The day that Walt opened Disneyland it could not be described as an overwhelming success.
The news media were some of the early critics and they described Disneyland as overpriced and mismanaged. There was a newspaper that accused Walt of forcing his guests to buy soft drinks by not putting enough water fountains into the theme park.
It was easy for critics to focus on what was not right, ready, or done as well as one might have hoped.
By the way that is the nature of critical people.
The world then and the world now is always full of people who want to focus on all that is not right…and by doing so, always miss and never mention, or appreciate all that is right. Hopefully you are not one of the critical ones.
Walt Disney was a man who was aware of the critics but chose not to let the critics or their criticism define him.
There is an important life lesson in that for all of us.
Walt was bothered by the critics who accused him of trying to stick it to his guests for more money. He desired to keep Disneyland affordable. In a report of an account by Pat Williams in his book on Walt Disney he said, “Walt wanted to keep Disneyland affordable and was alarmed when the parking fee went from twenty five cents to fifty cents. That was huge to him. He once said, there will always be a 10 cent cup of coffee at Disneyland.
If you go back in history you will recall that Disneyland was open long before the days of debit and credit cards.
So this new theme park was a cash only operation. The task of counting and moving what would eventually become piles of cash was a logistical nightmare. Walt devised a solution.
Ticket clerks would dump loose bills and all the change into buckets by their feet.
When the buckets were full, they were taken to a cash office, dumped on a table, and the money was weighed, counted, and stacked appropriately. It is safe to say that Disneyland made money by the bucketful.
But that didn’t mean that there was a lot of profit left. Walt knew that it would take funds to make his dreams come true but he also knew that people were a part of that dream.
Expenses to keep the park operating were so high that Walt developed the following rules for how the money would be paid to employees.
Payday was a tough day and usually the most stressful day of the week for the Disney brothers.
Walt decided that all the hourly employees would be paid first. Their need, he knew was great and perhaps greater than any other of the park employees…he paid them fairly, but understood they needed the money with a sense of urgency that could not wait.
After the hourly employees were paid then the management level positions would be paid.
This included hourly wages and straight salary wages.
Again, the thinking here was that these salaries were higher and these folks also had needs to provide for their families and homes. Working with Walt was their career.
On weeks when there was money left…and many times there was not. But if there was money left then Roy and then Walt would take a paycheck. Never first, always after everyone else was taken care of. This is the way the park operated in those early days.
Although the stress was high, the work was hard, and the needs were real…in Walt there was a leader who valued and understood the importance of taking care of those who helped to make his dreams a reality.
In a culture that sometimes lives with a sense of entitlement an attitude that screams “me first!” it is good to step back and realign our lives by focusing on the needs of others…and then by doing whatever is in our power to do…try our best to meet them.
The early days of Disneyland remind us of that…and those were the days before it could really become The Happiest Place On Earth!