He is a college dropout who ended up running one of the largest vacation destinations in the world. Former Disney Executive Vice-President Lee Cockerell spoke to hundreds of students at Gulfport High Friday. He shared his life struggles, leadership strategies, and advice to help young people succeed.
"The number one expectation when people come to Disney World, make us feel special," Lee Cockerell told the crowd.
Cockerell knows a thing or two about operating a successful company. After all, for more than a decade, he helped run the "Happiest Place on Earth."
"I was lucky because 99.9 percent of our guests are happy. So it's a good business to be in. Some businesses people aren't happy and customers aren't happy, and we have a good model of how we hire great people and train them," said Cockerell.
The Beau Rivage invited Cockerell to share his leadership and customer service strategies with all the juniors and seniors at Gulfport High. The school has the Academic Institutes, a program that prepares young people for college and careers, and many of these students are interested in the hospitality industry.
Cockerell never finished college, but he found his own magic formula for success.
"Having to go to work on time, grooming, and professionalism, all those things that really matter later on in their career," said Cockerell. "I had a great attitude. I was cooperative. I learned every day. Every day I asked questions and I learned and got better and better. After awhile nobody asked me if I had a degree, because I was a good performer. And if you perform for your boss, that's all he wants."
Cockerell also stressed good time management, treating others with respect and appreciation, and enjoying what you do.
"When you're in high school and young, you don't think about some of these things, some of the concepts about being organized and disciplined, focusing on what you want to do for a living, being better than everybody else, and being great. That's the kind of message I try to send them, not to underestimate what they can do," Cockerell said.
Cockerell said young people can relate to his life.
"After I tell them my sad story of how I grew up and my mother's five marriages and I've been adopted twice, and on the third name Cockerell, so they start listening and a lot of them will relate to family issues and opportunity issues," he said.
"I'm so glad that he came and talked to us like how to become a leader, how we should take initiative in life," said Gulfport High Junior Claire Stewart.
"It's nice to know that I'm not the only person that struggled with it, and to see and hear his life and how it affected him is very inspirational," said Gulfport High Junior Thomas Lee.
"I hope they go out and understand they can probably reach any level they want to if they believe and work hard," said Cockerell.
Cockerell also shared his life lessons and work experiences with the employees at Beau Rivage.