Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bill Capodagli’s Disney Way Keynote in Dowagiac, Michigan

Don’t fire Tom Sawyer

Published 10:37pm Monday, February 28, 2011 in the Dowagiac News


Bill Capodagli ended his introduction to The Disney Way at Dowagiac Middle School Performing Arts Center Monday night with the tale of the bully Tom Sawyer, who with proper training became a valued 30-year employee.

Through his keynote, Capodagli stressed developing a “Dowagiac dream” collective vision this week in partnership with Dowagiac Union Schools, Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital and Southwestern Michigan College would take hard work and perseverance because there is no “instant pudding.”

“When Disneyland was being built” in the 1950s in Anaheim, Calif., the consultant recalled, “there was a boy of 10 or 12 who worked in the mailroom. Whenever a package arrived for Walt, this young man made it his job to deliver it. One day, the young man said he didn’t want to work in the mailroom anymore, he wanted to be Tom Sawyer on Tom Sawyer’s Island. You’re casting the role tomorrow and I wish you’d consider me for the part.”

Disney suggested the move to his vice president of casting, so the youth was hired.

Within a few days, the executive barged into Disney’s office.

“That Tom Sawyer you hired,” he sputtered. “We have to fire him.”

Walt wondered why.

“That little boy has literally become Tom Sawyer,” came the response.

By that he meant the Mark Twain story in which Tom found ways to exert his influence.

“He’s beating up all of your guests as they come onto your island,” the vice president warned.

“This kid’s a bully.”

Disney became uncharacteristically upset.

He pulled his employee into an office and said, “You don’t understand what we’re trying to do. That little boy is being the best Tom Sawyer he knows how to be. Our job is to make him the best Tom Sawyer for Disney. Now go out and do your job.”

“That story was lost for over 30 years,” Capodagli said.

“It was told at the boy’s 30-year recognition dinner with the Disney organization, by the vice president, who came out of retirement to honor his 30 years of service. How close they came to losing a valued employee of over 30 years.

“It seems so easy, but it gets so hard. All we have to do is train the daylights out of our people, give them the tools to succeed and get out of their way so they can become the best employee, teacher or nurse that they know how to be.”

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