Words of Wisdom from the Worlds of Disney

Meg Crofton ’75 shared passages from her private journals, ranging from her days at Rollins to her life in top leadership roles at Disney.

On March 17, Meg Gilbert Crofton ’75 was the guest speaker for the Rita Bornstein Student Leadership Forum series. (Photo by Scott Cook) On March 17, Meg Gilbert Crofton ’75 was the guest speaker for the Rita Bornstein Student Leadership Forum series. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Meg Crofton ’75 has been keeping personal journals for more than 40 years. Her thousands of entries span her time as a teenager at Rollins to her current role as president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S. and France operations. Recently, she shared several of those with a large crowd of students at Bush Auditorium.

“I have long believed in the power of keeping a journal,” says Crofton, who noted everyone has life lessons that include mistakes to avoid and goals to seek.

During her 35 years with the global entertainment company, Crofton has had several top jobs, including oversight of Walt Disney World, Disneyland in California, and Disneyland Paris. She also oversaw the development of the major theme park expansion known as New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World.

In her executive roles, she has led more than 70,000 employees (known as cast members at Disney) and gained numerous insights about how listening and asking questions are keys to successful leadership.

Gilbert speaks to the audience in Bush Auditorium. (Photo by Scott Cook) Gilbert speaks to the audience in Bush Auditorium. (Photo by Scott Cook)

However, long before her international achievements, she gained one of her earliest personal insights in a much smaller arena—on the Rollins basketball court in 1971.

Crofton had grown up in Central Florida, the daughter of a man who moved his family to Florida in order to work in the then-burgeoning aerospace industry. Like him, she had ambition and drive. But she realized that she felt awkward in public settings. She wanted to change that. Her father suggested speech classes.

And what cure did the youthful Crofton prescribe for herself? “I’m an introvert by nature,” she said. “I decided I could really push myself to overcome my shyness even faster by trying out for the cheerleading squad.” She wanted the “ultimate test,” and what could be harder than performing with pep in front of those who were judging her? If she could just get through that, she could pat herself on the back and move on to the next challenge.

The event titled “One Leader’s Journey” allowed the audience to have a conversation with Crofton about what she has learned during her 35 years with The Walt Disney Company. (Photo by Scott Cook) The event titled “One Leader’s Journey” allowed the audience to have a conversation with Crofton about what she has learned during her 35 years with The Walt Disney Company. (Photo by Scott Cook)

“Unfortunately for me, I not only went through the tryouts, I made the squad.” Suddenly, it was not a one-time test but a yearlong commitment. She kept asking herself, “How did I get here in this short miniskirt and pompoms?”

As her coaches urged her to cheer louder, “I wanted to run and hide.” But once in, Crofton knew people were depending on her. She did her job, yet realized something vital about setting goals: Make them relevant to your character. “I know this is not me […] I will not make this mistake again.”

Crofton, who was honored recently with an Alumni Achievement Award, said that she tries to encapsulate each important insight or teachable moment with a memorable quote. In the case of the reluctant cheerleader, she chose Shakespeare’s “To thine own self be true.”

That early lesson also harmonized with her advice about creating personal brands: Don’t try to be something you are not. “The best brand is natural. […] Each of us needs to be a person rather than a persona.”

Crofton receives a 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. (Left to right ) Acting President Craig McAllaster, Crofton, and President of the Alumni Board of Directors Carroll Hanley Goggin ’85 P ’15. (Photo by Scott Cook) Crofton receives a 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. (Left to right ) Acting President Craig McAllaster, Crofton, and President of the Alumni Board of Directors Carroll Hanley Goggin ’85 P ’15. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Sitting beside a pleasant lamp and a neatly decorated table on the Bush Auditorium stage, the Disney leader shared turning points from her life, as if chatting from a comfortable spot in a den. She read selections from her journals that ranged from pushing herself professionally to balancing work and health.

As she rose through the Disney ranks, Crofton said she was fortunate to have leaders and mentors who saw that it was important for her to balance professional striving with personal care. One of those supervisors even made her report back on what she was doing to keep an even keel and made it part of her performance review. The takeaway quote for that experience came from a Disney University instructor, who told her: “Balance is about making the right moment-by-moment decisions for yourself.”

After finishing her talk titled “One Leader’s Journey,” Crofton took questions from an enthusiastic audience. Though retiring later this year, she hoped her experiences might help others find their own way. “We are all on a journey,” she said.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Jay Hamburg also writes on a part-time basis for Walt Disney World.

Crofton speaks with McAllaster in Bush Auditorium. (Photo by Scott Cook) Crofton speaks with McAllaster in Bush Auditorium. (Photo by Scott Cook)