In this transcript, Lee Cockerell (Former Executive Vice President for Walt Disney World® Resort and leader of over 43,000 employees) talks about business coach leadership on Thrive15.com.
Lee Cockerell: I get introduced like I was introduced by a business coach or Pastor George all the time. That Lee Cockerell ran Disney World and he was in charge of all these things and it’s true. I was responsible for it. I ran the place for 10 years. We have 7,000 managers and we do about $8 billion in sales. It’s a giant place.
I tell people since I retired I tell the absolute truth, that I didn’t even know what was going on half the time. Even with a business coach. It’s a very complex place. What I think the church knows and anybody if you’re in business out there today, if you don’t know this then get a business coach, because you better learn it quick. When you’re smart enough to get the right people around you, you don’t have to know everything. That is the name of the game.
That’s what we do best at Disney World. You can ask your business coach, It doesn’t happen by accident that everyone treats you well down there. We’re very selective. We’re very careful who we hire. I had the best team in the world at Disney World. I was in charge of a lot of big organizations.
Engineering. We do $750 million a year in capital projects. Some of those attractions are a $100 million, some are $150 million. Can you imagine? Maintaining the place. There’s 4,000 maintenance people at Walt Disney World making it look like it does. That doesn’t happen by accident.
I had a great engineer that ran this thing. We worked together for about 13 years. He kept it all together. I think about that. Here’s an engineer reporting to me and I didn’t even graduate from college. I could barely get through adding and subtracting. Here’s a guy reporting to me. I just let him do his job. I was there for me if he needed the little things, like helping him get through the bureaucracy. I’m sure you don’t have that in your businesses. He was great.
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Then I had the best retail person. We do about $1.1 billion in merchandise sales at Walt Disney World. I always ask the audience, “Have we got any of your money?” Have we? All right. I always make sure I focus in on, how many of you have daughters? That’s where you really make money.
All the men in this audience knows that because if you have a princess, princesses are very expensive. Our goal is to get the first princess dress on them when they’re young, so we got a lot of room to keep selling. Once you get one for $100 then you got to have the shoes. Well, you know, guys. It’s a fun business.
Princess business actually is a $3 billion business in the United States for Disney. $3 billion. This lady runs retail. I said, “I go shopping, but I’m not an expert in retail. It’s a very complex business, also.” I make sure I let her run that business. I’m just there to support her and encourage her and make sure she didn’t quit.
I always made all my people raise their hand and promise not to quit because if they quit I would be in trouble. I’d be right behind them probably. I’d get fired. I had a good food guy. We have 500 places to eat in Orlando. 500. It’s over $1 billion business. We do $100 million food and beverage transactions. It’s a very complex business with food safety and being all over these kinds of things in that kind of an environment. This guy did a great job.
Somebody said to me one day, “Lee, if you got all these people running the business for you, what do you do?” Let me tell you. There’s where you better know the answer in the economy and in the environment we’re in today because if own businesses, I’m sure you’re asking that question. What do people do for me? Why do they bring value? Why do I need them? Why don’t I outsource it? Why don’t I use technology instead? Why don’t I do it another way? Why don’t when somebody leaves not replace them? Everybody’s looking at their cost.
If you’re working for somebody, you better know the answer to that, too. At the end of the day you want to bring value to the organization. I said, “Well, I know what I do. I know exactly what I do at Disney World because I’m not an engineer, so I don’t spend any time there. I’m not a food person, I don’t spend time there. Or retail. I spend my time -”
Really my goal there was to … I said, “I’m the chief environmentalist at Disney World.” My really goal was to wake up in morning, use my authority and my position to create a place where 7,000 managers and 64,000 employees, cast members wake up in the morning and want to come to work versus have to come.
Creating an environment that is so rich and so respectful. A place where people can learn and be developed and be appreciated and we ask their opinion. All of those things that keep people engaged.