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Feb 21, 2019 2019-02 Alumni Business Administration

Harvell continues innovative spirit at Happiest Place on Earth

Andrew Harvell (BADM ’15) is one of a few people who can say they landed their dream job right out of college. After graduating from Gies College of Business with a degree in marketing, Harvell moved to California to work for The Walt Disney Company. He is now a Lead Digital Producer for Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products, managing customers’ experiences at The Happiest Place on Earth. In fact, the next time you go to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, you probably use an app Harvell helps manage.


Andrew HarvellQ. Can you describe your role/responsibilities as Lead Digital Producer for Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products?

A. As a Lead Digital Producer, I’m part of a team responsible for the “care and feeding” of digital products like an app or a website once they go live. We look after the day-to-day operations and ongoing enhancements for digital destinations that millions of people visit every day. These responsibilities can range from updating content on one of our dozens of websites, managing yearly operating budgets for huge teams, producing photoshoots, and so on. With more than 100 producers at Disney Parks and Resorts Digital, we all wear slightly different hats and each have unique skill sets that help us on our specific projects. 

Q. What are some of the main projects you’ve worked on during your 3+ years with Disney?

A. I’ve had the pleasure of working on a variety of projects while at Disney, each bringing their own lessons and perspectives. I started working on some of Disney Parks’ “non-leisure” brands such as runDisney and the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World. Next, I was brought over to Disney Cruise Line to run their mobile app operations for guests to enjoy while sailing on one of our four ships. In late 2015, we started a massive initiative to sell Disney Parks merchandise online (previously only available for purchase inside our parks), through a brand-new app called “Shop Disney Parks” – this project was hugely successful and led to the re-branding of the broader Disney Stores to shopDisney. My newest project has been one of my most challenging and unique undertakings. In June 2018 we launched a massive collaboration with our theme park design group, Walt Disney Imagineering, called the Play Disney Parks app. This app turns wait time into play time with all-new interactive experiences for select attraction queues around Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The app includes mini-games to play while you wait in line, tons of Disney trivia, and one-of-a-kind Disney themed playlists on Apple Music (including some curated by Disney Legends).

Q. How important are mobile apps to enhancing customer experience inside the parks?

A. Over the past five years, our digital guest experience has evolved from what you might call a side benefit to a truly integral part of our guests’ vacations to any of our parks or resorts. Guests can now plan and manage their entire vacation from the convenience of their phone, whether it’s making a dining reservation, booking a FastPass, unlocking their hotel room or even ordering food. It’s rewarding and a lot of fun to know we are empowering guests with our tools to make their vacation as seamless and magical as possible.

Q. What is the biggest challenge of keeping the digital experience fresh and unique at a place like Disney?

 A. Simply put, we cannot get complacent with our technology or how it services our guests’ needs. One of our core pillars at Disney Parks is to “innovate relentlessly,” which I truly believe allows us to stay ahead of our competition and deliver a best-in-class experience for our guests. We have an in-house digital innovation group, with whom my team often partners, to identify and integrate emerging technologies (like machine learning, voice control or augmented reality) into our experiences. While this does not go without challenges, it allows us to step beyond our comfort zone and look toward the future with an optimistic spirit.

Q. How did your business education at Illinois uniquely prepare you to tackle the challenges of your job today?

A. My biggest takeaway from my business education at Illinois was the emphasis on group projects as I got deeper into my marketing major. Whether it was business process management, marketing, or intro to IT courses, the emphasis on group projects taught me how to work with a variety of personalities, skill sets and leadership styles. I use and refine these skills every day at Disney.

Q. What advice do you have for Gies Business students today?

A. Any professional is typically willing to talk with college students about their career path, industry, or company. Be a sponge and soak up all you can. If you’re interested in a particular company or industry, take the initiative to learn as much as you can about that area. Set up meet-and-greets, network, do your research, and you may end up landing your dream job out of college (as I was so fortunate to do).