Q&A: Jim MacPhee, former COO at Walt Disney World, talks about the creation of MyMagic+

The Next Generation Experience – project name for what became MyMagic+ – started as an eight-week exploration into making Walt Disney World’s guest experience seamless, from the initial planning stage to the visit to the return home, and ended up as an eight-year project that transformed the business.

jim macphee epcot
Photos courtesy of Jim MacPhee

Jim MacPhee’s 43-year career with the Disney Company began as a boat driver and ascended to Chief Operating Officer at Walt Disney World. During his tenure as Vice President of Epcot, Jim thought, “This is so cool. I could spend the rest of my career here.” Instead, he got a new assignment leading the Next Generation Experience, which ultimately became MyMagic+.

In part one of our interview, Jim talked about his entire career with the Disney Company. Here, he focuses on the Next Generation Experience, and talks about how it all came together:

What was the inspiration for the creation of the Next Generation Experience, and ultimately MyMagic+?

From the minute people think about a vacation, and the booking process, to their arrival, to their consumption, and on the way home, it should be one seamless experience. Now, that’s a lofty goal, because it’s hard to do that with 75,000 people that are working under you, but you want to drive them to their purpose, to their vision, not to their task.

The project represents a lot of new technology. Did anything else come out of those developments?

I’m proud to share multiple patents that reinvented our experience from the Magic Band and RFID-enabled touch-to-pay, touch to enter, single-form factor that has everything housed in it.

MagicBands and their technology are a product nearly every guest now uses. What benefits did they bring to the company?

That was more than a product change, that was a culture change, too, because that really became a catalyst to really bring the resort together. We had been organized as a Parks division, a Resorts division, a Facilities division, and whatnot, and while we were connected, it was polite connectivity.

MyMagic+ and the Next Generation Experience really made us realize that when guests visit Walt Disney World they don’t care about order charts, they just want a seamless experience. We realized we had gotten a little bit episodic and a little bit complicated, so we wanted to distill that down, and that was obviously the creation of the MagicBand, the My Disney Experience website and portal, and then FastPass+ introduced at that time. It was phenomenal.

jim macphee touchpoint

Did your work on the creation of My Disney Experience benefit you personally?

I got more visibility and more exposure to senior leadership and strategy and how to drive the business. While I thought it was going to shorten my career, it actually ignited my career to take on even more responsibility.

How were cast members taken into consideration prior to launching MyMagic+, and especially MagicBands?

Between 2008 and 2015 and ’16 time frame, we were starting to leverage technology from an experience planning perspective, and we were very careful to make sure that cast members really understood the technology, really embraced the technology, and didn’t feel threatened by it. It’s very easy for people to get threatened by the use of technology, because in many cases technology replaces people.

We came out with this mantra that said, we don’t want technology to replace touch, we want technology to eliminate transactions so you can create more interactions.

Was MyMagic+ a cost-saving measure?

We had planned for some cost reductions with the implementation of technology, but that was opaque to our team, because we wanted to return service standards and service delivery back to that interaction as opposed to the transaction.

I think if organizations are smart, they’re going to talk about technology as “experience enablers” and not as cost-cutting exercises or mechanisms. Not just from a cost basis, but from an experiential basis.

Do I think the world is threatened at large by technology taking over the human interface and connection?

Yes, I think it is threatened. But I believe that companies who excel in technology with a mindset of enhancing and better enabling the individual service interactive dynamic of how people feel, I think that if they balance that appropriately, they’re going to win, because they’re keeping their product and the consumer at the forefront, and using technology to better deliver that.

Chapter 5 in your book, “Engage, Inspire, Lead: Riding the Waves of Life and Leadership from my 43 Year Career at the Walt Disney Company,” goes into a great deal of background on the Next Generation Experience, and makes a fascinating, insightful read. What inspired you to write the book?

The reason I decided to write the book was, I feel like I was gifted with so many incredible experiences. The majority of them were great, some of them were not. If somebody would have come to me when I was 30 or 40 years old and shared with me their street knowledge of what leadership is all about, what to watch out for, how to think differently about the leader, how to drive business day to day but also reinvent it while it’s in motion, then what a great legacy that would be for anybody who would want to read it.

And, of course, for my kids and for my family to have this documented – because we’re not all going to be on this planet for infinity and beyond –it would be a great way to story-tell my experiences.

Can you sum up your thoughts on leadership?

It’s kind of like a meerkat. A meerkat is working, working, working, but there’s always a meerkat that’s looking up and looking out. You’ve got to have a meerkat mindset, where you know you have to deliver the base experience every day, and it’s got to be excellent, but at the same time, you need to be looking up, past the horizon, as to where you can go with the business, and what you can do to transform the business.

I think that great companies and great leaders get things done, not through a task list but through engaging and inspiring people they work with. That, to me, is what I think my legacy is, and what I think great leaders will be doing in the future. It’s more than work, it’s about living life to its fullest whether at work or at play, and really engaging and inspiring, and doing hard work with the people you spend a third of your life with.

Any thought on the Disney experience, looking back over your career?

We are blessed with incredible IP and brands that allow us to take these great stories that our Imagineers, and creative minds, and studios, and films make, and we’re blessed to be able to work with Imagineers to think about what resonates with the consumer, and how can we bring those stories to life in the theme parks.

Jim shares this story and more from his Disney career of more than four decades in his new book, “Engage, Inspire, Lead: Riding the Waves of Life and Leadership from my 43 Year Career at the Walt Disney Company,”  now available as an ebook, and in paperback. It is due to be released in hardcover around July 6, 2022.


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