BANGOR, Maine — The Disney Institute came to Maine for the first time, but there were no costumed characters in the hallways and meeting rooms at the Hilton Garden Inn on Tuesday afternoon.
There were plenty of Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse balloons, however, as well as a few signature Mickey Mouse ear hats at the day-long seminar for area business people titled “Disney’s Approach to Business Excellence.”
“No, there are no suits, and no characters running around, but one of the things Disney people talk about is how everyone plays a character in their jobs and when you work for Disney, you take that as more than your job,” said Sheena Scales, communications and events coordinator for Eastern Maine Development Corp.
EMDC brought Disney Institute facilitators Sean Bliznik and Kevin Gober to town to give the 143 seminar attendees ideas on how to use different methods or strategies to effect positive, successful changes in their businesses.
“People might say, ‘What do theme parks, castles and roller-coasters have to do with my locally owned insurance agency and restaurant?’ But we’re all businesses, and every business has an infrastructure,” said Bliznik, a New Hampshire native who had never traveled farther north than Kittery and Old Orchard Beach in Maine before. “It’s just that our products are different.
“We hope there’s at least one concept or idea or approach people can take away from this and apply to their own businesses or jobs and effect a good change you see a need for.”
Self-described “Disney fanatics” Wade Hill and wife Kathy of Ellsworth both got more than one applicable concept, and that was before the midday lunch break.
“People can take away from here all kinds of little pearls of wisdom to improve the way they operate,” said Wade Hill, who owns three Subway sandwich franchises in Mount Desert and Blue Hill. “I want to foster a sense of ownership in our business. My teams and the people who work with me can benefit from some of the information given here, so if I can take that back to them, it’s valuable time here for me.”
Wade Hill also works for Witham Family Limited Partnership, a real estate development service based in Bar Harbor.
Kathy Hill is the building manager for the University of Maine’s Buchanan Alumni House.
“There are particular things we can’t incorporate in, like when they talk about profit margin where we’re a nonprofit entity, but there are still a lot of aspects that fit in,” she said of ideas mentioned during the seminar. “I haven’t heard anything they’ve said yet that hasn’t resonated with me as something I can incorporate in my personal or professional life.”
The seven-hour seminar focused on topics such as leadership excellence, brand loyalty, quality service, inspiring employee creativity and people management.
“I think empowerment goes a long way toward making your employees better,” said Kathy Hill. “And I think a sense of ownership is the only way to be successful in that everyone at a company as a whole has the same philosophy in mind and feels a responsibility for its success.”
In one exercise, Gober had the attendees brainstorm for a couple of minutes at each of their assigned tables — designated by Disney movie or character names and colors — and come up with alternate uses for the trademark mouse ear hats. The session, which produced ideas ranging from the practical (lamp shade) to the ridiculous (hot tub for Barbie doll), was an exercise in context creativity.
“We do consulting work as well as these seminars, but we can also contour or customize these seminars to target certain subjects or segments of service or business management from this to leadership seminars,” said Bliznik, who was a stage manager for Disney before officially joining the institute in July.
In his “pre-Disney life,” he was a high school teacher and college instructor, but it was that stage experience that seemed to help invigorate the crowd.
“You can see everybody’s nodding their heads, taking notes and interacting and there’s a lot of enthusiasm,” said Scales. “Everybody coming out is telling me they really want to do this again. This is not just another day out of the office.”