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Former Vice President of Walt Disney World Resort Lee Cockerell
Speaks on Leadership and Management Competency

By Justin Paprocki, The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 7, 2009--And you thought magic was exclusive to the Magic Kingdom.

Lee Cockerell, former vice president of Walt Disney World Resort, is coming to Hilton Head Island on Aug. 18 to give his seminar, "You Can Create Magic, Too."

Retired since 2006, Cockerell oversaw 40,000 Disney staffers -- or "cast members," as they're called -- 20 hotels, four theme parks, two water parks and even a few mice.

Cockerell talks all things Disney.

Question. What's the main message you like to get across in the seminar?

Answer. What I tell people all the time is how individuals can underestimate how much of an impact they can have on other people by being a good leader and a good manager. (There are) four areas of competency: understand the businesses; be a good manager; technological competence; and leadership competence -- do people respect you as a leader? Most people have been to Disney (World). The level of service is rather exceptional there, and I try to tell them how it got that way.

Q. You were with Disney for 16 years. What were the highlights of your career there?

A. Euro Disney was interesting. We took a project from dirt to opening. I learned a lot there. The tough times, such as the hurricanes. Once we had 5,000 cast members volunteer to make sure the park opened on time. The commitment of people. If you treat them right, they will help when you need it. The good times are easy. It's when you get three hurricanes in a row and see how people step up -- that's what you remember.

Q. Euro Disney got a bit of a bad rap.

A. Lost money for years and years. Not sure it'll ever make money. The debt is about $2 billion.

Q. What made you want to retire?

A. I was 62, and I could afford to. I wanted to write my book ("Creating Magic"). I do keynote speeches and seminars at Disney Institute, and I've got my own little business where I travel and speak. My son is the vice president of Epcot, and eventually I had to get out of his way.

Q. Is Disney truly the happiest place on earth?

A. We do a survey of all the cast members and 98 percent recommend it as a place to work. Most guests are happy. It's not like we were selling oil or cigarettes (laughs). Most days are good when you're working there.

Q. I always thought it was interesting that employees are called cast members.

A. I talk about that in my seminar. If everybody would think about a big red curtain opening in their business. Is the place clean? Are all the props in place? If you think about it as putting on a show, you think different. You need all the cast, even the people to clean the bathrooms. You need to have the right cast to have a hit run.


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Copyright (c) 2009, The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

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