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Disney Institute inspires business leaders to strive for excellence

SALISBURY — Community business leaders on Thursday learned about Disney’s success formula at the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Disney Institute at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

More than 200 people learned from facilitators Mark Matheis and Katie Sanchez about Disney’s “Approach to Business Excellence.”

Matheis started the full-day session with a warning that the information shared would seem like common sense but not always common practice.

“I hate to break it to you that there’s no magic wand that we’re going to wave and suddenly you’ll walk out of here with tremendous improvement in your organizations,” Matheis said. “There’s a lot of hard work involved with what we’re going to share with you.”

Both Matheis and Sanchez shared Disney’s goal to be a world-class, exceptional experience. Disney strives to make a visit to a Disney park, resort or cruise well worth the expense. They want people to return and tell others how great their trip was.

Sanchez said to achieve that, you have to focus on the people instead of the service.

“You cannot get to quality service unless you concentrate on the people first,” she said.

Sanchez said this is because people can ruin an experience that was otherwise satisfactory. She detailed a time when she had foot surgery and needed assistance from a nurse to use the bathroom. The nurse did not come in a timely manner so she started to get out of the hospital bed anyway. The nurse came in and wrote her up.

Another time, the people made an experience great. Sanchez said she bought a car and as she was leaving the business, they made her feel appreciated.

“I felt like when I was leaving, I had to do the princess wave,” Sanchez said.

Matheis described the vision that Disney has to grow and evolve. One vision that Walt Disney had was creating a feature film. He knew he had to think about how to sustain his business, but it was during the Great Depression. The project would end up being the successful “Snow White.”

“Your vision is something that speaks to where you want the organization to go,” Matheis said. “Your mission speaks more to the day-to-day operation. This is what we need to achieve the vision.”

Another journey to success is to pair talk and action. Matheis gave an example of all cast members, or employees, picking up trash they see in the park. If he was in a hurry and passed by a piece of trash, what message that would send? 

“What story did I just tell anyone who saw me?” Matheis said. “It’s not really important. I don’t practice what I preach, and, therefore, it’s clear that it’s not important.”

Matheis said employees need to have a common purpose that what they do matters.

He said when park visitors ask cast members for directions, instead of pointing out where to go the staffers will walk the visitors to the location. Although a minute may be lost, the transaction was turned into an interaction, and if it’s done well, it will become a friendship.

That goes along with the idea that every visitor is a VIP — a Very Individual Person.

“When someone is treated like an individual, they feel important,” Matheis said.

Throughout Thursday’s Disney Institute, participants were asked to think about how they could start doing things differently using the ideals of Disney.

The day ended with a quote by Walt Disney: “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing — that it was all started by a mouse.”

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