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Interviewing Successful Hotel Managers: Joe Schott, Chief Operating Officer - Senior Vice President at Euro Disney Associés SCA
By Feature Writer Lily Lin, MBA, Ph.D
Joe Schott is the Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President at the Euro Disney Associes, the owner of Disney Paris. He has been with Disneyland for more than 32 years. One could say that he has spent his entire adult life and a part of teenage life with Disney. Although most of his Disney career was in the US, between 2006 and 2009 he was the Vice President and Executive Managing Director of Walt Disney Attractions Japan.
Joe Schott is a devoted Disney employee and a serious businessman. He understands the Disney philosophy that it is the employees and cast members who make the Disney magic happen. Staying at a Disney hotel is unlike staying in any other hotel. Guests experience is focused mostly on the Disney park entertainment and therefore, hotel experience is an extension of the Disney Park magic. He and his team's determination and persistent drive help him to achieve the unthinkable --- making Disney Paris a great success!
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to school at South Eastern University in Central Florida with a B. S. degree in Business Management.
Since you spend most of your working life with Disney, did you always want to work for them?
I grew up in Central Florida, Orlando. It really started when I was in high school and worked for Disney. It developed into a life-time career.
What was your first job at Disney?
I worked in the Jungle Cruise in Disney; it was my job. I was 17 years old and I was more of an introvert. But people who work in Disneyland have to be spontaneous, have a great sense of humor and be engaging. I learned some important things in that job. I learned to strike a conversation and hold eye contact with Disney guests at the same time. It was an important skill in real life.
Did you always know that one day you would reach the top?
No. As I said, in the beginning it was a part-time job. In 1971 my mom took me to Disneyland for the first time. It left a very strong first impression on me. When I went to work for Disneyland, I fell in love with the product and became emotionally connected with the Company.
I've interviewed a number of successful hoteliers who have at one point time in their career worked for Disney Paris. They all claimed that Disney is a great company to work for. Why do you think they all share the same opinion about Disney?
I think there are two elements:
First, we all love the product.
The other really rewarding thing is the relationship you have with your colleagues. Disney tends to attract high-quality and fun people who are relationship-oriented. This mix keeps employees highly committed to work at Disneyland.
You were Vice President at the Walt Disney Attraction in Japan. What did you learn there that you have taken with you to your current position?
I worked for Disneyland in the US from 1981-2006. For the last seven years I've been working outside of the country. I have acquired a strong definition about our product --- what our product should and could be in terms of excellence; what would it take to make it happen. All those basic foundation pieces were well formed for me while working around great people in the United States and being able to see those examples play out. When I worked in Japan, it was not about changing the core of the product; it was about the adaptation of the product and the cultural relevance --- how you speak with your Japanese audience, your colleagues and partners. In 1992, I helped to open Disney Paris. It was clear to me that even though we had a formula for success in Disney, the adaptation had to be there, or we wouldn't be successful. The adaptation was not about changing the system; it was about figuring out the best way to bring out the best quality of our product and to make it attractive to our French and European customers.
When Disney Paris was first opened, there were many naysayers in Europe. Many French intellectuals and news media denounced what they considered to be the cultural imperialism of Euro Disney. How did the company solve this problem?
It was a really tough challenge. As you know, I was in Japan for the previous three years. In Japan, we essentially replicated our experience in the US with minor adaptations and everything worked out very well. There was never an acceptance issue there. In Paris and nine years after we had opened Disneyland in Japan, we thought we understood adaptation. We really did not expect to get the kind of feedback we received from the French press back in 1992. Here, 21 years later, over 50% of our visitors are French. At the beginning, you would never have believed that this would happen.
Not losing the core product, but focusing on adaptation and making sure we stay culturally relevant is the key issue. For example, we had to change the Disney rules of not serving alcohol, because the French drink wine during lunch. It is their lifestyle.
We are first and foremost a "content" company. Children and adults can experience things together and 20 years later, those children have become adults and they bring their children to Disney…
Disney Paris has hotels ranging from 2-star to 5-star. What are the differences between a 5-star Disney Paris hotel and a regular 5-star hotel?
