Passionate People: Steve Lewis

Alan Belniakbusiness, passion10 Comments

This is the first of hopefully many profiles of people who have struck me as interesting, because of the passion for what they do.  These are people that are truly passionate about what they do or have done.  In my mind, passion is missing from many people today, and I think a lot of people kind of churn along without doing what they really want to do, or are doing something, but simply mailing it in.

Meet Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis

I was recently in Florida for a work conference and reconnected with a high school friend.  I hadn’t seen him in a long time, so it was good to reconnect.  Rather than have me butcher what Steve does, here’s an excerpt from Steve Lewis’s LinkedIn profile: “I am a hospitality professional with 10 years experience at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. I am focused on performance excellence, employee satisfaction and creating a fun and dynamic work environment. My goal is to continue to share my experiences with my direct reports and seek constant growth and development from everyone that I come in contact with.” Steve and I arranged to have dinner at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the hotel where he works.  Unfortunately, Steve had to work this evening, but we still managed to eat and chat for a little more than an hour.

The Meeting

What struck me about our visit was that, despite the fact that Steve was working, he still made time for me.  We spent the time chatting and catching up, we also talked a lot about Disney, the theme park, the resort, the hotel, and all that stuff.  I was captivated!  There’s so much that goes on that maybe the average lay person doesn’t know.  And Steve explained it to me in such a way that I could comprehend it, and in a way that was still very interesting to me.  This was more than the “so that’s the such-and-such wing, and we have x-hundred rooms, and…”  It was Steve, cherry-picking facts and interesting stuff to tell me, based on the feedback I was giving him.  He was enjoying telling me as much as I enjoyed listening to him!

The Sell

He wasn’t selling to me (or was he?)  After all, I wasn’t going to get a room there with my family then or next week.  I won’t be going to Disney for a few years.  No, I think he was selling the passion he has for his job.  He wasn’t totally gushing, but it was close.  And it was great.  Is it ‘selling’ if it’s something that you really believe in, all the time, even off the clock?

Steve’s Composition

Even out of earshot of his reports and other coworkers, Steve never bad-mouthed anyone.  He consistently promoted the teamwork and team dynamic.  We toured various parts of the facility, looking from different viewpoints.  All along the way, he peppered the conversation with different facts, neat trivia, a question about our childhood and if I still kept in touch with so-and-so.  Clearly, Steve has honed his craft of being a conversationalist.  As we moved from area to area, we encountered guests.  In mid-sentence, Steve was able to go into guest-mode, and flash the smile, hold a door, answer a question, and give directions.

What’s on the Radar

I asked Steve that if he ever wanted to get out of Disney and do hospitality management elsewhere (please note: for the record, at the time of this post – he is not looking), how would his skills transfer over, and the like.  I noted that Disney isn’t quite the same as other hotels.  I (rightly) suspected that Disney must be a unique experience, but also that there is some set of transferrable skills.  This moved us into a discussion about what Chris Brogan calls escape velocity, though we didn’t term it as such (irony: in the escape velocity post, Chris was at Disney).  But that’s exactly what the conversation was.  Steve recounted a story about how he made a conscious move a few years ago to leave another position inside Disney to take this one, specifically to broaden and deepen his skill set.  It was a bit of a risk.  He was happy and satisfied with where he was.  But he saw that if he wanted to do more at Disney, where he loved being, and to take his career to the next level, he needed to do something about it.

A Passion Case Study

Our tour continued, and we were on one of the higher floors, looking out toward the Magic Kingdom.  The sun was setting (and fast!) and started to light up the sky.

Slowly (and timed perfectly) the Magic Kingdom (“That’s Cindarella’s Castle, you know”) was starting to light up.  Within 45 minutes or so, the nightly fireworks would be on display.  Steve shared a great observation with me.  Here’s a paraphrase of that observation…

See that over there?  That’s the parking lot for the Magic Kingdom.  This, in front of us, is the Seven Seas Lagoon – it’s manmade.  Walt could have put the parking lot right next to the kingdom.  Sure, from a planning perspective, that would make sense.  But Walt wasn’t selling a plan.  Nope – it’s all part of the experience.  Instead, you get on a ferry boat, and slowly sail toward the Magic Kingdom.  It’s the only thing in your visual frame when you’re on the boat.  So, it starts small, from a distance.  It appears to be fake, fantastical, mystical.  As you get closer, it gets larger.  It starts to become real.  And that’s just the ride over.  It’s all part of the experience.

I wasn’t on the boat, and I’m not a seven-year-old girl.  But Steve tells the story, because that’s the Disney experience.  They are purveyors of that magical, mystical fairy tale, and make it real for a seven-year-old girl for a few days.  And Steve told it to me, because he’s passionate about what he does for a living.

The Magic Kingdom, at sunset

The Magic Kingdom, at sunset

The price of the view from where we were?  Not inexpensive.  But with good reason.  Steve continues…

I’d argue that on a good day, and depending on what metric you use, this is the best hotel room.  In. The. World. Yes.  Again, it depends on how you measure.  The accommodations are well-appointed, and the service is top notch, sure.  But the view?  How many places – in the world – can boast a view of “Cinderella’s Castle”?  And an impressive fireworks display every night that showcases her house?  Show that to your daughter/niece/granddaughter, and ask her of there’s a better place on Earth.  What’s the price tag on that experience?

Even as we finished our conversation and I was headed to the lobby area to grab my taxi back to my hotel, Steve was still prattling on about all things Disney. On the way out, his Blackberry buzzed, and he took a brief work call.  An issue had come up – not a very savory one – and he addressed it.  All in a day’s work.  “It’s what I do”, Steve says.  I asked him, “So how many reports do you have?  What’s the reporting structure like?”  He responded, “It’s not really about direct reports.  When I start my shift, I treat this hotel like it’s mine.  Not just the front of the house.  The entire hotel.  Because it’s about the experience.  Guests don’t care whether it’s a front of the house issue, or any other issue.  So, when I work, this is my hotel.  And I make sure that the guests are getting what they pay for, and more.”

Clearly, Steve and I had a great conversation.  He offers the Disney company a lot.  He’s first-class in everything that he does, and absolutely loves his job.  Do you love your job?  Are you passionate about what you do?  Do you love what you do so much that you’d give a friend a tour of what you do, and effuse about it for 90 minutes?

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