Leadership Lessons: Nathaniel Palma, 2015 – 2016 Walt Disney World Ambassador

Leadership Lessons” is a series of interviews with Disney executives who started their career with the company as a participant on the Disney College Program or as a Disney Professional Intern .


What is your Disney Journey? In other words, how did you get interested in the company, what was your first role, and how did you make it to the role you are in now?

Actually, my Disney Journey started before I was born. My mother was living in Southern California and when she was pregnant with me she would go for walks around Disneyland Park. She loved the shows and parades, but Pirates of the Caribbean was her favorite ride. Toward the end of her pregnancy, she went on the ride and the next thing she knew it was time for me to be born. Although I wasn’t born at Disneyland itself, it was very much a part of my life growing up. I connected with the movies, music and inspiring stories.


Growing up wasn’t always easy, but Disneyland gave me a source of joy and inspiration. I felt like it was a place where there was kindness in the world. After I graduated from high school, I started working for the Disney Store at a local mall by my college in Conn. and that’s where I learned about the Disney College Program. I applied and was so happy to be accepted as a Character Performer because that was my ultimate dream ever since I started looking up to so many of the characters for strength and motivation during my childhood. Once I completed the program and was ready to graduate college, I ended up being the commencement speaker for my graduating class and closed with a Walt quote. It was at this point that I realized I had to follow my own advice and acknowledged that my happiest moments were during my time with Disney. Instead of taking the job offer that would have made sense with my business degree, I packed my bags and drove down to Walt Disney World. When I got to the Casting building I was ready to take anything, but life works in mysterious ways and I was still “statused” so I was able to go back into Entertainment.

Entertainment has so many opportunities! I got to be a part of shows, parades and photo shoots. Eventually I became a coordinator, then a trainer, and eventually began teaching Disney Traditions classes. I also took leadership courses and it was through these programs that I found out about the ambassador role. I know it would be challenging to get the role, but from that moment on I decided to try and be an ambassador every single day. After just two years since I applied as a full-time hourly cast member, I was chosen to be one of the Walt Disney World Ambassadors for 2015-2016.



What are some of your key learnings from your time on the College Program?

There are endless opportunities when you work for Disney. It isn’t just a “college job,” but a place where you can have fun while pursuing a career. Being on the College Program was definitely a “foot in the door” and it allowed me to begin fulfilling my dream of having a career with Disney. You are able to learn from leaders in the company and take advantage of networking opportunities while developing a strong work ethic. I also learned that you can have many careers within the company and that might mean taking on a new role with a different team, but you are able to do pursue many goals and still be a part of Disney. As a College Program participant you have all the same resources as a full-time cast member, so it is important to use those opportunities and make your own path.

Another important learning was how to care for guests and commit to making every moment special for them. This type of care is a genuine respect and appreciation for everyone who walks through the doors. Something that really brought this home for me was my encounter with Meg Crofton (who served as President of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts) one day at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. It was during my time as a cast member in Entertainment and when I saw her walking through the resort I wanted to go up and say “thank you” for her service to the company. Although I was nervous and didn’t want to bother her, I faced my fears and ended up approaching her. She took time out of her day to ask questions about me, suggested to take a picture with me, and asked for my email so she could send me the picture. She created a special moment for me just by showing sincere care. I implement this learning in my daily life because I know special moments are every moment.


Can you speak to the importance of networking and making connections during the College Program and/or Professional Internships?

We are a company based on relationships. From the College Program to the executive level, networking is a great way to start. I think Disney is unique, in that most executives have an open door policy and make themselves accessible. Based on my experience, leaders love sharing about their role and they are personally invested in the development of other cast members. The College Program offers great classes, seminars, and basically brings the leaders to you. I like to say that the program opens doors for you, but it’s up to you to step through them and embrace the opportunities. Go up and talk to leaders and schedule meet-and-greets; you never know when you might benefit from these resources later on in your career.


Do you think the College Program prepared you to deal with difficult situations and overcome obstacles in your personal life or work environments? Can you provide examples?

It did in many ways. We are a diverse company that is composed of people with diverse nationalities, languages and ways of thought. Being part of the operation means working together to get the best out of each individual on the team and opening yourself up to acceptance of others and different opinions. You learn that there is a validity to ideas you wouldn’t have even thought about and in the process of working towards a goal of excellent customer service, you learn to have better interactions with people overall.


Can you go into detail about the importance of teamwork?

Our heritage is based on Walt Disney, a man who formed strong bonds with the people that worked for him. We are a first name company, and this first name basis symbolizes that we are all different but uniquely the same as we are part of the same team. Our definition of team can be interchanged with the word family because thousands of people leave their “real” families and homes behind to become part of the Disney family.

We all need each other’s expertise, thoughts and ideas to create a successful operation. This creates a close family unit that works as a team to deliver the promised guest experience. Some of my best moments were when I partnered across multiple lines of business to create a magical moment for guests.


We often hear talk about “Magical Moments” that occur on property. Can you describe your favorite “magical moment” you experienced during your time working for the company?

I was walking through the park doing Operations for Entertainment and this little kid was talking to Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother and telling her that he had a gift for her. I started listening to their conversation and the boy began to tell me that he had gifts for all his character friends. His mother went on to say that they had been planning this trip for years and the characters make him very happy, so he decided to pick out gifts unique to each character and give them away. He had gifts for every character imaginable, even some that you don’t see in the parks that often, if at all. I spent about an hour with him visiting different characters and parted ways with the family. The next year when he came back to Walt Disney World, he asked for me and when I saw him he presented me with a book that included pictures he had drawn of all his favorite characters. At the front of the book was a drawing of me and it said “Nathaniel, My Favorite Disney Character.” This moment was truly magical. This little kid had done more for me than I could have ever done for him.


When we conduct interviews at different segments, we ask cast members to describe the team they work on in three words. Can you provide us with your personal three?

  • Passionate
  • Committed
  • Legacy


Do you have any advice for cast members who are currently Professional Interns or on the College Program and are hoping to be in a role similar to yours one day?

As my fellow Walt Disney World Ambassador Caitlin likes to say, “Grow where you are planted.” Whether it is your dream role or not what you expected, be the best cast member you can be every single day. Understand the difference between the task you are doing and your greater purpose. Disney gives us the tools to create happiness, it is up to us to use them. Read about the company and take initiative to learn about why we do what we do. The resources are out there in the form of leaders, books and peers. Learn their stories. Every job can become perfect; it’s up to you. Some days I haven’t been happy, but my purpose was to make other people happy and this gave me perspective to work toward my greater goal.

AmyDisney Internships & Programs Communications Team
January 8th, 2016|Categories: Testimonials|Tags: , , , , , |Comments Off on Leadership Lessons: Nathaniel Palma, 2015 – 2016 Walt Disney World Ambassador