A Short Chat With Josh D'Amaro: The Right Guy For the Worst Time

A Short Chat With Josh D'Amaro: The Right Guy For the Worst Time

In our last podcast we had a chance to talk about the reopening of Disney Springs. After spending time that morning creating material for that podcast & post, I came across Josh D’Amaro, who has recently been named the new Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. He fills the place of Bob Chapek, who was recently given the opportunity to be the CEO of the Walt Disney Company. Josh and I had a chance to chat briefly while at Disney Springs. I believe that what I observed and learned from that short dialogue is a perfect springboard as to why I believe he is the right-fit leader as the Disney Parks are going through this very difficult period. Join us!

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Just as a context, here are the circumstances of meeting up with Josh.

  • I came that morning to capture video and impressions of the first day of Disney Springs opening. What that experience was like and what was different was my focus.
  • I was not expecting to meet any executives. There was a private press event the day before, and I didn’t really process that possibility. Also, the property is large, and running into someone is very happenstantial.
  • When I saw him, I thought it would be great to get a photo for later use, but he had his mask on, which doesn’t work over the long haul.
  • I also thought about just approaching him, as he seemed so approachable, but he was actively seeking out front line cast members. He seemed to be in the zone of his role, and I didn’t want to interrupt
  • It was after so many called out after him, that I realized he seemed approachable enough that I could do the same.
  • One might ask, why not ask when the parks or the cruise line will reopen. I would have loved to have scored the answer to that question, but I know that isn’t going to come in an off-the-cuff conversation.
  • Not having thought what I would ask or say in advance, I thought I would ask him about something I had learned about him, to see if the story was true. But it took me half a minute just to come out with the word pocket square.

Here is the video:

By the way, the word of the day is “Pocket Squares”.

Messages from My Time with Josh

This is what I got out of those few minutes with him:

  1. He walks in the shoes of Guests–The antithesis of bureaucracy
  2. He models what he expects of others–both Guests and Cast Members
  3. He seeks to build relationships
  4. He doesn’t allow himself to be “entouraged” or “managed”
  5. He came back and visited later in the day
  6. He shares stories
  7. Others recognize his leadership
Walt Disney picking up trash. Photo from Disney.

Josh’s Three C’s

During his tenure at Disneyland, Josh’s leadership revolved around that he referred to as “The Three C’s”–Cast, Community and Commercial Success. What did that time include? Well for the casual outsider, this was the period that Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge first opened. Remember that it opened first at Disneyland (Rise of the Resistance would later open first at Walt Disney World, but after Josh had made the move to Florida).

Josh sharing photo of entire Cast of Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge when it opened at Disneyland Resort. Photo by Disney.

But there were bigger issues, and much harder issues to deal with during Josh’s tenure at Disneyland. Those were moments to rise above the fray. Those were opportunities to step up and lead.

It began when Disney started to move forward on a luxury hotel under the auspices of an agreement with the City of Anaheim for subsidies. That project had moved along so far that AMC, Rainforest Cafe, ESPN and others had vacated. But the City of Anaheim felt that the subsidy was for a different location barely more than a block away, not for the hotel Disney was proposing in this new location.

Design of hotel that would have occupied the Western half of Downtown Disney. Note the monorail in the background. Illustration by Disney.

When Disneyland and The City of Anaheim got into a struggle about the use of tax funds for a luxury hotel in the Anaheim Resort District, Josh met with the mayor of Anaheim, Tom Tait, in the heat of this argument. There he proposed dissolving those agreements that were creating the friction. That agreement that would have channeled millions in hotel room taxes to the Walt Disney company and barred the city from adding a gate tax to amusement park tickets for decades.

But Disneyland Resort President Josh D’Amaro asked city leaders in a letter to end the incentive agreements. The letter stated:

“Good friends will not always agree; however, the current level of animus is unprecedented and counterproductive. In light of this, we’ve come to believe that the Agreement Concerning Entertainment Tax Reimbursement and the Operating Covenant Agreement which Disneyland previously entered into with the City no longer serve the purpose for which they were intended and, in fact, have become a flashpoint for controversy and dissention in our community. Consequently, we are asking the City to join us in terminating both agreements.”

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, noted: “I thought it was a good and bold move” by Disney. The mayor believed it would usher in a new era of improved relations with Disney.

Now, in all truth, that move also supported Disney’s positioning when it came to creating a better footing in a three-year deal with four labor unions, representing 9,700 employees, to raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 by January 2019, and include a 3% raise for employees that earn a wage at or above that threshold. As President, Josh was at the center of that challenge as well. Critics thought that this was a classic union busting move. Any cynic could see that. But Josh was more than that. Recall that Josh was He especially responded by doing the following:

  • Big advocate for the Disney Aspire program which has given Disney Cast Members an opportunity to get a college or master’s degree, earn a high school diploma, or even learn a trade.
  • Champion against homelessness with Chrysalis a nonprofit organization focused on changing lives through jobs. In that program, Disneyland’s cast members volunteer in supporting the organization with donations and volunteering efforts. Some have even come from the program to become Cast Members.
  • He has continued on that same promise by revealing plans for improving Cast Member morale by injecting millions of dollars in upgrading backstage common areas and break rooms.

I don’t pretend to know all the details of that very messy situation. But I know a few things. Cast Members in Anaheim are paid better than they were before. Opportunities for them have dramatically increased, and the City of Anaheim and Disneyland are on a better footing. All because of Josh? No, but I do believe that the same man who was walking among all of the Cast Members the other day, exhibited the same influence when he was on the West Coast.

In an interview Josh shared, “Before you can affect change, you have to listen, D’Amaro believes. “It all starts with a hello in the hallway. Look me in the eye. Don’t judge me on the position or the costume that I’m wearing. Be a human being and have a conversation with me. From a cultural perspective, it literally starts there.”

Did I mention that when he was introduced on Disney’s Eyes and Ears for Walt Disney World that he shared on the cover of the magazine where to follow him on Instagram? Few times do executives make themselves so accessible to others.

Types of Leadership

Our discussion about Josh being a leader at this time, suggests the need to review what is leadership. What constitutes a leader? Consider the following diagram:

There are three types of leaders represented by three circles that at times overlap:

Positional Leadership. These are the ones you expect to be leaders. You expect them to exceed in directing the things that they are responsible for making happen, while exerting influence over a greater allocation of opportunities. But it doesn’t always happen.

Spontaneous Leadership. That take initiative and see opportunities to lead in times of greatest need. Sometimes the greatest leaders are known because they were in “the right time at the right place”.

Personal Leadership. Regardless of their role, they seek to do their very best each day, focusing more on what they can influence, rather than what they can’t control.

Souvenirs for Your Organization

In every Disney at Work article, we offer souvenirs (free no less) that you can take back to your organization and life experience. As a leader (and you should think of yourself as one), how are you:

  • Walking in the shoes of others?
  • Modeling the expectations you make on others?
  • Taking advantage of opportunities to lead out?
  • Attaining results by effectively working with others?
  • Share stories that inspire and build others?

Disney, Leadership and You

There’s more insights like this, not just from one leader, but from nearly 100 leaders that have defined the Walt Disney Company over the years. From Walt Disney, to imagineers, to animators and performers, the company’s success has been made real by the labor and leadership of not just a CEO, but of so many. Learn those lessons of leadership when you read.

Disney, Leadership and You
Disney, Leadership and You, written by J. Jeff Kober.

J. Jeff Kober