They are very different. We have seven hotels and one of them is classified as a campground experience. We have 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-star experiences. We want to offer a hotel experience at each level because our guests are different. They have different priorities and expectations. If you compare Shangri-la, La Méridien and the Ritz-Carlton in Paris with our 5-star hotel, you are going to get a different experience here. We enjoy a certain advantage. Our guests can look directly into the Disney Park. Our main attraction is the Park. We can capitalize our assets without having to have those assets in the hotel itself. You will have an exceptional experience in our hotel but at the same time, we don't necessarily need to have an exclusive spa or a high-end Michelin-star restaurant in our hotel.
What has been the biggest personal lesson you have learned working for Disney?
When I first arriving Paris, I was fairly naïve as an American. I've learned since then how other people in different cultures get things done. There is no one right way. I've also learned that getting things done requires clear communication. In addition, you need to build good relationships in order to gain an insight on different viewpoints in order to be successful in my life. Hopefully, my two boys will benefit tremendously from these international experiences.
In your opinion, what is the single best quality your employees can possess?
I think relationship skills, the ability to relate to someone else, and listening skills are very important. I am not the target audience for our product. It's best to listen to our guests and our employees.
What have been the defining moments or time spans in your life so far?
One of the defining moments in my life was being able to come to Paris to work, both the first and the second time. Meeting my wife and being married to her and the birth of my children were defining moments for me. Also, being able to work for this Company and seeing different parts of the world was a blessing.
What keeps you motivated?
I believe in the product and the experience we are trying to convey. For me, being able to see the outcome is motivating. For example, a new restaurant will give me lots of motivation towards achieving operation excellence. But the higher you go, the longer it will take for you to see the result. In my position, I may not be able to see the result for two or three years.
People around me and leaders I have worked for are a source of motivation. It's a driving influence of a relentless pursuit of the quality of experience and the quality of interaction between people.
If you must make a choice, would you do the things right or would you do the right things?
I talk about this often. It's not about doing what is easy. It is about doing the right things. We need to do what is right. The easy thing is not necessarily the right thing. Integrity, openness and honesty are always in the forefront of our mind.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
One of my strengths is that I never forget the guys who stand in the rain doing their job. I can relate to them.
I have good problem-solving skills. I can generally read the situation well in order to understand how to resolve the problem.
I can be opinionated at times. To off-set this, I try to gather as many opinions as I can in order to come up with the right solution.
At work, what puts a smile on your face?
Seeing our product and the interaction between children and adults during their first experience at Disney will always bring a smile on my face.
What puts a frown on your face?
Revisiting the decisions that we have already made; that is, when we leave the meeting room, I expect everyone to support our decision. If people come back and say no, it's upsetting for me.
In terms of self-image, who were you yesterday? Who are you today? Who will you be tomorrow?
Yesterday, I was learning. I will continue to learn, as I don't know everything. I don't want or need the spotlight. I am just as happy staying anonymous. Tomorrow, I will contribute.
What advice would you give to those who are Inspired to be successful in your line of business?
Make sure you find something that you enjoy doing instead of just earning money.
Pay attention to what guests and fellow employees tell you.
I have never had much success by being prescriptive about my career. I am focusing on making Disney Paris the best it can be!
About the author
Lily Lin, MBA, Ph.D. is the Chief Editor at http://iworkinhotels.com. She is also responsible for business development in Asia and in the US. She has extensive experiences in marketing management, consulting and training. She has taught in American, German and Dutch universities. In addition, she is an academic board member of the Schouten University, Master of Business Administration. Schouten University is a British accredited online university. She has taught for the University of Maryland (from the State of Maryland in the US). In the Netherlands, she was an adjunct professor for the Phoenix University MBA program in Rotterdam, Webster University in Leiden, HES (Higher Institution of Economic Studies) in Amsterdam, European University in The Hague. She was also an adjunct professor for the Schiller International University in Heidelberg, Germany.
For more than 20 years, she was the designer and the senior lecturer of a number of courses at the Hotelschool The Hague in the Netherlands that include Revenue Management, the first ever offered at the School, marketing management and other marketing-related courses. She conceived her latest project, ”Interviewing Successful Hotel Managers Series”, in which she interviews hotel managers from major international chain and independent hotels. Her interviews and other works are published regularly at the http://iworkinhotels.com/dr-lins-blog.
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