances and stick your neck out for the company. You can’t be afraid to fail.” Walt said, his tone becoming sterner.
“You’re right.” I agreed. “I can do this. I know the facts. I’m passionate about the project.”
“There you go. Now, go get some sleep. You’ve got a big day tomorrow.” He said.
With that, we got up and hugged it out. Then I walked across the lobby and got into the elevator to go back to the suite. Walt watched as the elevator doors closed. I never saw him disappear. I walked into my bedroom and fell asleep with a smile on my face, ready to take on the next day.
The big day started with a good breakfast, there was a lot to get done and we needed the energy. After breakfast, the first thing on the agenda was to take final walkthroughs of everything. Dan had to sign off on all of it to make sure it held up to Disney standards. It was a lot of walking, but that was the easy part of the day. Next came the looming press conferences.
Now, don’t get me wrong, my late-night talk with Walt wasn’t all for nothing. I felt way better about things, but I was still incredibly nervous. Nobody was expecting otherwise, not even Walt. The difference was, I knew I would be fine.
The first event was for the Chinese press. I was very relieved that Dan didn’t try to pass that one off on me. It was strange to have the translator for everything. A little disorienting, but I managed to get a comment or two in. I saw Uncle Dan flash an approving smile when I managed to comment in the first press event, which was very encouraging.
In the second press event, I managed to comment even more. It seemed like Dan and I split the time about fifty-fifty in terms of making comments and answering questions. This only helped my confidence grow as that final press event loomed ever nearer.
Finally, it was time. Looking back, I was absolutely set up for success. I had had my talk with Walt the night before, this last event was attended only by English-speaking media outlets and I had gotten examples of answers to potential questions during the first two events. Eric came to this one, and his familiar face in the audience was another extreme confidence booster.
No sooner than I had begun to get control of my nerves, the press event began, and I was immediately assaulted with questions from dozens of media outlets from around the world. It seemed immediately like I would lose any control I had gained of my nerves. Dan was still right by my side, but he was certainly not anxious to bail me out.
I managed to stutter through my first answer to one of their questions. I saw Eric flash me an encouraging smile and thumbs up when I had. I was so glad he was there. His encouragement empowered me to keep going. As I pushed through the event, my answers gradually became less stuttery and disjointed. I don’t know if he was actually there, but it felt as though Walt was behind me through the whole thing, watching over me. I really hit my stride after like twenty minutes or so. I was all over it. It actually got to be that I was going on and on for so long that Dan had to step up and cut me off to end the press conference.
Once we had finished with everything, Dan, Eric and I went out to a fancy dinner to celebrate my success in dealing with the press that day. It was a huge leap forward for me regarding my preparation to take over full time. During dinner I was a little scared that Dan would ask me to give the dedicatory speech at the park the next morning or something insane like that. Luckily, that didn’t happen. He still just wanted me standing up on the stage with him.
That night before the park opening I had no trouble getting a good night’s sleep. The only minor hindrance to sleep was how excited I was to experience the opening of a new Disney resort. The actual opening day was fascinating. Everything went so smoothly. I guess when you’re opening your twelfth theme park, you’ve figured out what works and what to avoid at all costs.
The opening ceremonies for the resort was the final item on the business agenda for Dan and me. So, we were finally free to go and have fun. We stayed in Shanghai for a couple final days to fully experience everything the state of the art park offered to its guests.