Disney Executive Relates Lessons on Life, Career

Dec 3, 2014

by Cary McMullen | Publications editor
Walt Disney executive Meg Crofton gave FSC students, faculty and staff an intimate view of her life and career during a special talk in Branscomb Auditorium on Dec. 2.

Entitled “One Leader’s Journey,” Crofton spoke for more than an hour, accompanied by a multimedia presentation, on how she went from being a shy engineer’s daughter to her current position as president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations in the United States and France. She oversees Walt Disney World in Orlando, Disneyland in California, and Disneyland Paris.

Crofton, who holds bachelor’s and MBA degrees from Florida State University, started working at Disney in 1977 and has held a wide range of executive positions with the company. During her tenure as president of Walt Disney World, she oversaw the opening of New Fantasyland – the largest expansion in Magic Kingdom history – and Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, among other expansions.

Crofton shared her journey through a series of readings from personal journals she has kept through the years, accompanied by meaningful quotes that illustrated the lessons she learned. Beginning in 1971, when she was a student at Rollins College struggling to overcome shyness, Crofton related how she found her personal “brand” that distinguished herself while maintaining authenticity – what she termed “Brand Me.”

“A brand is formed not by what a company says but by its actions. We must be authentic and stay true to ‘Brand Me.’ The best brand is natural. It has to be who I am at the core,” she said.

Crofton described her career path at Disney, moving from telecommunications marketing to hotel and resort management to executive roles overseeing Disney’s parks. She admitted that she felt unprepared moving from marketing to hotel management, which did not fit the career path she had planned, and urged students to be open to opportunities, even if they offer unexpected challenges.

“What seems like a tangent can be a trajectory that puts you on a path to success,” she said.

In 2006, Crofton became just the fourth president, and first woman president, of Walt Disney World in Orlando, a post she held until 2013. She said that in a talk at Florida State University a few years ago, she summarized traits that were essential to leadership. Those traits included optimism, visibility and accessibility, transparency, developing others, and a balanced personal life. She added that curiosity helps also.

“I realize that I’m closer to the end of my career at Disney than to the beginning. In reflecting on my legacy, I find that success is not measured by the roles we’ve been given but by how we’ve played those roles,” she said.

She concluded by noting that she had asked leaders over the years what the key was to their success. The responses all had to do with personal qualities, such as perseverance, openness to new ideas, and so on. Crofton then encouraged the students present to “start thinking now about your personal qualities” that could be cultivated to lead to successful careers.