Making magic: Pamplin MBA alumnus creates next-level guest experiences at Disney
When Pamplin College of Business alumnus John Padgett tries to explain what he does for a living, “people just find it hard to believe,” he says. “I am exceptionally fortunate to have a position that is too good to be true.”
Padgett, who earned a bachelor’s degree in finance in 1991 and an MBA in 1994, is vice president of experience development for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
“I create next-level, consumer-driven, new business models focused on guest-experience simplicity, customization, immersion, and persistent connectivity.”
That’s quite a mouthful. But any visitor who has taken Disney’s Magical Express, used its FastPass+ queuing service, dined at the Magic Kingdom’s Be Our Guest “Beauty and the Beast” theme restaurant, or received a princess or prince makeover at the Bibbiddi Bobbiddi Boutique has experienced some of the services developed with Padgett’s leadership.
These services aim to make a Disney vacation a seamless and more personal encounter in which guests can, through new technologies and other efforts, more fully engage with all things Disney.
Now testing at Disney World is his team’s latest project, the MagicBand: “a unique wristband, equipped with a proprietary blend of radio frequency technologies” that will serve as a visitor’s hotel room key and theme park ticket.
Guests will also have the option of using it to engage with the FastPass+ system and pay for meals and merchandise. Padgett points out that the MagicBand is “really just an enabler for next-level, ‘how-did-they-do-that’ Disney Magic.”
“The experiential process innovations enabled by the MagicBand are stunning. But, most importantly, the magic it enables is unmatched. The MagicBand exemplifies Arthur C. Clarke’s quote that technology properly advanced is indistinguishable from magic,” says Padgett, who has more than a dozen patents, awarded or pending, to his credit.
Among his previous projects, one particularly complicated effort was the creation of Disney’s Magical Express, an airport transportation and luggage delivery system that allows guests to bypass baggage claim and be transported to their hotel room via Disney-themed motor coaches where their bags would then “magically appear.”
It had to be created outside the “Disney berm,” he recalls, and “ultimately required a reformulation of the Orlando transportation space, orchestrated through a deep collaboration and process integration with airline, ground transportation, and other companies, and government entities at the local, state, and national level.”
Learn more about Padgett’s 17-year career at Disney, his views about trends in the hospitality and tourism business, and his career advice to students in the fall issue of Virginia Tech Business, the magazine of the Pamplin College of Business.