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Progressive Events: Managers Academy brings magic to dairy industry

Progressive Dairyman Editor Karen Lee Published on 13 February 2018
Walt Disney World parks

This year, Managers Academy, hosted by PDPW, was located in Orlando, Florida, home to Walt Disney World and the magic that surrounds these world-renowned theme parks.

The three-day training, from Jan. 16-18, intertwined lessons from a former Disney executive and a dairy economist. It also included an outing to learn more about water quality.



Lee Cockerell, the former executive vice president of operations for the Walt Disney World Resort, started the training event by sharing how he took the work experience he gained from growing up on a small Ayrshire dairy farm and discipline from the U.S. Army to learn all he could about the hospitality business when he started his career as a banquet waiter.

Lee Cockerell

Cockerell went on to hold executive positions at the Marriott Corporation and Hilton Hotels before being recruited by Disney to open a theme park in Paris.

His training highlighted the three areas where managers should spend their time. Developing systems and procedures, then hiring the right people to execute them; training staff members and enforcing the training; and being a good role model.

Watch the Managers Academy recap video.


Cockerell explained how Disney magic comes from creating a culture where people are excited to come to work and are ready to put on a hit show for their guests every day. The company focuses on meeting the expectations of their guests, which also happen to be the same expectations held by their employees.

Those expectations are to make them feel special, treat them as individuals, show respect to them and their family, and to be knowledgeable.

At the end of the first day, attendees from 14 states and two countries heard about the challenges faced in Florida from Jim Sleper, the chief executive officer for Southeast Milk.

Man-made roads crated when the wetlands were built

He explained how the hot, humid climate and large fluid market makes balancing the supply and demand of milk a daily challenge in the region. Sleper also discussed the recent impact of Hurricane Irma and videos released by an animal activist group.

The second day of training included tours in the Orlando area. The first stop was the Iron Bridge Regional Water Reclamation Facility. This facility is permitted to treat 40 million gallons of wastewater per day and services part of the city of Orlando and several smaller municipalities in South Seminole and North Orange counties.


Orlando Easterly Wetlands

The raw wastewater is treated with a modified five-stage Bardenpho system and then disposed through one of three discharge points – directly into the Little Econlockhatchee River, piped out for public access reuse as irrigation or piped 17 miles to the Orlando Easterly Wetlands, the world’s first large-scale man-made wetland designed to treat reclaimed water and provide wildlife habitat.

Wetlands is a natural habitat for alligators and many other animal and plant species

The 1,200-acre wetland was the second stop on the tour, where buses entered the area at the same point as the water and drove throughout the facility on man-made roads to reach the point where the water was discharged to a stream that flows to the St. John’s River. From the entry to the discharge point, it takes 20 to 40 days for water to gravity-flow through the wetlands.

After lunch, Managers Academy attendees were split into four groups, each one assigned to one of Disney’s four theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.

Metting with Disney cast members

At each park, even smaller groups were tasked with meeting and interviewing a variety of Disney employees (also known as cast members) to learn how the training, culture, protocols and systems make Disney Parks around the world a vacation destination for more than 20 million people each year.

On the third training day, David Kohl, professor emeritus in the agricultural and applied economics department at Virginia Tech University and president of AgriVisions LLC, kept the magic alive by recapping the tours from the previous day. Each group shared what they observed at the water treatment facility, wetlands and Disney parks.

Dr. David Kohl

Kohl linked the lessons from the previous two days into the mega-trends he is seeing in the dairy industry. He also discussed the global surplus of commodities, economic status of major trade partners and the impact of international trade agreements. He said another U.S. recession is on its way and encouraged dairy producers to be proactive, suggesting they find a way to do 5 percent better in three areas of their business.

By the end of the week, Managers Academy participants were able to take home a combination of business strategies and Disney magic to move their businesses forward.  end mark

PHOTO 1: More than 20 million people visit Walt Disney World parks, including the Magic Kingdom, each year.

PHOTO 2: Lee Cockerell, former Walt Disney World executive, provided management strategies used by the entertainment company that are applicable to any other industry as well.

PHOTO 3: Man-made roads were created when the wetlands were built. They are service roads for the staff and walking paths for the many visitors to this water clarification facility.

PHOTO 4: The group was welcomed to the Orlando Easterly Wetlands.

PHOTO 5: The man-made wetlands is a natural habitat for alligators and many other animal and plant species.

PHOTO 6: Disney cast members were interviewed about their experiences with the company.

PHOTO 7: Dr. David Kohl, right, helped participants recap the lessons learned from the tours. Photos by Ray Merritt.

Karen Lee
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