Thursday, September 27, 2012

How It Was Done: Part Two

(from Institutions / Volume Feeding, October 1972)




Disney: The People Pros

It takes a special kind of man to risk his family's savings on Snow White.

It takes a special kind of man to borrow on his life insurance in order to open a $17-million amusement park in a place no one had ever heard of before-unless they remembered Jack Benny's nasal train announcer calling "Anaheim, Azusa and Cuc-a-monga."

It takes a special kind of man to build an organization that has a unique management style, where channels are kept open. Where everyone-down to the proudest sweeper-calls the company president by his nickname.

That special man-Walt Disney-is still very much alive. When top management speaks, it's as though Walt and his brother Roy (the financial wizard) were still around. As though any decision, large or small, would have to be approved by them. Nothing is done half way. It's either done right or not at all. And hang the expense.

This "Disneyism" (almost a kind of "religion" among employees) comes through loud and clear. No wonder. Walt himself stated that his proudest accomplishment was: "Building an organization of people that enabled me to do the kinds of things I wanted to do all my life."

The kinds of things he liked to do? He liked to have fun. He resented the fact that when he took his two small daughters to an amusement park, he had to sit on a bench and munch peanuts while they whirled on a carousel. Today's result: Disneyland in Anaheim and Walt Disney World in Orlando, where guests number three adults to each child.

The millions of people who pour through those gates have fun. They're entertained. They're given a total experience. Everything is one show, whether it's a heart-in-the-mouth visit to the Haunted Mansion or a mouth-watering meal while dining in an elegant swamp. Anyone-whether a senior citizen, a kid, a Senator or a real live princess-who goes to Disneyland or Disney World and isn't sprinkled with pixie dust should call the nearest psychiatrist.

The pixie dust is on employees, too, whether they're waitresses or show boat captains. They don't wear uniforms; they go to wardrobe and pick up their costumes. They're cast in roles. They're on stage. Even middle management employees who do not have direct contact with guests (all Disney customers are always referred to as guests) must do a stint dressed as a Disney character-Goofy, Mickey Mouse-and gallivant around with guests for a while. That's when they get the real "feel" of "Disneyism." That's when it's clearly understood that seeing joyful faces makes the whole thing work. Show biz. Entertain the guest. That's what Walt had in mind in the first place.
A gigantic wardrobe is kept busy creating thousands of Disney costumes.

There were times when what Walt had in mind was not necessarily what his brother Roy had in the company pocketbook. Example: Watt decided to build a Matterhorn. It would cost $7-milion. Roy put his foot down. No way could they afford $7-million to build a mountain. Roy left for Europe. Walt called an executive meeting. "We're going to build a Matterhorn." he informed them. "And when Roy gets back from Europe, let him figure out how to pay for it."

The brothers were close. Roy once said, "Together, we are a success. Separately, Walt would've been a cartoonist for the Kansas City Star and I would have been a bank teller."

Walt was not only a dreamer and a gambler, he was a perfectionist. He put his show business ideas into foodservice - even at a price no normal Operator would pay. Prime example: The Blue Bayou Restaurant (the elegant swamp, replete with flashing fireflies, frog "gribbits" and even a pleasant "swampy" smell) was opened five months before its accompanying ride, "The Pirates of the Caribbean," was completed. The Blue Bayou was a smashing success and highly profitable. Walt walked in one day and demanded that the restaurant be closed until the Pirates ride was ready to operate. "The restaurant complements the ride and the ride complements the restaurant. We can't have one without the other. It's the total show. Total entertainment." The Blue Bayou was closed.

Card Walker, president of Disney Productions, emphasizes, "We don't have profit centers. We have experience centers.  Profit comes if the experience is right." That's why Disney can afford to build a restaurant with a million-dollar interior and charge a guest $1.00 for a good meal. Jack Lindquist, VP of marketing, explains, "We look at Disneyland or WDW on the bottom line. The total. If a restaurant doesn't make it but a customer needs it, we'll make up for the loss somewhere else."

Disney's expertise is moving people - whether on bridges or trams or speedy monorails. Moving them in the right way - without guests being aware of the flow pattern.
Part of the reason is the nature of the Disney experience. The average kid on the street isn't aware that his hot dog isn't prepared by Mickey Mouse. And if that hot dog is bad, it reflects on the entire Disney operation. Walt loved hot dogs, and had his food management team scour the countryside until they found the way lo keep hot dogs (and buns) hot and tasty. This Quest for serving food "The Disney Way" also prompted management to eventually buy back all the concessions previously awarded to companies like Stouffer and an ABC subsidiary. They weren't Disney People. One operator, in fact, insisted that his supervisory staff be called "Mister." This definitely wasn't Walt's way. It wasn't his management philosophy.

Some of these philosophies (called Disney Democracy): Don't departmentalize. Use first names. Everyone must be involved in everyone else's business. Keep the channels open so you can make a decision in a hurry. John Hench, VP- Production of WED Enterprises, the design division, explains, "Among other things Walt left us was the habit of mixing people up and having them freely discuss and criticize all aspects of our operation. We cross division lines, and get into each others departments." These, and other "Disneyisms", would make the average hotel and foodservice operator shudder. But they sure work for Disney.

