Luke and his team head to Epcot's 35th Anniversary.
|One of the last major things that happened before Dan retired was Epcot’s 35th anniversary. It happened October 1st and we had been planning for it all year. Originally just Dan and I were going to make the trip. But, I really felt like it would be beneficial for my board of directors to come with so that we could all figure out what we did and did not like about the way the celebration was.
This was actually about the time that I realized I didn’t like the term “board of directors” that much. In the context of how I wanted to work with them, a board of directors or advisory board didn’t convey the right message. We were more like a leadership or executive team. We were definitely a team.
“Do you think I could get away with changing the name of my board of directors?” I asked Dan on the plane ride to Orlando.
“You can do whatever you want.” He told me. “What inspires the name change?”
“I don’t like the connotation that comes from a CEO and his board of directors. I want, like, an executive group or something like that.” I explained.
“I guess you’re really ready to shake things up, aren’t you?” He responded.
“I really subscribe to the two heads are better than one idea. So, I think it’s better for them to have a title more equal to mine. But, I’ll still be the ultimate authority.”
Dan and I continued to talk, and before I knew it we were nearly in Orlando. So, we wrapped up our conversation, landed and made our way to the resort. There were a few classy black SUVs complete with chauffeurs ready to transport us. Arrangements had been made for us at the Boardwalk this time. A top tier hotel in the Epcot area. Dan took a room to himself and the rest of us paired of to take rooms. Aaron and Will stuck together. I took a room with Eric. Lily and Carly paired up, Johnny and Daniel, and Mike and Marcus.
We flew in the day before the anniversary and hadn’t planned anything that evening, so we had a chill night before the big day. Once we got settled in our rooms, all of us except for Dan, went down for an evening on the Boardwalk. We all sat down for a nice dinner at Trattoria al Forno.
“So, how’s everyone feeling about things right now?” I asked.
“It’s like a dream.” Carly expressed.
“It’s honestly so surreal to be taking a trip to Disney World for business.” Johnny admitted.
“Tell me about it.” I agreed. “My first business trip with Dan was to the opening of Shanghai.”
“That trip was so bomb!” Eric interjected.
“I honestly never expected to work in the company.” Aaron admitted. “Then this guy ambushed us at Disneyland and dragged us into it.”
That got a good laugh out of everyone. Everything was honestly going so amazingly well. We were all vibing. I was starting to feel like we were getting back to the roots of Disney. We were a bunch of passionate young people just looking to make a difference in the world.
“So, what’s one thing everyone would do right now if we were in charge?” Marcus posed to the group.
“Ask Dan, I have so many ideas.” I said.
“I would bring back traditional animation.” Lilly said without hesitation.
“Amen sister.” Will added. “It was a tense day in our house when Dad broke the news about that one.”
“No kidding.” Aaron agreed. “Dad was in the doghouse that night.”
“I want to try and listen to the people more.” Mike said.
“Interesting. What do you mean?” I asked.
“Take the animation thing, for example. Doesn’t it seem like you hear a lot of people talking about how they miss that style of animation?” He elaborated.
“I guess you’re right.” I agreed.
That discussion Marcus started was fantastic. I took notes the whole time. They were really good ideas and I wanted to make sure we didn’t lose any of them between that night and the beginning of the next year.
Eventually we wrapped up dinner and put it on the company’s tab. I’m not exactly sure how that worked financially. I paid for dinner at a Disney-owned restaurant with a Disney company credit card. So… I don’t know. We’ve got accountants for that one. But, after dinner came dessert. We went a little farther down the boardwalk and got ice cream at Ample Hills. Then we took a walk down the boardwalk with our ice cream before turning in for the night. We had a big day the next morning.
Well, as seems to be the case with me before big events, I couldn’t sleep that night. I was lying there in the dark, listening to the sound of Eric breathing, when I decided enough was enough. I got up, slipped on some flip flops and went out to take a walk around the hotel. As I was walking around, I realized it usually helps me in these situations to get some advice from Walt. However, I wasn’t familiar enough with The Boardwalk to know a private place to go.
When I got to the lobby, I saw one guy behind the front desk named Tom. I figured he would probably have some advice for me.
“Hi there.” I said as I approached the desk.
“Hi Luke!” He responded cheerfully.
“How do you know my name?” I asked.
“I keep up with the news in the company. Plus, I saw that you guys are staying here for your Epcot trip.” He explained.
“Ah, well, do you know anywhere I could go and get some privacy for a while?” I asked.
He directed me to an empty conference room and gave me a key.
“Thank you so much, Tom!” I expressed to him.
“My pleasure!” He responded.
“How long have you been with the company?” I asked, he didn’t look any older than me.
“A few months.” He told me. “I’m in the college program right now.”
I made sure to grab his information before I let him go. There was something about him that really connected with me and I wanted to make sure we kept in touch. I watched until he was out of sight. I didn’t know if anyone could see Walt when we were talking, but I didn’t really want to take a chance on it.
“Walt? Do you have a minute?” I said aloud as I paced around the conference room.
“Hey there, Luke!” He said as he seemed to walk through the door. “It’s been a minute.”
“Yea. I wanted to check in.” I told him.
“You’ve certainly been busy.” He continued. “You’re really getting ready to take the reins.”
“I know. I’ve been putting together my team, been doing team building, brainstorming what I want to accomplish.” I explained.
“So, what’s the real reason you’re here Luke?” He asked wisely.
“Tomorrow is a big day, you know. I think I’m mostly nervous about finding things that Dan has worked hard to pull off that I want to change and doing it right in front of him.” I explained. “And, as is typical for me, I can’t sleep before such a big day.”
