Learning International Business from the Mouse

August 22, 2012

Disneyland Hong Kong
Rollins MBA students participating in an experiential learning course see firsthand how Hong Kong Disneyland adapted the American brand to better serve Chinese customers.

Walt Disney once said, “Laughter is America’s most important export.” Last spring, five Rollins MBA students traveled to Hong Kong, China, to learn from the creators of the happiest places on earth—Disney—and to conduct an investigative study of consumer behavior. Along the way, they learned how true Disney’s statement still is.

During the spring semester, students Paul Fisher ’13MBA, Nick Friend ’12MBA, Jenise Osani ’12MBA, Kendal Potesta ’12MBA, and Rene Vazquez ’12MBA studied the dynamics of the American brand entering the Chinese market as part of an experiential learning course in the Crummer Graduate School of Business. Led by Professor James Johnson, the group flew to Hong Kong Disneyland to hear firsthand how the park transformed to better serve Chinese customers and how similar changes will have to be made for the Shanghai attraction, opening in 2015.

“The Hong Kong and Chinese audience is such a new market for Disney, and most of the guests who visit Hong Kong Disneyland have never seen anything like it before,” said Fisher, who works as an industrial engineer for The Walt Disney Company while attending Crummer.

“The biggest problem they identified was that mainland Chinese weren’t exactly sure how to use a theme park,” Friend said . “They simply didn’t know that Space Mountain was something you ride or that the Corner Café on Main Street is a place you eat.”

“As a result, the park has been adding more Chinese characters to the signage so that guests know what they are looking at,” Fisher said.

Other than obvious cultural differences, including the Corner Café on Main Street serving fried rice instead of fries, the students observed that Hong Kong’s Disneyland did not deviate from the core qualities of a Disney theme park product.

“Disney did a good job of transporting the Disney experience and catering to the local market,” Fisher said. “Despite many of the cultural differences and challenges that exist for Disney’s theme park operation in Hong Kong, there is also a certain level of universality of the Disney product that penetrates through these cultural differences.”

While visiting the park, the group was treated to a special presentation by Rollins MBA alumnus Greg Morley’96MBA ’00MHR, the former vice president of human resources for Hong Kong Disneyland and current vice president of human resources for Shanghai Disney.

“It felt good to be part of the Crummer learning experience again,” Morley said. “Every day, I am able to apply something I learned at Crummer to my work. Structure, process, and teamwork are all critical components to successful business, and Crummer taught us valuable skills in these areas.”

“It was incredible to hear from an alumnus who had successfully leveraged his education into an impressive career in international business,” Friend said. “It gives me confidence in my education, and makes me optimistic about my own future career. This trip brought all of the classroom teachings to life. We saw exactly what it means to do business in Asia.”

By Brittany Fornof

Office of Marketing & Communications
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