Matt Ouimet’s tenure as President of Disneyland was especially unique in that he guided the park through its 50th Anniversary in 2005. His experience and knowledge remain well-respected and useful to many. Blooloop’s Chad Emerson visited with Matt Ouimet to discuss some defining moments of his amusement career.
Q: Matt, tell us about the various roles you held working for Disney.
A: I joined the Walt Disney Company in 1989, working first with the division that designed and built the hotels. Later I had the opportunity to work with Walt Disney Imagineering, the incredibly talented and creative teams that are responsible for new parks and attractions. Along the way, I had the privilege of leading the Disney Vacation Club and the Disney Cruise Line teams. I finished my career at Disney leading the Disneyland cast as we prepared for and celebrated Disneyland’s 50th anniversary.
Q: Tell us about a challenging leadership experience you faced at Disney.
A: The biggest challenges are always where Guests or Cast are injured. While rare, there were a few incidents that occurred on my watch. I believe that in each case the leadership team took the appropriate actions and instinctively exercised the empathy that is so important at such times. We often talked about putting our own children and family on the attractions. This standard made safety vividly personal.
Q: It must have been a very special experience to serve as a leader at Walt Disney’s original park.
A: With apologizes to all of my former colleagues and cast members in Florida, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong, there is nothing as special as being part of the cast at Disneyland. It was a privilege to follow in the original footsteps of those who set the incredibly high standards that Disney became famous for around the world. I truly enjoyed walking the park, spending time with the Cast and occasionally sneaking onto an attraction. On some of these walks I would ask Marty Sklar (head of WDI) or Jack Lindquist (a former Disneyland President) or John Lasseter (Chief Creative Officer for Pixar and Disney Animation) to join me. They helped me understand the history of this special place.
I also had a great mentor and partner in Greg Emmer, SVP of Operations who, at the time had spent more than 30 years as a Disney cast member. He was a vocal advocate for the quality of the experience and constantly reminded all of us of the importance of the Cast.
In brief – it was a great job and a privilege to lead such a great team. What kid wouldn’t want this job!
Q: Give us an example of a leadership experience that made a lasting impression on you.
A: The test of leadership always comes during adversity. There was a fire on one of the two Disney ships. In the middle of the night, in the middle of a dark sea, the guests were commanded to lifeboat stations. The call I received went like this, “This is the bridge of the Disney Magic, we have a fire on the ship, the guests are at lifeboat stations, I will call you back.” Fortunately, 45 minutes later I received a call that told me the fire was out and everyone was headed back to their staterooms.
A couple of weeks later, some people were questioning whether the captain had made the right decision sending guests to the lifeboat stations. Some were critical and suggested that we had scared them unnecessarily. I will always remember what the captain said, “I had the opportunity to do the right thing, once. I didn’t know if the guests were ultimately going to need to enter the lifeboats, but once we had them at their stations, we could worry about fighting the fire and I’d enjoy apologizing to them later for disturbing their sleep.” Ever since then, whenever I’m faced with emergency type situations, I always refer to the captain’s wise words.
Q: If you and your family were to head back to Disneyland on a sunny Southern California afternoon, what would your perfect day there include?
A: Entering before the park opened, and just walking around reminding ourselves of events and friends from the past. Disneyland was built to create memories and in my family’s case the collection of memories is extensive. My wife and I would then grab a coffee and a seat on a bench near the castle as our kids do what kids do at Disneyland. I’d be on the lookout for “Coffee Jack,” a gentleman who visits the park almost every day who we gave lifetime free coffee. I would probably talk my way into Club 33 for lunch and then wander without a destination in mind until flag retreat (lowering of the American flag) and then have dinner with former colleagues before the fireworks. Now that would be a really good day.
More from Chad Emerson:
Amusement parks: Theme Park Operations - A Conversation with Lee Cockerell
Chad Emerson talks with Cindy Gordon about her time at Universal Orlando
Amusement Law: Legal Learning at WWA and IAAPA
Amusement Law : How IALDA Serves the Amusement Park Industry, Legally Speaking
Halloween Risk Management for Amusement Parks: Curbing the Scary Specter of Legal Liability