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April 6, 2013

How Disney gets its 'hi-ho' worker enthusiasm

“What would Walt do?”

For decades, that was the magic, pixie-dust question that permeated the Walt Disney empire of animated cartoons, films, toys and theme parks.

As the creator and visionary behind the brand, he worked hard to ensure that Disneyland’s guests felt ensconced in the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

But it didn’t happen at the touch of a fairy godmother’s wand. Behind the fantasy world, Disney laid out a serious training program for ensuring upbeat, friendly, customer-focused employees who could “create happiness” on the job.

That training program, launched in early 1955 as Disneyland was hiring for its Anaheim, Calif., opening, eventually became officially known as “Disney University.”

Today, it’s offered to Disney employees worldwide, as well as to outside companies through the Disney Institute in Florida.

But that training is also spread by former Disney execs like Doug Lipp, a Fair Oaks, Calif.-based business consultant. He travels the globe, from Denver to Dubai, conducting Disney-style leadership and customer service training for CEOs and employees of Fortune 500 firms, universities, hospitals and other businesses.

In his new book, “Disney U,” which debuted in March, Lipp details how Disney University got its start and the secrets to its success. Part memoir, part management bible, it’s based on interviews with 25 former Disney executives.

What’s made Disney’s management style so envied around the world?

“It’s a balance of head and heart. It’s a balance of rides that don’t break down and Snow White never has a bad day,” said Lipp, 57, who works and writes from his home office.

In other words, all the technological details of running a theme park, or any business, need to be in place, along with engaged employees whose positive outlook extends to every customer interaction.

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