Company culture is a business notion that is incredibly important to consider, yet is oftentimes barely paid enough attention. Companies that master the art of creating a work environment that thrives on unity, innovation, and giving back are undoubtedly more successful in the long run and become well known for their efforts.
Jody Dreyer was privileged to be a part of such a company for over thirty years. She discusses with us today her time with the Disney family, and how business practices she learned and pioneered during her time there would serve any company today just as well as they served Disney.
4word: To start, tell us a little about yourself.
Jody: Let’s start at the beginning! I was born and raised in the Midwest. I tell you that because I am practical, down home, and no nonsense, and much of that, I think, comes from the Midwest. Second, my Dad’s side of the family is from a farm, which explains my love for: a good day’s hard work, community, and again, no nonsense.
Some of my favorite things: sports (especially college football and basketball and the Chicago Cubs baseball team). I can’t seem to ever pass up soda pop (from the fountain is best. More fizz!). I have been told I will celebrate anything and everything. Christmas is the absolute best time of the year! The smells, the sights and sounds, but most importantly, the anticipation and reminder of our dear Savior’s birth!
My husband is a very intelligent man who corrects my grammar and vocabulary on a regular basis, and he is an excellent writer and photographer. We have twenty nieces and nephews and over twenty more babies we call our own. Our babies range in age from a few months old to in their thirties. I am passionate about kids and that is why I feel honored and excited to be on the Board of Young Life.
4word: Why do you feel such a connection to working with children?
Jody: Kids are the future. I get excited to work with an organization that comes along side of kids for the fun, adventure, friendship, and the privilege to share about God and His love for them. I was involved with Young Life when I was a kid, as a college student, and now as a volunteer and Board Member.
4word: You affectionately call yourself a “Disney lifer.” Tell us about your 30 years with the magical world of Disney!
Jody: Thirty years is a long time, right?! I started my Disney journey while in college as part of the Magic Kingdom College Program and never left, hence Disney “lifer”. The areas I worked in included Guest Relations, Merchandise, Entertainment, Community Relations, Advertising, Operations, Marketing Special Projects, Synergy, Outreach, and Studios. I was also proud to serve as the Walt Disney World Ambassador.
These positions took me from Florida to Europe to California to Tokyo, with many stops in between. I learned so much about many aspects of business, cultural differences, and people. The best part of every assignment, project ,and location was always the people. Whenever I’m asked what my favorite assignment or department or location was, it really feels to me like I’m being asked to pick my favorite child. There were highs and lows with each opportunity, and I learned much with each step along the way and continue to mine lessons every day.
For example, Guest Relations taught me the importance of how you treat people. Merchandise taught me about business, Synergy taught me about teamwork, Studio taught me the importance of creativity, imagination, and great stories, and Outreach taught me the importance of giving back.
4word: During your time with Disney, you were able to be a part of some interesting and insightful business developments for Disney as a brand. Can you tell us about some of these?
Jody: During my tenure, Disney expanded internationally, especially in the area of theme parks. Multiple parks were opened, including parks in France, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, and that growth continues today! In the beginning of the expansion, there was much to learn, many decisions to be made, new information gained, and then different decisions would be necessary. It was a process, but an exciting one to be a part of!
The second HUGE growth was when Disney purchased ABC and ESPN. That was a time of quickly bringing all of the involved parties up to speed on each other’s businesses and how everyone would work together. We looked for synergistic ways to share resources, ideas and opportunities. This was an exciting time with the company for sure!
A third growth pertained to Outreach. The company has always had a history of giving back, but there was much work to do in making sure it was cohesive, impactful, and recorded.
4word: A business practice Disney impressed upon you is going into every day asking “How can I serve today?” What are some ways professionals can apply this same principle to their days in the office?
Jody: The idea of “service” is interesting. Most of us think of guest service in terms of making a transaction. The more I witnessed “effective over the top service,” I realized it is about several things that all really come down to a choice.
I think service, the transaction, is important. As a guest, you need to feel your request has been fulfilled, and the business at hand has taken care of you in an appropriate and efficient manner. Then there is the critical part hospitality plays. How many of us have had efficient service, but you feel like “road kill” after the transaction occurs? Hospitality is about the satisfaction of being able to say, “Hey, that was a good experience!”
