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How Technology Affects Theme Park Leadership

As the Executive Vice President of Operations for the Walt Disney World Resort for ten years, Lee Cockerell led a team of 40, 000 Cast Members and was responsible for the operations of 20 resort hotels, 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, a shopping & entertainment village and a sports and recreation complex in addition to the ancillary operations which supported the number one vacation destination in the world. Blooloop's Chad Emerson caught up with him.

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Chad Emerson:  You started at Disney right around the time that the tech boom of the 1990s was taking off.  How did this affect how operations were run at the time?

Lee Cockerell (below right):  When I arrived at Walt Disney World in April of 1993 we did not even have email even though we had it at Disneyland Paris where I had been for the last three years. We still were communicating with memos that took one to three days to get through the mail system.  I was paralyzed by not having email as you can imagine. Once you get used to the effectiveness and speed of getting work done, you just can’t go back. I funded email with my budget and it cost only 40K to get it into place.  Over the years everlee cockerell executive vp operations walt disney world resort orlando floridaything has become more precise. Being able to review historical records and apply them against the future is a whole new world with technology. Fast Pass of course could never have been achieved without technology.

Back in the early 90’s everything took longer and was not as accurate as it became with the tech advances. I suspect there are some people whom wish I had never put email in place when they open their computers in the morning and see hundreds of requests starring them in the face. Back in the 90’s everything took forever because we did not have technology to communicate quickly. Basically in the 90’s everything was slow and not too accurate. Today everything is fast and more accurate resulting in better results for our guests, cast and the bottom line.

EmersonBy the time your Disney career ended, how had technology changed operations within a theme park and resort setting?

Cockerell:  Basically technology has changed everything and I mean everything. Attraction design and development could not be done at the level of detail today without technology. Forecasting attendance is much more reliable and accurate, scheduling of Cast Members is much more robust and offers many flexibilities. Stage shows depend heavily on technology to bring them to life, which creates a lot of magic. Understanding our guests is dependent on technology as Disney surveys 2M guests a year on the internet, at the parks and in the resorts with hand held devices. Guests can now book their vacations on line without having to call and talk to a call center. I really can’t think of one part of Disney operations that were not affected and continue to be affected every day with technology.

EmersonYour book "Creating Magic" has been very successful.  How have you leveraged technology in the promotion of the book?

Cockerell:  I use all of the social sites including LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to promote my business including my book and new iPhone app. I blog three times a week about leadership, management and service excellence which brings people to my site where they can buy my book, my app or a whole line of retail Creating Magic merchandise for a meeting or just as an individual purchaser. My website is key to running my business and can be reviewed at: www.LeeCockerell.com

EmersonYou recently debuted an iPhone app related to your Creating Magic brand.  How does the app work and how can it help, among others, amusement industry personnel improve their leadership skills?

Cockerell:  Following up on my book Creating Magic which is now in ten languages, this new app puts my "Leadership Guidance" in your pocket, allowing users to begin Creating Magic immediately in their lives and the lives of others.  While it applies to all types of areas, it will hopefully be especially useful for theme park types that spend much of their day out and about in a theme park.

The Creating Magic app is for leadership and coaching on the go and contains hundreds of motivational quotes, management, leadership and service ideas and strategies that I have developed over the years, organizing those thoughts into categories including Daily Reminders, Life Key Points, Challenges and Dates To Remember. Once downloaded, the app challenges users each day to take action and Create Magic for their employees, family members and significant others. 

Users can mark messages as favorites and share with their friends by email, Twitter or Facebook. Other app features include Random with Magic Wand sounds, and handy Date Alerts to remind you of important dates throughout the year. I think that we all need some daily reminders to make sure we are doing the things that really matter. This app will help everyone do that. One day each of us will understand that the little things really were the big things. This app helps everyone do both the little things and the big things that come up while serving as a leader in a theme park setting.

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