A Man, a Mouse and a Hog

George Aguel's passion for building the Disney brand is rivaled by only one thing: his Harley.

Imagination is what fueled the world Walt Disney created and continues to be at the core of the company's success. If you ever catch a glimpse of George Aguel, senior vice president of worldwide sales and services for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts—a man who exudes professionalism and class— dressed in jeans and black leather riding a Harley, it's not your imagination getting the best of you.

"I have a passion for motorcycles and spend as much personal time as I can riding them," he says with a chuckle. "I have the required Harley as well as a custom bike that is my real fun ride."

Walt Disney was once quoted as saying, "You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality."

He would've been proud to have had a professional like Aguel as part of his team.

The titles and accolades Aguel has earned are many: chairman of the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau; former chairman of Meeting Professionals International (MPI); board member for the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE); twice recognized as one of the 25 most extraordinary minds in sales and marketing by Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI). Aguel is also one of only a handful of industry professionals to have received the Academy of Leaders Award from ASAE, and he's part of an equally select group of executives inducted into the Convention Industry Council's Hall of Leaders.

As rudimentary as it may sound, Aguel attributes his success to old- fashioned hard work. Aguel emigrated with his family from Cuba in the late 1950s, shortly before Fidel Castro came to power.

"My parents came to the United States with absolutely nothing. They worked extremely hard in this country," Aguel says. "By watching my father, I was fortunate to develop a work ethic and to recognize that hard work is essential to being successful. You certainly have to incorporate many other things, but if you don't have the willingness to apply yourself and give more than you're asked to give and exceed expectations, it will be hard to ever generate any strong feeling of success. Thankfully, I've been aware of that for as long as I can remember and have been around leaders who have the same philosophies. Hard work has always been part of my DNA."

Hitting the Road

His father's work resulted in the ultimate American dream: entrepreneurship. He became the proud owner of a Bonanza Sirloin Pit, a small restaurant in St. Petersburg, FL, and looked to his son, a college student at the time, for help. As with any father-son working relationship, things got tumultuous at times. "I quit a few times, and he fired me a few times," Aguel says with a laugh.

But it was at the restaurant that Aguel's passion for providing service was ignited. "I started to realize I had an affinity for being service-oriented. I had that knack and desire to be of service to others," he explains.

Another family member turned Aguel on to the hotel industry. First as a front desk clerk, then on to banquets, convention services, catering, sales, and marketing—he worked his way through the ranks, largely at the Marco Beach Hotel and Villas.

A pivotal point in Aguel's career came when he joined Gaylord Entertainment in Nashville, where he worked for 12 years. A senior sales and marketing professional with Gaylord, he was part of the opening team for the Opryland Hotel, the first convention hotel to open with a massive amount of meeting space compared to the number of guest rooms.

"Professionally, this was one of my proudest accomplishments. Being part of this legacy," he says.

It is with pride that he watches former colleagues achieve success. Most recently, Jerry Wayne, who was on Aguel's team at Opryland, was inducted into the Convention Industry Council's Hall of Leaders.

"You define yourself by the legacy of great leaders you've worked with over a period of time and how successful many of them have become," explains Aguel.

Leader of the Pack

Today, as senior vice president of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, he leads a team of more than 1,000 cast members across the globe. Aguel's responsibilities include overseeing the organizations that drive group business to the company's resorts, parks, and cruise ships.

Aguel is also responsible for the Disney Event Group and the Disney Institute, the latter being one of the most recognized names in the corporate training and development industry. Disney Institute professional development experiences are offered around the world and take business professionals inside the Disney organization to discover best practices that are easily transferable to their organizations.

Other businesses reporting to Aguel include the Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Alliance Development organization, which forges strategic business relationships with corporations around the world, and Disney's Operating Participants teams, which are responsible for all third-party organizations operating businesses at Disney resort destinations. He also leads overall corporate responsibilities for Disney's gift card line of business.

Aguel has been with Disney for more than 19 years and plans to continue with the company for years to come. "Disney is one of the most recognized, respected companies you can possibly associate yourself with. It's a great organization to be a part of, and a brand second to none. I'm proud to be in the position I'm in."

A hands-on leader, Aguel enjoys the dichotomy of being part of a global company with employees all over the world but being based in Orlando, home to Walt Disney World Resort, covering more than 40 square miles, an area twice the size of Manhattan.

How does Aguel define success? "When you feel you've done the best you can do and you're remembered fondly by those you've worked with," he answers. "Success is not automatically part of a title you achieve or a position you've acquired."

And it is even harder to come by in down years like 2009—a year Aguel describes as "unprecedented."

"I've seen recessionary periods like we had in the seventies and challenging scenarios like the eighties, when unemployment and interest rates were through the roof. This has been worse. Just the sheer length of it. Combine that with the strange hype and publicity around corporations spending money on conferences and events," he says. "The industry will get better. It's hard to fall off the floor. Companies will start to recognize that to be competitive they must apply best practices that include getting their people on the same page and bringing them together."

Originally published Jan. 1, 2010

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