David DeLoach has cleaned up at Walt Disney World. Literally. His first job at Magic Kingdom Park in Orlando, Fla., was as a custodian. Now general manager of entertainment operations for the park, he shares what it means to truly love your work.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: How did you come to Disney?
DAVID DELOACH: Born and raised on a family farm in southeast Georgia, I learned from my parents that if you want something in life, you have to work hard for it. I never received an allowance; I earned money by cutting acres of grass every weekend. To take a break from this labor-intensive way of life, my family would visit Walt Disney World Resort almost every year. Ever since I can remember, I was a huge fan. While in high school, I got a summer job at Magic Kingdom Park as a custodian. I had the time of my life. The day after I gave my salutatorian speech, themed around a man named Walt Disney, I was in my car headed back to Florida for good!
SPECIAL EVENTS: How did you land in events?
DELOACH: After a few years in Custodial, I moved to Attractions. I worked at places like the Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, etc. After five years, I moved to the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park — now called Disney's Hollywood Studios. I was there for about nine months when my former leader called to say she had a position in a startup department at Magic Kingdom Park that would work with our Resort Sales & Services teams to create private themed events after-hours for groups and conventions. That was in 1994, and ever since, I've been hooked on event management!
In September 2000, I became the operating man-ager for the team. By that time we had grown to over a dozen salaried leaders representing Operations & Logistics, Catering, Culinary and Entertainment. Later, I became the leader for the team, responsible for bringing these elements together to execute not only private events but also events for our resort and day guests, internal cast [employee] events and media events in Magic Kingdom Park. Our team worked hard as a group to become the “go-to, can-do” department that was seen as a “partner of choice” for the other areas of the company.
SPECIAL EVENTS: When did you move to your current post?
DELOACH: In 2006, an opportunity arose at Magic Kingdom Park for the Character Team. I took the role of resource manager, assisting with the administration side of the business. I was promoted to general manager, the on-site executive responsible for the day-to-day operation.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Do your former jobs help you with your current one?
DELOACH: I deeply believe to be successful in leading a team, having experience at all the different levels that report up to you is absolutely essential. From keeping the place clean, providing assistance to our guests and creating a unifying vision for our special events team to providing resources and support to my current team, all of the fantastic mentorship and leadership development I have received over the years has enabled me to make a positive difference for my team and our guests.
SPECIAL EVENTS: What techniques do you and your colleagues use to open new horizons?
DELOACH: Spending time immersed in the product and seeing it through the eyes of our guests is the best way we've found to understand where our focus and energy need to be to improve the experience. At the same time, building relationships with our cast members and listening to their ideas make the continuous improvement process really effective. They live it every day and generally have the solution to a challenge. As leaders, it's our responsibility to create an environment that enables them to share and fosters creativity.
SPECIAL EVENTS: As incoming ISES International president, you will be at Eventworld soon.
DELOACH: ISES Eventworld [Aug. 21-23 in St. Petersburg, Fla.] is a wise investment for anyone who grows from interacting with people who care about our industry. It's simply a fantastic opportunity to network, learn, be inspired — and have fun while you're at it!
Photo by Jamie Michelle Jacobsen