Relative unknown to run Disney World
A longtime Disney executive who for years has kept a low profile was named president of Walt Disney World on Thursday, instantly becoming one of Central Florida's most powerful business leaders.
Meg Gilbert Crofton, director of human resources for all Disney parks and resorts, becomes the first woman to lead the Orlando attraction in its 35-year history.
Crofton, 52, succeeds Al Weiss, who last fall was chosen to lead Disney's worldwide stable of resorts and theme parks. She spent most of her 27 years with the company at Walt Disney World, holding key positions in personnel, operations and sales.
"I can think of no one more qualified, and I am very excited that she has this opportunity to lead Walt Disney World," said Weiss, who has worked with Crofton for more than 22 years and called her the "obvious choice."
Crofton said Thursday that she is "very much looking forward to becoming an active member of the Central Florida business and nonprofit communities."
And she alluded to her behind-the-scenes persona in her opening remarks at a news conference, calling her talk with the media Thursday "a first for me today."
As president of Walt Disney World, the region's largest employer, Crofton undoubtedly will gain greater recognition in a community where she's generally not well-known.
Many Central Florida business and civic leaders were at a loss to comment on her promotion. Several, including Universal Orlando President Bob Gault and Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, said they didn't know her.
And though she has represented 99,000 worldwide employees — including nearly 58,000 at Disney World — as the global leader of human resources, few rank-and-file employees know her either.
"I have heard the name, but I honestly couldn't tell you where [which department] she came from," said Donna-Lynn Dalton, a Disney union leader.
Walt Disney's parks-and-resorts division underwent a major realignment in 2005, which included Weiss' elevation to its top job this past November. He continued overseeing the Walt Disney World Resort while searching for a successor.
Disney promoted a second executive Thursday. Jim Lewis, who was senior vice president of Disney Vacation Club, was named president of the growing time-share division, which now has 300,000 members in 100 countries.
"Jim is not just a good choice for Disney but a good choice for the community," Crotty said.
Crofton serves on the board of advisers at Rollins College's Hamilton Holt School in Winter Park. She attended Rollins before receiving a bachelor's degree in marketing and a master's in business administration at Florida State University.
"She has been a very dynamic leader," Hamilton Holt Dean Sharon Carrier said. "She has an incredible memory for details, and she is able to inspire others."
Peter Rummell, former chairman of Walt Disney Imagineering, said he worked with Crofton during his decade at the Walt Disney Co.
"She is a smart, thoughtful person who has seen Walt Disney World evolve probably as well as anybody and has been a major part of it," said Rummell, now chairman of developer St. Joe Co.
He said her low profile isn't unusual at Disney.
"Disney can be kind of an insular place," he said. "There are a lot of very important people there who don't have a lot of outside contact. But Meg will handle that [the president's] job well. She has great poise and real presence."
Since moving to her current job four years ago, Crofton said she has spent most of her time in California, Hong Kong, Paris and Tokyo while living in Winter Park.
She said she now plans to spend time getting to know Orlando's Walt Disney World more intimately.
"In the first few months of my role, my first priority will be to listen and learn, which I believe is the responsibility of an effective leader," she said.
Crofton, the fourth executive to lead Walt Disney World since it opened in 1971, faces an assortment of challenges as the park continues to reinvent itself in a changing world.
"The maturity of the industry is important," said Steve Baker, an Orlando theme-park consultant and former Disney executive.
"She is extremely talented and very well thought of," Baker said. "She has had some important roles in the company, and I would have probably figured she was on the list. She's a good choice."