Foundersland: “The Pursuit of Excellence”

By Marty Sklar – Founder, Past President, Chairman of Leadership Council

On June 16, I was privileged to attend the opening of the Walt Disney Company’s 12th  ”theme park” around the world. What began at Disneyland on a hot summer day in July, 1955 has now spread not only across the USA, but also to the mainland of Europe… and now Asia again, following Tokyo and Hong Kong. Shanghai, its newest location, is the largest city in China, where east has traditionally met west.

I have attended the opening of all 12 Disney parks around the world. Authentically, I am the only person who can say that. And I can say without reservation that Shanghai Disneyland is at the very top of its class – now the finest   park in the world. I can cite many reasons – and later in this blog, I will!

But first, I digress.

Before Disneyland, amusement parks were in disarray. In fact, when Walt Disney told his wife, Lillian, that he was going into the outdoor entertainment business, Mrs. Disney was appalled. “Why?” she asked Walt. “Those parks are dirty, unsafe and the people who run them are not nice!” Exactly right, Walt replied. “And mine won’t be that way!”

As usual, Walt was right. At its opening on July 17, 1955, Disneyland set a new standard. In fact, it created a new industry, and the modern day “theme park.”

Walt Disney’s pursuit of excellence inspired many of us to become part of that new industry. As members of our Ryman Arts Board of Directors, I count seven leaders of what is now called “Themed Entertainment.” They plan, design, and build some of the most popular projects in the world … and lead great companies in “the pursuit of excellence.” They hire our students, encourage their development as artists, designers and engineers, and send them off around the world to projects in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and of course, around the USA.            

Take a few minutes and Google the work of Ryman Arts Board Members Scott Ault, Phil Hettema, Garner Holt, Wayne Hunt, Kathy Mangum, Eddie Newquist and David Price. You will be amazed and excited to know their work – and appreciate that these talented leaders dedicate their time and talents to the young people who participate in Ryman Arts’ foundational drawing and painting classes. (Our other Board Members are terrific in their fields, too!)

Now that I’m “warmed up,” a few words about that “pursuit of excellence” in Shanghai. If you have the opportunity to go, here are 5 things that especially impressed me as Magical Moments:

  • The new “Pirates of the Caribbean -- The scale is enormous, and the match between the huge sets and live action film is seamless. The boat can turn 360 degrees – so the Imagineers can point you in any direction!
  • The Tron Tomorrowland -- This is the best of all “Tomorrowlands” – especially at night. The Tron Light Cycles racing through and around this land are amazing, and everything in the land hangs together – from the tables and chairs to the area audio speakers – as a “family” of design. The lighting at night, with the Light Cycles racing, is pretty spectacular.
  • The area paving (walkways) and building facades, rock work, etc. There’s never been an international team like this: Fabrece from France, Rui from Portugal, Zolt Hormay from Hungary, Floridian Gary Gold – this all-star cast, trained over the years by Johnny Olsen -- created storytelling through texture you can touch – spectacular finishes on the pathways, buildings and byways.
  • The Castle – Because of its bulk, it dominates everything. The interior finishes, murals and art are beautiful. Huge restaurant capacity, a boat ride that starts outside and goes underneath (inside), big performance space outside – it’s pretty amazing!
  • The Master Plan. Bob Weis, now the President of Imagineering, insisted they spend the time in travelling in China to understand the audience, and fulfill Disney CEO Bob Iger’s slogan: “Authentically Disney but Distinctly Chinese.” And they did – lots of gardens, places to sit, plenty of picture taking places (Disney learned in Hong Kong that photos were a first priority!), lots of open space. “Mickey Avenue,” the “main street” of this Park, is a sophisticated design, but the attitude is “fun” – and of course, that’s what the whole place is supposed to be, so you start with a smile on your face. It works!

There’s much more to savor and appreciate. As a former leader of the Imagineers, I feel very much as I do attending a Ryman Arts graduation. In the case of Shanghai Disneyland, “my kids have grown up” … and they really know what they are doing!