Bob Chapek granted Funworld an exclusive interview, where Disney’s Chairman of Parks, Experiences, and Products shared his thoughts on the business behind attractions and meeting guest expectations.
Funworld: How does a microbiology major from Indiana become a chairman at one of the world’s most admired companies?
Bob Chapek: It’s been a path; it’s been a journey. Often times when I talk to young kids about their careers, I tell them it’s like bumper bowling at the local bowling alley on Saturday morning. Rarely do young kids roll the ball right down to the head pin on the first try. Instead, the bumpers act as gentle guides to redirect, until eventually, you reach your career goal. And that pretty much sums up how I look at my career. Being at the most respected company in the world, working in a business like Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products, which is the physical manifestation of the magic where we extend storytelling across the world to our biggest fans—to me, that’s the head pin.
FW: How do you decide what film-based intellectual property (IP) turns into a tangible attraction?
BC: The way I look at it is not whether it’s a new franchise, an old franchise, or a revived franchise, but “What does the guest want, and what do we offer them?”
For example, we have franchises where we’ll do something in Asia that we wouldn’t necessarily do domestically [in the United States], at least as a top priority with a particular franchise, like “Zootopia.” It played well everywhere, but it played particularly well in China, and as a result, you’ll have a “Zootopia” land coming to China, but not necessarily somewhere else. We have a wealth of franchise and intellectual property, and that’s why guests come to Disney, and that’s why we are investing so heavily behind them.
FW: How will advancements in technology lead to greater storytelling at Disney Parks and Resorts?
BC: The best technology is the technology you don’t see. It’s all about storytelling for us. We have a tremendous investment in research and development, and developing the technology that will help us in storytelling. But the ones that bring a sense of reality to life, the ones that bring the sense you’re living the adventure, that’s when we win. Technology is the aid to do that, but certainly it’s not a replacement for that. So hidden technology is the best.
FW: In your opinion, how do you exceed a park guest’s expectations?
BC: We have a very diverse group of guests. And we have so many fans, you can find somebody who is a fan of something, but because we’re a business that needs to appeal to the broadest of audiences possible, it’s important to us to listen to the majority. I think that is important because Disney is a broad-based, wide-appealing company, and we need to make sure what we’re doing is right for our entire audience.
FW: The attractions business can be demanding. How do you find time to relax and get away from your leadership role?
BC: You’re never really off, if you will. You’re never off the clock. And when you run a business that is seven days a week, and is around the world, and operates during the highest seasonality period during holidays, you always have to be connected. A certain amount of “work hard, play hard” has to be realized at the same time; the good news is, even if you’re out playing hard, you’re just a phone call away.
FW: If you were not a leader in the global attractions industry, where would you see your career?
BC: I don’t think there possibly could be a more fun industry to be involved in than the industry that we’re in. But frankly, as great as the industry is, being at Disney in this industry is certainly a dream come true. The combination of those two things, and making guests happy, and providing those lifelong memories, to me, is a dream come true.