Engineering the Magic
He has worked in restaurants, analyzing food and beverage service, and in entertainment, doing workforce planning and forecasting. He has even worked on the railroad, optimizing process design and crowd flow. Yet, he is never far from Main Street, U.S.A. Where does this man work?
Meet industrial engineer Brian Loo (B.S.’09 IEOR), who in August joined the Workforce Planning team at Disneyland. Following a childhood of family vacations to Disney’s original theme park in Anaheim, California, and internships there and at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Loo is now a bona fide “Cast Member,” the term used for all Disney employees, each an integral part of the show.
“One of the great things about working here is that there’s a ton of different roles,” Loo says. “It just amazes me on how much goes on every day. And every time I come back to the company I’m doing something new and different that I really enjoy.”
The Bay Area native did his first Disney internship in 2006, during his sophomore year at Berkeley. He worked on Big Thunder Mountain, the Wild West runaway train–themed roller coaster that opened in 1979 and was the first Disney ride to use computer-aided design. Loo’s job included operating the ride and loading and unloading passengers (known as “guests” in Magic Kingdom parlance), then analyzing the attraction for operational process and capacity improvements.
“I had never worked in a theme park before, so I had to get in the mindset of what an attraction is and how it operates,” Loo explains. “I was helping the team improve the overall operation and was able to get some real experiences to bring back to the classroom.”
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts worldwide comprise five properties—Disneyland and Walt Disney World as well as newer parks in Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong—with another possible addition planned for Shanghai in 2014. They juggle a dizzying number of transactions each year, like the 10 million incoming phone calls handled at the Disney Call Center, or the 9 million hamburgers consumed in restaurants at Walt Disney World alone. Smooth operation depends on teams of industrial engineers to analyze, model and optimize the parameters of every process from transportation systems to luggage delivery and the long lines at Space Mountain.
The parks’ IE tradition began in 1971 with Bruce Laval, Disney’s “father of industrial engineering,” who referred to his craft as “guestology,” or optimizing the guest experience. In our era — with its automated telephone answering systems and deteriorating retail customer service — Disney’s seamless, and friendly, perfection in the operation of all these details can make the experience a magical one indeed.
“The goal is to deliver the best guest experience possible by constantly evaluating and improving park dynamics,” Loo says. “During holidays our parks are busy, and we don’t want guests to wait too long.” Guestology requires understanding each attraction’s popularity and capacity, analyzing how the resort is used overall, and reporting wait times so guests have realistic expectations and can plan accordingly.
In addition to supporting attractions, Loo has also worked on a database to track wait times for food service in Disneyland’s restaurants. During his 2008 internship at Walt Disney World, he worked on improving route efficiency in the transit system of resort buses that whisk guests around the park’s 47 square miles (nearly the size of San Francisco), to and from the four theme parks, two water parks, entertainment and shopping district and more than a dozen resort hotels. In his current assignment in workforce planning, he supports the myriad parades, marching bands and other entertainments scattered throughout the park. Fantasmic, for example—where Mickey battles evil in a nighttime extravaganza featuring fireworks, lasers and other special effects—requires booking the pyrotechnics team in addition to the leading man, er, mouse, and his supporting cast.
“If Mickey Mouse calls in sick, you have to get Donald Duck,” Loo says. He is working on a database/forecasting tool to manage staffing levels and partners with various managers to plan efficient workload for the numerous entertainment offerings. Unlike his prior roles, this one involves working with colleagues who have backgrounds in entertainment. Loo relishes the variety; in fact, it could carry him through a lifelong career in the most magical place on Earth.
“If I’m not doing engineering, I would love to get involved in park operations,” Loo says when asked where he might be working in 10 years. “At the end of the day, I see myself working here.”