Guests enjoy limited menu items in an atmosphere of Medieval charm - after all, they're in a castle! Patrons pay for their meal as they enter the restaurant. Menus and decor in all Disney foodservice operations are meticulously coordinated to created a total atmosphere.
King Stefan's cook serves orders fast & furious.
President Card Walker comments, "The Disney Democracy is corny, but it works. We're friendly. We have a thing going with one another. The channels actually are open. If you departmentalize, you develop empires."

This philosophy, however, has caused problems for traditional hotel people- and some have left the Disney organization as a result. One ex-Disney hotelman complained that hotel maintenance was impossible to handle because it fell under the jurisdiction of the Park's overall maintenance department, rather than the hotel manager's.

The key to the management team is the Park Operating Committee at Disneyland and the Disney World Operating Committee at Disney World. Each week, the heads of each division meet end talk it all out. Everyone knows what the other guy is doing. If a decision is to be made that affects more than one division, they all decide - whether it means raising the price of a hot dog or raising the price of general admission.

Card Walker runs Disney as he plays his favorite game - golf (he shoots in the 60s). Expertly and quickly. "I love to hit the ball, but I'm impatient to get to the next shot," smiled Walker.

Moving people is what it's all about - and Disney uses every conceivable mode of transportation. Even an expensive and colorful showboat. Nostalgia reigns. There aren't any mustache-twirling gamblers or dancing girls - but it sure is a fun way to get around!
This impatience became most apparent when Disney World opened. "I wanted to crawl in a hole," admits Walker. "We didn't have time to get scared - it happened so fast. It was a miracle we made it. We weren't finished. We weren't trained. But we did it. Sure, we've got problems. But we've got enthusiasm!"

This enthusiasm, emanating from the president down to the WDW "lodging host" (bellman), kept Disney World going for those first months of calamity. The atmosphere was rough, but employees were so sincere and enthusiastic that a lot of mistakes were simply shrugged off by guests.

Disney masterplanned an entire city in the swamplands of Florida. They opened 2 hotels (1500 rooms) without ever having been in the hotel business before. "We were naive. Hilton never would have done it," quips Jack Lindquist.

Disney did everything on its own, from generating power to operating its own telephone system and computer and mail system. These are merely a few facets of this ultra-modem, vital community. The problems, even with all the enthusiasm, were monumental. Lindquist, based in LA., admits that the California-based personnel dreaded putting a call through to WDW in Florida because the phone system was so atrocious- "I suggested using carrier pigeons!"

Other problems ranged from lost luggage (imagine the trauma to a four-year-old when his security blanket is lost) to improper billing. But through it all, WDW is still turning away 1,000 hotel reservations a day. And repeat convention business has already been booked for next year.

Twirling in Alice in Wonderland's teacups is lots of fun. Even the Mad Hatter would join in the merriment.
The American Bar Assn. convention typifies both the good and bad. In the rniddle of the convention, a power failure knocked out all lights and air conditioning. Management improvised. "We immediately sent the conventioneers flashlights and champagne," states Dick Nunis, executive vice president. "And when they checked out, they found their room rates were cut in half." The tribute came when the Association said if would be back next year.

"We had a lot of growing pains." states Walker. "At first, we wanted to run the hotels separately, but we were wrong. You can't separate merchandising. It's all the same. We can't run our hotels in the typical, traditional way. We have to approach it with the Disney method of moving people. It's actually a people-handling system. We're in the hotel business, but we've got different parameters. Even though we were entirely pleased with our Architects at WDW we've now decided that in the future, we'll do it on our own. If you can design a Matterhorn. you can design a hotel. Everything is one show, and the hotels are as much a part of the entertainment as the Theme Park."

"Creatively, we have all the options. All we have to do is to plug them in and consider the priorities." Dick Nunis admits that these priorities are sometimes problems - the biggest of which are time and money. Disney isn't immune to these traditional dilemmas. But the enthusiasm is so contagious that everything seems to work itself out.

The critical evaluation of what Disney has done in planning its "city" has been mostly positive. Even a sophisticated writer for New York Magazine suggested- only half in jest- that the citv hire the Disney organization to manage its   services. When asked about this, Disney people shrug it off by saying: "Run New York City? Never. The weather isn't right."


(Navigation: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

3 comments:

Snow White Archive said...

Excellent post.

philphoggs said...

"We don't have profit centers. We have experience centers."
Lordy lordy.

Pics are great too.

Mark said...

Foxxfur, you have given me the weirdest obsession...haven't really been bothered about Disney (bar Pixar) since I was a kid, never been to a Disney park (I live in the UK), but I'm addicted to your posts...save them on my Kindle for a much-anticipated read on a Sunday afternoon :) You do great work here, keep it up!

By the way, Makercamp just did a pretty great 1-hour Google Hangout with a bunch of Imagineers, including looking at their ride design technology etc...think you'd find it interesting :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-9TJofh2kc