Magical Leadership: Disney-Crummer Alums Share Best Tips and Lessons Learned

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is the largest private employer of Rollins graduates, hiring some 327 alums. It comes as no surprise that they are the second largest employer of Crummer graduates. These Disney-Crummer alums work across industries within the company, from resorts to talent management to theme parks and cruise lines. We spoke with seven phenomenal alums to learn what they’ve taken from Crummer to Disney and to get their top leadership tips from their experience within the Fortune 100 company.  

With such a large number of Crummer and Rollins alums at Disney, it’s easy to see how these alums often work together. Kim Marinaccio ‘07MBA is the general manager of Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Bay Lake Tower Villas. She is responsible for the guest and cast experience, leadership development, the overall facility, and the financial health of the operation. She frequently works with fellow Crummer alums at Disney: “I am able to engage with alumni in both a work capacity as well as on a social level when we have alumni events at Walt Disney World. Disney leadership is founded on developing and maintaining positive relationships, and when you get to work with someone with a shared experience like attending Crummer/Rollins, the partnership is boundless.” Kim enjoyed working in the cohorts at Crummer, which allowed her to grow her collaboration skills. As far as leadership goes, she recommends being curious, learning from everyone, and nurturing relationships.  

David Nowak ’02 is a Rollins alum with a Crummer mini-MBA who is a recruiter for Disney. He often engages with Rollins students throughout the year trying to identify, attract, and hire right-fit talent. When asked what he learned at Crummer that he applies to his work, he said, “The Crummer Graduate School of Business provides a foundation for strategic thinking, effective communication, collaboration, and the art of learning and adapting.” He also developed five skills necessary to be an impactful leader: (1) Lead by example. Demonstrate the behaviors and work ethic you would like to see from others on your team. (2) Communicate Clearly. Maintain open and honest communication with your team. (3) Empower Others. Delegate tasks and trust your team to handle them. (4) Listen Actively. Active listening builds trust and improves team dynamics. (5) Stay Positive. Your optimism can motivate and inspire your team. 

Katherine “Boo” Gonzalez ’14MBA is a senior manager at Disney Vacation Club and was previously a member of the Crummer Alumni Board. She cherished her times at Crummer and found great value in how it prepared her to be a leader at Disney. “I enjoyed every moment of my time at Crummer and learned so much from the faculty, the administrators, my cohort, and special guests along the way. Aside from a great education, the “value-add” for me was the relationships I forged, and a focus on self-awareness, and personal growth. Much of our success (personally and professionally) is contingent on great relationships, so it’s important to get the fundamentals right.” She points out four essentials to effective leadership: attention and care (“everything matters”), inclusive and supportive teamwork, goals with clear roles and responsibilities, and a strong sense of integrity. 

Michael Wallace 19MBA is a Crummer Alumni Board vice president on the resorts quality operations systems team as an operations measurement manager supporting the lodging, transportation, and premium services organizations. Michael is a frequent participant at Crummer events, maintaining his commitment to lifelong learning. He has worked diligently to become an effective leader. “In building upon my time at Crummer and combining it with professional experiences from Disney and Amazon, I have learned that some of the best leaders produce results by being visible and accessible (within the Disney vernacular, we call this being ‘on-stage’) as a means of building trust with hourly cast members and directly interfacing with guests.” He follows two adages when leading a team. “Leaders need to be able to toggle between strategy and operations.” And this one came from his own leader, a 30-year cast member, “Do you want to look good, or do you want to be good?” In short, there is no substitute for doing the right thing in lieu of quick fixes. 

Christine Weissman is Disney’s first female culinary director, and she oversees multiple resorts. She earned her mini-MBA in 2005 from Crummer and applies lessons learned in communication with peers, leaders, and direct reports. “As a leader, I strive to create a positive environment that encourages ownership and accountability and be a role model of exceptional culinary skills, cuisine savvy, and professionalism.” She recommends being determined as well as open minded when it comes to leadership. Being yourself and owning your personal career path are also important. Finally, she encourages others to find mentors for themselves, and when the time is right, to become a mentor to others.  

Cosmo Kapoor ’08MBA, general manager at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Resort, provides guidance to 1500 cast members and oversees day-to-day operations for close to 1000 hotel rooms and 600 Disney Vacation Club Villas. When he was at Crummer, he learned about how to make effective decisions and applies that to his job now. “When you are making a decision, sometimes you have to step back and first understand the current environment, analyze success factors, and provide alternatives and solutions. Then you pick the best solution, implement it, and measure your success.” He utilizes a “3H philosophy” while managing cast members. “Honor: build a sense of pride within your team. Humbleness/Humility: take the time to learn, listen, and be a team player, allowing people to take risks. Creativity happens when people make mistakes and learn from them. Humor: it builds camaraderie and makes memories.”  

Dottie Clendenin ’98MBA is vice president of Disney Vacation Club sales, setting sales strategies and working closely with various partners to ensure they meet their business goals while maintaining exceptional guest satisfaction standards. “During my time at Crummer, I learned about the importance of leading with empathy and having a service-oriented mindset. I do my absolute best to listen to my team and create an inclusive environment where everyone’s voice counts.” In addition to leading with empathy, Dottie advises actively listening to team members in order to boost fulfillment. She also encourages leaders to foster collaboration and prioritize development to invest in the team’s growth. Finally, she emphasizes the importance of being adaptable and staying flexible and open to new ideas and approaches.  

The leadership insights shared by these Crummer alums, now thriving at Disney, highlight the profound impact of their education on their professional journeys. Their diverse roles within Disney demonstrate the universal applicability of Crummer’s teachings, emphasizing the importance of strategic thinking, effective communication, empathy, and continuous learning. As they continue to lead with curiosity, integrity, and a commitment to fostering positive relationships, they inspire the next generation of business leaders to achieve excellence both in their careers and personal growth.