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Let George Do It: One-time WDW busboy becomes Disneyland’s newest president

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Let George Do It: One-time WDW busboy becomes Disneyland’s newest president

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What with that $1.1 billion worth of construction that’s currently going on at Disney’s California Adventure (not to mention that $100+ milllion redo of the Disneyland Hotel that just got underway), the next three years are going to be a particularly tough time for the Disneyland Resort.

Walt Disney Company officials felt that they needed a steady hand to help guide the Anaheim property through this transitional phase. Which is why they tapped George Kalogridis to be the next president of the Disneyland Resort.

Kalogridis has a long history with The Walt Disney Company. 38 years ago, he was part of the opening team at The Walt Disney World Resort. Mind you, George’s career with the Mouse House didn’t exactly get off to a glamorous start (i.e. Back in 1971, he was a busboy at the Contemporary Resort Hotel).

George Kalogridis headshot
George Kalogridis, the new
president of the Disneyland Resort.
Copyright Disney. All Right Reserved

But Kalogridis’ energy & attention to detail really impressed his supervisors on the Resort side of the World. Which is why – after getting his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Central Florida in 1976 -- George quickly moved up through the ranks. Eventually becoming the general manager of Disney’s Grand Floridian Beach Resort.

It was during his 5+ years at the Grand Flo that Kalogridis came on a lot of people’s radar at The Walt Disney Company. His skill at team building & motivating the Cast Members who worked with him at that Resort to deliver top-of-the-line service to WDW Guests resulted in George being invited to join the Euro Disney (later the Disneyland Resort Paris) development team in 1988.

From then on, whatever challenge Disney threw his way, Kalogridis took it. Be it picking up the reins at WDW’s floundering call centers (which – at that time – were plagued with high Cast Member turnover rates as well as severe training issues) and/or figuring out how to deliver a once-in-a-lifetime Millennium Celebration for Epcot visitors while working with a rather limited budget.

Millenium Fireworks at EPCOT in Orlando
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of WDW’s Millennium Celebration … Do you remember how Disney Parks & Resorts aggressively got into pin trading as part of that event? Well, you can thank George for that particular retail initiative. As Lee Cockrell recounts in "Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney " :

“In 1998, George Kalogridis, who was then VP of Epcot, traveled to the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, with two of his colleagues to check out an exhibit that we thought could be adapted for use at Disney World. The Disney delegation liked the exhibit, but what really caught its attention were the hundreds of people trading Olympic pins. Because the traders were from all over the world, most of them couldn't speak one another's languages, but they were communicating perfectly through facial expressions and hand signals. And they weren't trading just official Olympic pins but also corporate pins by companies like IBM, Coca-Cola, and Kodak.

The rest is business history. The next year, when the millennium celebration opened at Epcot, our stores were stockpiled with pins of our own. That year, Disney sold about three million dollars' worth of pins.”

Millenium pin
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

It was just this sort of thing that ultimately made Kalogridis Disney’s go-to guy. His ability to see opportunity in adversity. Which is why whenever the Company had a particularly problematic project (EX: That period between 2000 & 2002 when George served as senior vice president of Resort Operations for the Disneyland Resort and helped get Disney’s California Adventure & Downtown Disney launched) when energy & experience was all that stood between success and failure (EX: Back in 2006, when Kalogridis was sent to DLP to deal with that Resort’s maintenance issues as well as get the Disneyland Paris Resort ready for its 15th anniversary celebration), they’d let George do it.

Which brings us back to Kalogridis replacing Ed Grier as the new president of the Disneyland Resort. The fact that George got tapped for this job should give you some sense of how truly tough the next three years are going to be. All of the operational issues / guest flow problems that will result from the retooling of DCA’s entrance, as the currently bland Sunshine Plaza gets transformed into a nostalgic version of Hollywood from the 1920s. Not to mention all of the crowd control problems that this theme park will be dealing with next Spring  when “Disney’s World of Color” lagoon show opens.

To get DCA through its sure-to-be-rough transition period (i.e. January 2010 through the Spring of 2012), senior management at Disney Parks & Resorts felt that they needed their most experienced guy on this job. Someone who’s proven in the past that they can motivate Cast Members, get people to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks in a ridiculously short amount of time. And that – in a nutshell – is what George Kalogridis is really good at.

Concept art
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

It’s going to be interesting to see if Disneyland’s new president can actually deliver the goods here. Help the Disneyland Resort go from being the home of (let’s be honest here) the world’s most famous regional theme park to becoming a full-blown destination resort. A place where – thanks to those state-of-the-art facilities at the newly upgraded Disneyland Hotel as well as all of those new rides, shows and attractions that will soon be coming on line at DCA plus the Disney Wonder relocating to the West Coast in 2011 – Guests can then do in Anaheim what they’ve doing at Disney World for decades now. Which is spend an entire week vacationing (more importantly, opening their wallet) at a Disney-owned resort.

George certainly sounds like he’s up to the challenge. In the official press release that revealed he had been selected to become Disneyland’s next president, Kalogridis was quoted as saying:

"I am thrilled to be returning to Disneyland, particularly during this exciting time of significant expansion. I look forward to working with the Cast who make the magic for our Guests everyday and partnering with the Orange County community to ensure the Anaheim Resort Area continues to thrive."

Concept painting of Disney's World of Color fountain show
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

One interesting little side note to this changing of the guard at the Happiest Place on Earth. Buried down deep in Al Weiss’ welcoming e-mail for Disneyland’s newest president was this not-insignificant line:

"George and his partner will be relocating to Southern California in the next few weeks."

FYI: This makes Kalogridis the second openly gay man that The Walt Disney Company has promoted to a senior management position in the past week. With Rich Ross, the new Chairman of Walt Disney Studios, being the first.

George Kalogritis speaks at a gala function
George Kalogridis MCs at a WDW event in the
1990s.
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Anyway … What do you folks think of the Company’s choice for The Disneyland Resort’s newest president? Is George really the right guy for this job?

Your thoughts?

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