Corporate Event Benefits a lot of people. Any job that deals with employees would always need some kind of stress reliever, a way of knowing each other, getting the interest of the crowd, etc.… Everybody needs an event to make jobs more interesting and manageable. So to continue on with part 2 of chapter eleven, so Peter and I became fast friends as we were both functional beverage consumers. When our schedules allowed (which was about every day, mind you), we would meet up in the Monorail Bar to discuss our events of the last twenty-four hours and maybe have a fruit juice or something. It was a great way for us to get to know each other outside of our jobs, but it could also get pricey fast (our monthly bar tab was scandalous, as I’m sure some of the others we worked with could attest to). Back then everyone drank a lot, and especially with clients. It was simply a way for professionals to be sociable, even if it meant you got a little sideways from time to time. That sort of culture doesn’t exist these days, at least not in the same way: you might be got out for drinks with coworkers once in a while, but if you did it every night it’s a safe bet that someone is losing their job. But it was simply different then, and I can remember making my rounds being a little happier than I should have been on more than a few occasions. Fortunately, I was the kind of imbiber that could not show to what extent my happiness ratio was. Back then we worked incredible hours. My average day would normally be from about 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM and mostly to 10:00 PM, especially when we had shows or clients in-house. With hours like that, it also helped as a way to unwind.
We had purchased a very large inventory of audiovisual equipment to meet the needs of our incoming groups. Back then, the king of projectors was the Kodak Ektagraphic Projector. With producers lining up to create presentations with as many projectors in use at the same time as possible, a lot of presentations were shifting to video. While I can’t remember who the top producer of these projectors was back then (it was, after all, about 45 years ago), they cost between $45,000.00 to $60,000.00 dollars each, and any AV service worth its salt needed at least 6 of them in inventory. I’m sure anyone in the business back then could tell you who the primary manufacturer of these projectors was. With today’s technologies, a lot of these providers have long gone out of business, especially with the introduction of laser projectors commonly used today (I could write a book on this subject, and in fact, there probably is one out there). You can buy a state of the art presentation video projector for about $15,000.00 to $20,000.00, which is still a lot for an individual but not a company. I mention this only because any audio-visual equipment rental business back then would have to spend almost all their profits each year just to keep up with the technology. We at Disney did everything we could just to keep up ourselves. From time to time we would have to outsource equipment from outside providers just to meet the needs of clients as well as our own events, and sometimes doing just that could be a struggle.
Just as an aside, I’d like to take a moment to drive a point home. Disney as a company is thought of like a giant, well-oiled machine, and that reputation is well deserved. As I mentioned early on, the modern event planning industry owes a great deal to the Walt Disney Company. But Disney, like every other company on the planet, is comprised of people just like you and me. If it ever seems like Disney is on top, it’s not because the entity itself is incredibly powerful. It’s because of the people who are willing to make sacrifices and think fast in order to get all the pieces in place. This doesn’t stop being true no matter how successful you are. Part of this is accepting that you can’t always do everything yourself, or even in-house. These days I’m sure Walt Disney World is filled to the rafters with all of the equipment they could ever use, but if something unexpected happens I doubt they’d be too big on their reputation to get outside help. It’s all about flexibility.
In Orlando back then, there were only two sources for audiovisual rental equipment, the largest being a company called Photo Sound, and another one in Winter Park which was quite small and at the time did not deliver to Disney due to the distance from its office. Photo Sound, on the other hand, was not open after 5:00 PM and would only deliver to Disney on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It also was not open on Sunday. So if you needed something, you would have to drive to their office to pick up what you needed. If Photo Sound would have recognized how huge Disney’s needs for equipment would have been back then, they would be huge today. I was glad they were not so accommodating as it gave me an idea that ultimately made me a fortune (but not, of course, when I was still at Disney).
Sorry to have spent so much time on the AV side of Technical Services equipment needs and challenges. But it will become perfectly clear in future chapters. Obviously, all this equipment is important to what happens at Walt Disney World. That said, let me get back on track.
Once the Contemporary, Polynesian and other live venues were open and conferences were coming into the properties, we took delivery of the corporate themed events that Reid Carlson had designed and we were ready to go. As I mentioned before, I knew Reid from my Pasadena Playhouse days. The only way we could attract Reid to join us was to get a little creative in how he was compensated. We did it by making him work a tremendous amount of, shall we say, over time. We also got some clearance from the Entertainment Division as well as some blessings from WED. Reid and I became close friends for many years until I made a change which will be the subject of another chapter about a different era.
But even with all of these things going smoothly there were some challenges, as we needed to get the stagehands and technicians to support the production and themed event installations, presentations operations, and removals. This goes back to my real problem, which was to get enough qualified personnel to support our volume of activities. We also needed trucks and vans on top of the personnel issues. Being in the Facilities Division and not the Entertainment Division was creating some problems, especially in the area of operator compensation versus what was being paid to some, like classifications in the Facilities Division. In short, our people were being grossly underpaid, making it difficult getting the qualified personnel. We needed to support our growing responsibilities, and while we had a crack team of volunteers to build the grand opening event, that simply wouldn’t be sustainable on a full-time basis (nor would it be legal, I’m sure). Getting talented hands on board and on payroll was the key to solving many, if not all, of our labor issues. It may surprise you to learn that Disney was union, and at the beginning had set up a union council. It came up with a compensation schedule for all job classifications and all the various unions represented in the park, and together they came up with an agreement that would be binding for a five year period and then renegotiated at that time. While the pay may have been good for some departments, the amount of labor required in some didn’t meet the expectations of people we wanted to hire, putting us in something of a bind. Burnout was a real risk with those we did have and with labor spread thin as it was, we couldn’t afford to lose those we already had.
The next chapter of the Disney Years will address how we ultimately solved these challenges.