Meet George Kalogridis, the former busboy who is heading Disneyland's multi-billion dollar expansion
By Kathy Tzilivakis
How many people can say they are greeted by Mickey Mouse when they arrive to work each morning? How many can even say they worked their way up from busboy to the president of a multi-billion dollar company? These things happen only in the movies… or in Disneyland - the place where dreams are made of.
George Kalogridis is a dynamic hands-on executive, whose first job was bussing tables at Disneyland’s Contemporary Resort Hotel in Florida. This was in 1971 while he was in college. Today, he’s President.
“I still remember my first interview, standing in the heat, in a queue that went on for what seemed like forever,” Kalogridis writes on Disney’s official blog.
Today, Kalogridis, who studied sociology at the University of Central Florida manages a workforce of 22,000 people where he serves as the president of Disneyland’s 489-acre resort in California that is home to the world-famous Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure Park, the Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, the Paradise Pier Hotel and Downtown Disney.
According to Kalogridis, he has had countless memories and incredible experiences, from the opening of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa and working at Magic Kingdom Park for the Bicentennial celebration to celebrating Disneyland’s 15 years in Paris, as well as being part of the openings of Epcot.
Today, the grandson of Greek immigrants from the sponge-fishing island of Kalymnos is celebrating the second-largest and much-anticipated expansion of the Disney California Adventure Park, which first opened its gates in 1955.
“It excites me to think that the next chapter in our storied history is about to unfold,” said Kalogridis in a press release. He is referring to the five-year, multi- billion dollar extreme makeover of the California theme park.
“Every component of this expansion – from attractions, merchandise and dining locations, to new entertainment and hotels – has been designed to craft new pages of our story,” said Kalogridis.
“This is more than a facelift; we are infusing Disney California Adventure with Disney legacy and linking our great storytelling and cherished heritage. And it’s more than adding 12 acres or turning a parking lot into a mountain range. We are providing a more immersive environment where families can have fun together just as Walt envisioned 56 years ago.”
One of the main attractions is Cars Land. Its rides and landscape were inspired by the 2006 animated Pixar studios movie Cars.
“Here’s to an exciting year ahead. I look forward to seeing you at the resort,” said Kalogridis.
And he means it.
The rededication of the "new" Disney California Adventure (dubbed DCA 2.0 by some) means a fresh start for the beleaguered theme park, which has suffered from poor word-of-mouth and low attendance since opening in 2001.
Thousands of fans waited outside DCA's gates last Friday morning to see the changes first hand.
Many praised Disney managers for how well they handled the opening day crowds. Kalogridis was highly visible throughout DCA during the entire opening weekend.
But this was nothing new for Kalogridis. The 58-year-old literally goes out of his way to make a personal contact with as many Disney visitors and employees as possible.
“In our company, it helps me never forget what was important to me when I had my first role and what I expected to hear from the person who was leading the organization,” said Kalogridis in an interview published on D23, the website of the official Disney Fan Club.
“In a perfect world I would be there every day, but I certainly try for several times a week. Sometimes I grab an hour and go,” he said. “I always learn something new.”
Since taking over the Disney’s California resort in 2009, Kalogridis has tried to spend as much time out of the office and in the parks as possible. When he first took the job, he rolled up his sleeves and helped empty trash cans, sweep a parade route and sort recyclable plastic and glass from the garbage in Disneyland.
“I always respect the fact that cast members (employees) work in the park, typically giving up (holiday) time with their families and friends,” Kalogridis told the local Orange County newspaper. “It’s important to send a message that I respect that and I would do the same thing.”
He says he can’t help looking at the small stuff – it’s what he has been doing since he started working at Disney in 1971.
Customer satisfaction is also one of his top priorities. When Kalogridis was the vice president of Disney’s Epcot Center several years ago, a customer wrote a letter expressing his dissatisfaction with one of the rides. Kalogridis personally called him at home to apologize.
While working as the manager of Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, a hostess stated she wished the grass was dry, since the hotel was going to host a convention on the lawn. Kalogridis used towels to dry the lawn, according to Orange County’s newspaper.
“That’s the attention to detail – and how he’ll do everything possible for guests – that George is famous for,” Meg Crofton, president of the Walt Disney World Resort, said.