Daniel Cockerell, my son was interviewed by the Orlando Sentinel. The interview follows. More at: www.LeeCockerell.com
Front-line experience a plus for Epcot Vice President Dan Cockerell
Dan Cockerell, 40, is the vice president for Epcot at Walt Disney World, a post to which he was appointed in February. He spoke last week with Sentinel staff writer Jason Garcia.
CFB: Your dad, Lee Cockerell, was one of Disney World’s highest executives when he retired three years ago. What did you learn from him about Disney?
He taught me a ton growing up, just around respecting people. And he was big into time management and planning your time, which, at a very young age, I was learning about that. But I think, specifically with Disney, he sort of distilled in me the importance of learning the business on the front line — learning how the business runs. That’s what I’ve ended up doing throughout the 18 years I’ve been here, working the front line and doing lots of jobs.
CFB: What’s something you learned in one of those front-line jobs?
A good example now, when I think back to it, at Disneyland Paris I worked in food and beverage on Main Street. I was a guest-service manager, a front-line manager. And so understanding the speed and the volume at which the business runs and the importance of making sure our cast members have the tools they need — the right training and the right motivation. I always remind myself: Don’t forget about what it’s like to work out there. My first job out of college was at Epcot, in the parking lot. So, now, being back here in this role, I remember how we parked the cars and what the process looks like and what the staffing levels need to be, and what it looks like from a guest’s point of view, and how the trams run. That just gives me, I guess, a little bit more knowledge and some credibility with the team.
CFB: Epcot is arguably unique among theme parks in the world. Are there any particular challenges to running it versus other parks?
It is pretty unique. I think, overall, the challenges I have seen in all the jobs I’ve been in continues to be the same: Our guests’ expectation of their experience is so high. We’ve created that through our marketing, through past experiences that they’ve had. So the big challenge, I think, is being able to deliver everyday on that, make sure every single interaction our guests have with our cast is great and memorable. I think specifically here at Epcot, we have such a large international cast base. We have a rotation, so a lot of our international cast members are here on one-year visas. So we have a huge population of cast cycling in and out of the park on a regular basis. So making sure, first of all, we understand their culture and where they are coming from, and making sure we understand how they’re thinking about things when they get here — a lot of them have never been to the United States before — and sort of acclimating them to our environment. Understanding how they are, but then making sure they understand what the Disney promise is and getting that through to them. That’s one of the challenges, but it’s also probably one of the funnest parts of the job.
CFB: What do you think most tourists overlook when they visit Epcot?
All the nooks and crannies. When you get into the countries, the level of detail in the back areas and all the little seating areas we have, and just get a flavor of the pavilions, … I don’t think people always realize everything that is back there. And then probably something else: … Guests sometimes overlook the fact that we have all these international cast members here. Not just to go up and buy something [from them], but to really spend time and have their kids asking them about what it’s like to live in Italy, what it’s like to live in Germany or Norway. These cast members really want to share that. And the guests that take the time to engage them and have that moment with them really get a lot more out of this park and the park experience.
Orlando Sentinel Business Section 9/14/2009