Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Between Books - Not Just a Walk in the Park

Book cover for Not Just a Walk in the Park showing Jim Cora standing in front of a Disney castle.

Do you want to talk about the Disney navy? Did you hear about the time Disney almost bought an aircraft carrier?

Not Just a Walk in the Park: My Worldwide Disney Resorts Career by James B. Cora with Jeff Kurtti outlines the late Disney Legend’s life and career. Cora begins his tale with a story of immigrants. Cora’s family immigrated from Lebanon before his birth. This resulted in a circumstance where his complexion and culture made him feel out of place. Cora entered the Air Force after high school, and post-service balanced school (which he struggled with), and a job at Disneyland (which he flourished with). Cora would be noticed by Van France and Dick Nunis for his ability to train and organize. After ten years that saw Cora move between Disneyland and Retlaw, he was asked to help oversee the on-site development of Walt Disney World with an eye toward operations. This established Cora as a Disney projects expert which launched him into decades of international adventures with roles overseeing development at Tokyo Disneyland, Euro Disney, Tokyo DisneySea, and unbuilt concepts as the leading executive for Disneyland International. Cora would retire after 44 years of Disney projects, but in his later life, he continued to make himself busy mixing his project, operations, and storytelling expertise to continue to delight his audience despite significant health problems.

Honestly, I was not aware of much of Cora’s career. And his writing is clear, and to the point, and I imagine his tone. He writes a book that is not just about Disney, but also his family's legacy in the United States, his personal failures, and his attempts to hold to a strong operational standard. I found myself amused by stories that were best told by him, like a pitch to purchase a scrap aircraft carrier to create a mobile Disney park. Cora also had a great vantage point to compare the creation of Disney parks in Japan and France. Spoiler, he found the Japanese to be the superior group of managers to work with going so far as suggesting their staff and not Americans may be the best trainers abroad. His life gives us a view from the middle of the hierarchy in getting Disney projects made abroad and lessons on managing up. As someone who grew up in the Eisner era, I enjoyed the stories of Michael Eisner asking for medical advice, while neither Cora nor Eisner should have been working. And the tales of the supportive Frank Wells just help to make him even more endearing.

I recently had a conversation about networking. I don’t like it. I am just a little too introverted. And I would like to think that my work and effort are what I should be evaluated against. I really get the sense that this is how Cora saw life too. He was raised by his parents to be hardworking. He was proud of what he did. Cora points out Disney Legends, such as Marty Sklar, who knew better than him how to be political in the office. But I think it is likely this what you see is what you get, and what is get is pretty darn good, which led figures like Dick Nunis to rely on him. And Cora himself did not suffer fools. His text has several references to organizational tendencies that he felt lacked efficiency. And there are stories of executives who lacked the proper work ethic or Disney spirit. Not everyone liked Cora, he at one point was key in corporate layoffs. But at least in his writing he also showed a very human side of himself.

Not Just a Walk in the Park: My Worldwide Disney Resorts Career had been on my to-read list for around a year. I’m really glad that I added it to my Between Books. Sure, it’s not a book filled with excitement and artistic lessons. And there is a lot about operations and career building, which I appreciated. But most of all while I am getting older in Betweenland, it reminded me that I have a lot to still contribute. And that everything behind me, can lead me to situations where I can still give to others.

Thank You, Mr. Cora!

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