The woman behind Disney's Cars Land has announced that she will be retiring from Walt Disney Imagineering at the end of the year. Kathy Mangum, whose portfolio at WDI also included Disney World's two water parks and The Seas with Nemo and Friends ride at Epcot, currently serves as a Senior Vice President for WDI, with creative oversight of the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris resorts as well as the Disney Cruise Line.
Mangum announced her retirement at the start of the IAAPA Attractions Expo she moderated this afternoon in Orlando: "Inspiring Women of Disney Parks."
What does it take to get on board — and then ahead — with the world's leading theme park company? Then what else does it take to do that as a woman, in an industry where almost all top positions remain held by men? The panel featured six executives from various ares of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, each talking about her experience coming to Disney and climbing the corporate ladder.
For many on the panel, what seemed like it would be a temporary gig turned into their life's career.
"When I graduated from high school, I told my parents I want to go down to the Magic Kingdom and work and I promise I will stay only one year and then I will come back and do all the normal things you are supposed to do after you graduate from high school," Petersen said. "One year turned into 42 years."
"I was an executive with Carnival [Cruise Line], but really wanted to get with Disney," Powell said. "I actually took a step backward" to get there, giving up her executive status.
"Sometime, you think your trajectory should always be in one direction. What I learned very quickly in making that personal decision for myself that it really is all about your opportunities and realizing that ultimately where you want to go is not the path that you envisioned for yourself," Powell said.
Seruto had to confront giving up a business she built when Bob Weis asked her to join Walt Disney Imagineering on the Shanghai Disneyland project.
"I had to ask myself, if I just hang on to the thing I am comfortable with, what am I going to miss out on?," she said. Fortunately for theme park fans, she jumped... and ended up overseeing the Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle of the Sunken Treasure ride that now stands atop our list of the world's best theme park attractions.
Taking chances and making changes are prerequisites for moving forward at Disney and in the industry, several panelists insisted. But hold on to some goals while making those changes.
"When I look back, my only regret is that I didn't change positions even more frequently than I did," Valiquette said. "Probably about 10 years ago, it became very clear to me that I wanted to lead our parks, and I always have had such a deep passion for Epcot in particular. So when my leaders would ask me, 'what do you want to do next?,' I would always tell them, even when leading a park was not yet within reach, 'I want to do whatever you think I should do so that, one day, when the opportunity is there to lead a park, I want to have all the qualifications you need in that person. So I will do anything.'"
"You've got to be open minded. If you really want the end goal, you've got to be willing to do what it takes to get there," she said.
Being open minded also means being open to new voices in the room, too.
"People are understanding that [diversity] drives innovation and it creates change," Petersen said. "We want our guests to be able to connect to those stories [that we tell] and we want the guest to be able to see themselves in those stories. We want all guests to be able to see themselves in those stories."
Others also spoke to the importance of listening to other voices.
"Just that notion of listening to the front line cast, because they live and breath it every day," Quinn said. "As a leader, you really will move everything forward so much quicker by listening to the cast members and what they have to say because they are remarkable, right? They are out there each and every day."
But sometimes it takes speaking up to elicit valuable input from a team member.
"If I can get through to somebody; I can say something that helps them get over an obstacle or take that next leap, and they do it," Seruto said, "that I feel true pride in."
And this work matters. It is important to millions of people, sometimes at the most significant times of their lives.
"What makes me most proud is when I think about the trust our guests put in us," Valiquette said. "When you think about guests coming to Walt Disney World, they are trusting us with their most critical moments, their most precious moments. People come to us not only for summer vacations. They come to us when they are celebrating a major life milestone: beating cancer, they've adopted a child. They come to us when they find out that they don't have much life left and they want a final, special moment with their family. Kids who are making a 'Make a Wish' trip are choosing Walt Disney World. They trust us to not let them down. That's such a big responsibility."
"I tell my team pretty regularly that what we do may not be rocket science, but on a lot of days, for a lot of people, it's more important."Tweet
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