“You know, you don’t have to tell him, right?” He responded. “You can keep your findings between you and your team. You need to remember that Dan really isn’t part of your team. He is your mentor, but once it’s your time, he’s out of the picture.”
“Somewhat.” I added. “He is still my uncle and his sons are on my team.”
“But, he can’t stop it and he will have to just deal with it.” He reminded me. “So, have fun tomorrow. See the good with the bad.”
“Alright. Thanks.” I said.
“Now, get some sleep kid.”
With that exchange, Walt left the room and I was alone again in the conference room. I took a minute to gather my thoughts before getting up to leave the conference room. Before going back up to my room, I walked back to the front desk to return the key to the room. I was glad to see Tom was still at the desk.
“Get what you needed?” He asked.
“I did. Thanks.” I told him.
“Great. Glad I could help.” He said.
“Can I get a picture with you before I go back to my room?” I asked Tom.
“Uh, sure, I guess.” He stammered. “You are the boss, after all.”
Tom walked out from behind the desk and I grabbed a selfie with him right there in the lobby. I could tell it was weird for him, I understood where his head was at. If the big boss randomly showed up at Disneyland while I was working there and asked for a picture with me, I would’ve felt weird. It’s a rare occasion for a guest to want a picture with an average cast member, let alone the CEO of the company. But, he indulged me and I left my business card with Tom.
After that, I finally went to bed. I got a few good hours of sleep before we had to get up the next morning. We got up super early the morning of the anniversary. We wanted to be in the park before any regular day guests. Before anyone was allowed through the gates, we all took a walkthrough of the park. We saw where the anniversary merchandise was set up and the organization they had in place to deal with the hordes of guests trying to get it. The system in place wasn’t my favorite. It was definitely something to go back to.
But, I think the real thing that bugged me was how lack-luster the whole thing seemed. I sort of wondered what the point was of us making a special trip out for it. It felt like just a glorified merchandise release. I definitely wanted to go bigger on the anniversaries I oversaw. I kept thinking back to the old, highly-produced specials that would air on tv for every park anniversary or major addition.
I couldn’t tell what everyone else thought of the day. I avoided openly discussing it with my team during the day. I didn’t want to risk hurting Dan’s feelings and driving a wedge between us. So, I mentally noted everything. There was going to be plenty of time to meet together and discuss things privately.
The day after, Dan flew back to California, but I figured the rest of us might as well hang out for a few more days. The way I saw it, there couldn’t be too much team building.
It was during those extra days in Orlando that and interesting opportunity arose. Marcus was an alumnus of the Disney College Program and was still keeping up with the various social events hosted by the program.
“You guys wanna go to a party tonight?” Marcus asked while we were in line for Expedition: Everest.
“What kind of party?” Lilly asked.
“There’s a college program party tonight at Chatham.” Marcus explained.
“Chatham?” Eric asked, expressing what most of us were thinking.
As well versed as we all were in Disney locations, most of us were standing there with puzzled looks upon hearing the location of the party.
“Seriously?” Marcus exclaimed. “Chatham Square? One of the DCP apartment complexes? Where all the housing events happen?”
“Dude, you’re the only one that did the college program.” Will reminded him.
“Ugh. Well, do you guys want to go?” He asked again.
Everyone looked around at one another to get an idea. It seemed like a bit of a strange idea to me to go to a party for college kids. I mean, all of us were out of school and moved on with life. Eventually, the consensus was to go to the party. It seemed fun enough.
Timing it to arrive fashionably late, we Ubered to Chatham Square, one of the four complexes provided to house the participants of the Disney College Program. Upon arrival, our plan hit a snag. Marcus failed to inform us, and none of the rest of knew, that to enter these complexes you have to show Disney housing ID or get signed in by a resident.
“IDs?” The gruff security guard barked at us.
“Like, a driver’s license?” Aaron asked.
“Housing IDs.” He fired back, unamused.
“We don’t live here.” I explained.
He then, continuing to use as few words as possible, informed us that the only way to get in without housing IDs was to get signed in. I explained to him that I was the next CEO and just wanted to have a handle on what college program life was like. He still was not amused. I asked to speak to his manager. After delivering the same story to him, a Google search and some deliberation, they finally let us in.
“Seems like an unnecessary level of security.” Eric observed.
“What are they really protecting these guys from?” Mike asked.
“Gotta keep those gators out.” Lilly said and we all cracked up.
Once we finally got past security, we followed the crowd to the party. It was oddly reminiscent of a high school dance. After a little bit of partying on the dance floor, I broke away from the group. To me, this seemed like a great opportunity to get some feedback from an area of the company that doesn’t get to speak up very often. I noticed a bunch of tables behind the dance floor where groups of, presumably, roommates were taking a break from the high energy of the DJ.
I went table to table introducing myself. It seemed about three quarters of those guys knew who I was by that point. I spent a few minutes with each group listening to anything and everything they wanted the top brass of the company to know. I was getting everything from movies we should make to suggested improvements to cast member life, and I took notes on all of it.
After hearing from a few groups, I happened to stumble upon Tom and his roommates. It was funny to run into him again so soon. I had honestly forgotten that he told me he was in the college program. He had a lot of great ideas. His roommates had some interesting comments as well.
In no time, I had pages and pages of notes on my phone filled with the comments from these college kids. I figured I had enough to last me a while. So, I joined back up with my friends. I was feeling increasingly comfortable thinking of my cohorts as friends. We danced the rest of the party away and Ubered back to the hotel. We had a couple more days before we flew back to LA.