The executive vice president worldwide sales & travel operations for Disney Destinations and the president of the Walt Disney Travel Company took a walk down memory lane with e-Travel Blackboard in L.A. earlier this year.
This week, Randy shares the story of his path from Universal Studios to Disney.
e-Travel Blackboard: How did you find your new role at Universal Studios?
e-Travel Blackboard: That’s so spooky! Even doing the studio tour the other night at the Pow Wow event was really scary!
That was a real studio with a huge historical legacy that goes back 100 years. So, I loved it.
I was doing that job and then in 1987, or so, they decided they were going to build Universal Florida and they sent me down for a visit to Orlando to help develop the pre opening plan.
I worked with Disney out here (in L.A.) because Walt Disney Travel Company was Universal’s largest client.
e-Travel Blackboard: Really?
I used to bring them a cheque for co-op and then I would get a lot of business from them.
So I got to know the people at Disney and I travel down to Florida, I’d never been to Walt Disney World, and I thought, “hey, I’d like to be the head of marketing and sales at Universal Studios Florida, but I could get passed over.”
They hired one leader for the executive vice president of marketing and sales and he lasted about 3 months and got fired. Ultimately I got passed over three times for that job.
I was breaking every record in California but they kept saying to me, “you don’t know anything about marketing”. And I said, “Well I’m smart enough to build a good team.”
The first guy lasted 3 months and got fired, the second lasted 6 weeks and got fired, the third guy lasted a few weeks and resigned! And this is over the course of a year and a half!
So finally I said to the chairman, “you guys don’t get it. I keep telling you put me in coach, put me in and you don’t want to give me the time of day yet everybody you put down there is failing”.
So they’d hit the bottom of the barrel, I guess and they thought I was going to leave, so they decided to put me in the job.
I was in that job four and a half years and I competed vigorously with Disney.
While opening Universal Studios in Orlando, I also worked to build out the second gate and resort. It’s just so bizarre to me to think back to the deals I made at Universal that I have to contend with today!
Some of the deals I made a hundred years ago at Universal, have come back to haunt me at Disney, but I loved what I was doing there.
I always admired Disney, I never badmouthed them. Universal wouldn’t have even been in Florida if Disney hadn’t had the creativity to come there.
It’s different being a pioneer than it is to be a follower.
Walt Disney was a pioneer. He was a pioneer here in California and he was a pioneer in Florida and then everybody else followed, which was great.
So I always had a good relationship with the Disney people, but tried to beat them at their game every time I had a chance to in business.
It really felt like we had established the studio after a dismal, dismal opening and after about four years I was anxious to do something else..
I had been a tourism commissioner in California and served on the Florida Tourism Commission as well so one day I went to a Disney executive who was sitting on the commission with me and I remember telling her, “hey, I’ve thinking about making a career change,” and she said to me, “I need to find a chair, I need to sit down!?”
I said that I thought I’d done everything I could there and I knew I didn’t have the patience to wait another five years for the build out.
She took me to the president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts at the time and I talked to him and he said, “well here’s a list of about 10-12 other Disney people I want you to talk to”.
I said to him, “that’s not going to work. Pick one name. I can’t talk to 10-12 people. I’m in a high-visibility job and it’s going to leak.”
So he picked Al Weiss.
I had an interview with Al in some obscure place where nobody would know me and I connected with Al and I went to work for Disney.
I originally got hired as the president of the Walt Disney Travel Company. I was also responsible for the Reservation Centre and Product Development. I was there less than two months when Frank Wells, who was president of the Walt Disney Company, called me and says, “Well have they told you about your new job?”
I asked what I had done to deserve it and he said, “nothing! You haven’t done anything to earn this, but it’s what you’re going to do”. He told me I was going to run the sales organisation.
That was in February of 1994 and after that, well at that time I was responsible only for Walt Disney World, then they added Disneyland, then I started in the travel industry marketing department and its counterpart in PR and then as time went by, I picked up cruise, ran the timeshare business, which I have since left and over the years I got more stuff added to my plate.
In 2005 I gave up helping to run Sports and Recreation and the Disney Vacation Club and just kept the sales side, but then picked up Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland.
So it’s been a fun run!
Somebody asked me today what’s happened in the last 19 years and I began to run through my last 19 years at Disney and thought, “Wow! When I came here, there were no value-priced hotels at Walt Disney World, there was one hotel at Disneyland and there wasn’t a second gate at Disneyland.”
All of a sudden I started to run through that list and it was like, wow, there’s a lot of incredible product that’s been added. You know, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the cruise line, just a lot of fun stuff.
e-Travel Blackboard: Is there anyone in the industry that you see or saw as a role model?
Al Weiss, who was the president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts worldwide operations.
The two leaders who have been our last Chairmen, Tom Staggs and Jay Rasulo.
There are a lot of great people at Disney. I’ve never worked with a more talented group of people in my life, than the ones I’ve worked with at Disney.
Bob Iger, who is CEO and Chairman of the board, these guys are all great!
Bob Dickinson was a person that I really admired as he was a consummate sales professional who became Carnival’s CEO.
He was always connected to the consumer, he had good instincts.
Herb Kelleher, who was the president and chairman of Southwest Airlines is really remarkable for what he did with that airline.
But really, I’ve worked for some great leaders at Disney including my current boss.
e-Travel Blackboard: You would obviously travel a lot for your job, but when you’re not working, what is your favourite place to get away?
e-Travel Blackboard: If you could take someone famous to your ranch to spend some time there with you, who would it be?
Steve Jobs was just a creative genius who never let anything set him back and Churchill was a guy who was like the cavalry when people were in need. He came out of the woodwork and was always there, and then when things returned to normal, they booted him to the side.
e-Travel Blackboard: What destination is still on your bucket list?
Whenever I decide to retire, whenever that may be, I want to rent homes in a lot of different parts of the world.
. I want to stay in a place where my wife and I can cook.
I’d love to spend time in Australia, Italy, the south of France. I’d love to just have places where I could go to for two to four weeks.
e-Travel Blackboard: And live like a local?
Monday, 6 August 2012
Randy Garfield: Disney Destinations & Walt Disney Travel Company Part Two
Source = e-Travel Blackboard: Natalie Aroyan
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