Great service with over the top hospitality is the winning combination. There is a saying,”Service is not a choice; it is an action.” I have wrestled with this, but I feel loving on others is indeed a choice, which then usually results in an action. Each day you show up to the workplace, you can decide how you will conduct business. I try to live out John 13:34 where we are commanded to love one another. Part of that is how we provide service and hospitality, whatever that looks like in our business. Your business might not include dealing with guests, but we all interface with others. Are you choosing to serve each and every day?
4word: Working with the Disney outreach program allowed you to understand first-hand how important it is for companies to be good corporate citizens. What are some tips you could offer companies looking to start or improve a community outreach program of their own?
Jody: Giving back is an important action for individuals as well as businesses. We, as citizens, need to be aware of how we can make the world a better place. Everyone can do something, and it will look different for each of us and each business.
Here are a few tips to get it going:
- First, look around and see where there are needs. How about right in your backyard? Start there.
- Second, assess your resources. That includes money, but many companies have much to give in addition to financial donations, such as supplies, volunteers and expertise. A perfect example at Disney is that a visit to the theme parks is the number one requested wish for children with life threatening illnesses, and no one else can make that dream come true but Disney. Not everyone can do that, but I bet there is something your business or you can provide that is needed. “Time and expertise” is most often the number one request of not-for-profits. Again, this is a life choice. Choose to live your life with open hands.
- Have fun giving back! Volunteer with others, or maybe start a group within your department and go out and get involved together. You won’t regret it. I promise! As the great Amelia Earhart said about life, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it.”
4word: Why is it important for companies to foster a corporate environment that instills excitement and passion in its employees and helps them believe in what they do?
Jody: Passion and purpose is a winning combination. If we feel called to do what we are doing and we enjoy doing it, that is money in the bank. Will you have bad days, days when you aren’t as excited or motivated as others?, Absolutely. What won’t happen is you won’t dread going to work, others around you will feed off of your enthusiasm, and then true magic can happen! The right people in the right place with the right leadership will work every time.
4word: What advice would you offer managers or team leaders to help them infuse their teams and workplaces with infectious excitement for the job?
Jody: Good leaders always lead by example as they teach, encourage, and celebrate. The key to all of those is communicate, communicate, communicate. Leaders have to be present to be an example. They have to know the goal/objective and not ever stop learning and growing themselves.
A great leader can admit she is wrong and change course and/or behavior. We are all human. We will make mistakes, and it is what you do to remedy those mistakes that defines you. When others are watching, they, too, will learn how to fail and then learn how to succeed.
An area of leadership that is lacking in business today is the idea of celebrating. Recognition of people and projects makes a lasting impact and shows you care.
If you’re a manager or team leader, we hope Jody’s wisdom inspired you to seek out ways to improve your leadership within your workplace. You’re in a unique position to leave a lasting impact on your employees. Make the most of it!
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The year was 1971 and Walt Disney World had just opened. Jody Dreyer’s family took a trip to visit Mickey Mouse. It was that vacation that led Jody to a career working for “The Mouse.” Unable to wait for a summer internship, she jumped into the Walt Disney World College Program her freshman year at the University of Kentucky. When Jody graduated, she began her full-time work at Disney in Guest Relations.
During Jody’s 30-year tenure at Disney, she worked in marketing, advertising and community relations. In 1986, she traveled around the globe as a goodwill spokesperson in the role of Walt Disney World Ambassador. A year she considers magical.
In what would be the toughest, yet one of the most rewarding highlights of her career, Jody worked as part of the grand opening team for Disneyland Paris, focused on opening day marketing initiatives and event planning. She moved to California after that European stint to head corporate synergy and special projects for the Walt Disney Company, a role she describes as being the traffic controller for a company of extreme creatives. (Does the phrase “herding cats” come to mind?)
Then her Disney journey led her to the position of Senior Vice President for Disney Worldwide Outreach, where she had the privilege of leading Disney’s global philanthropic initiatives, including community relations, volunteerism, charitable donations, non-profit partnerships, outreach initiatives and cause marketing programs.
The last stop for Jody was serving as part of the marketing team at Walt Disney Motion Pictures, helping to launch Disney films, which carry on the proud tradition of great storytelling for families around the globe.
During her 30-year career at The Walt Disney Company, Jody loved how Disney magic could bring smiles to children and families around the world. Jody’s Disney career was the backdrop of her life, but the real journey was seeking God in her daily walk and work. Jody never forgot that while she worked for a mouse, she always served a King.