Thursday, November 17, 2022

Between Books - Walt's Apprentice

Book cover for Walt's Apprentice with a collage that shows Dick Nunis, Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse and Disneyland castle as seperate images

It is a harsh reality that Walt Disney passed away over 55 years ago. And sadly it means that many of Disney’s close colleagues and acquaintances have been taken from us. Dick Nunis represents one of those colleagues who worked with Disney over half a century ago, who we have heard others talk about but who had not yet captured his memories working at Disney until now.

Walt’s Apprentice: Keeping the Disney Dream Alive by Dick Nunis collects Nunis’ memories. Nunis outlines his youth including his college football career at the University of Southern California. After suffering a significant injury, Nunis moved into education, then training and development where Disney hired him as part of the Disneyland opening day training team. After a successful launch, Nunis found himself in operations where he oversaw lands within the park. His focus on capacity, efficiency, and maintaining Walt Disney’s standards led to his oversight of park operations. Working closely with Disney, Nunis would find himself added to projects as assigned. This would include participation in a World’s Fair, an Olympics, and eventually Disney’s move to the east coast with Walt Disney World. Nunis would successfully lead operations on both coasts until his retirement. Nunis then describes his post-Disney years as ones where he remained active and shared Walt Disney’s standards with others.

Nunis was assisted by a book team that created an outline for his recollections. Chapters tend to be topical and do not fully link to each other. The writing is clear, his team likely included editing skills, and he is easy to understand. Nunis has a reputation for being gruff. And his writing at times leans into this image with one section including phrases that support the story of the taskmaster general. The value is to see and hear these stories in Nunis’ voice. For example, he clearly was proud of his actions during the Yippie invasion of Disneyland. The text allows him to share his thoughts on this historical moment instead of letting others describe his actions for him. The pages allow him to tell the story in his voice and as he would shape it. The interesting piece to me however was how little was new. So many writers and colleagues have talked about the man that stories are not generally new information. Instead, they are about Nunis, by Nunis, and all of them are collected in one volume. Each chapter ends with a business lesson from Nunis, Disney, or other colleagues. I found these quotes somewhat unneeded as I read the volume less as a business book than a memoir. And some of these lessons seemed a little stretched to fit.

Walt’s Apprentice by Dick Nunis paints the former executive as a student of Walt Disney. And for some who see Disney as creative or affable may not take to the imagery. But we must also remember that Walt Disney was not a man who issued praise, worked hard, and demanded high standards. And while Disney may not have seen himself as a general like Nunis is willing to do, in many ways Nunis learned much from Disney. We must never forget that people are complex and do not always fit the stereotypes we place within our heads. The great benefit of Walt’s Apprentice is this book captures Nunis’ memories in Nunis’ words including his impressions of Walt Disney and himself.

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Thursday, November 3, 2022

Between Books - Career Magic


Career Magic book cover with stars on a night sky.

My career combines operations, customer service, leadership, and relationship building. And being a big Disney fan introduced me to former Disney executive Lee Cockerell. I have a fairly robust intellectual diet of the former Executive Vice-President of Operations, Walt Disney World Resort’s thoughts and best practices. Cockerell recently updated one of his books I had not read before, so I jumped on the pre-order as it suddenly seemed very relevant in today’s current job-seeking world.

Career Magic: How to Stay on Track To Achieve a Stellar Career by Lee Cockerell has recently been updated. Cockerell in podcasts and presentations has stated that he was dissatisfied with the editing of the first edition and that this revised edition cleans up editing errors. Career Magic narratively follows a life and career. Cockerell outlines his steps from a poor family in Oklahoma, a short stint in college, joining the Army, and then starting a hospitality career. Cockerell started at the lowest levels as a banquet server and leveraged his growing experiences into leadership positions at Hilton and Marriott. As an executive, Disney recruited Cockerell to join the Disneyland Paris opening team before he moved to Walt Disney World where he finished a career earning a window on Main Street. The book ends with Cockerell’s current retirement life as a consultant and speaker. In each chapter, Cockerell recounts his career story, connects his story to lessons he learned, and then finishes the chapter with summary statements of his career lessons.

Jobs and careers are a big topic right now. So let’s start with what this book is not. This is not a job-seeking how-to book. Anyone wanting hints and tips in getting hired by Disney or maximizing a job search will be disappointed. Cockerell does not share his ideas on using LinkedIn or his favorite resume format. So those seeking a resource on the nuts and bolts of their job search will not find tactics here.

Instead, this is a career book! Again, not tactics but really this is a book that highlights strategy. For me, I see two main themes; relationship and excellence. I really see relationship as being tied to leadership for Cockerell. He will remind his readers that he was rarely given leadership training as his career advanced. And so he often had to grow this area. As I read his journey, it seemed to me that as he grew as a manager and leader, this was really expressed in his relationships. You see Cockerell grow as a leader and executive in how he treated others. And Cockerell advocates for interactions that are respectful and emphatic. Basically, to grow a career, be nice! Second Cockerell’s journey and growth is tied to his continued excellence in assigned tasks. He took on positions that often pushed his current capabilities. He threw himself into understanding these jobs and then executing on expectations. This excellence often lead to him being noticed and advanced. And while he did have setbacks in his career, he still focused on the task at hand which allowed others to observe his execution and keep him in mind for future advancements.

Writing style, the text is very approachable and feels like Cockerell’s voice in text form. Cockerell is recounting his professional journey and the writing, and perhaps updated editing, provide an easy-to-follow story, even for those lacking a hospitality background. He also does a good job of providing easy-to-understand lessons that are directly tied to his career progress.

So many professionals in the current state of the world are reflecting on job seeking and careers. Career Magic provides professionals with many considerations while considering the next strategic steps and potential job changes. Those who are facing obstacles, perhaps they will find hope that relationship and excellence can create a career legacy of success. For those professionals who are also Disney fans, they will find two chapters on Disney parks operations that may spark additional interest. Lee Cockerell provides us with content to reflect on as we all look to create a career that satisfies and interests us.


This post contains affiliate links, which means that Between Disney receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site.