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Sept. 1, 2017
An excerpt of this story appears in the fall 2017 edition of the Northwest Alumni Magazine. To view the magazine in its entirety, click here.
Strolling by the Animation Building on the Walt Disney Studios campus in Burbank, California, where Walt Disney himself supervised the production of history’s greatest animated films, Northwest Missouri State University alumnus Jacob DiPietre sometimes catches himself in awe of his surroundings.
“There’s all of these innovative things going on, whether it’s in parks and resorts or other parts of the company,” DiPietre, a 2000 graduate, said. “There are definitely those times I’m walking through the campus, and I think, ‘Wow, I just did this.’”
Since earning his bachelor’s degree at Northwest in journalism with a minor in political science, DiPietre’s career has taken him from newspaper reporting to communicating policy for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
DiPietre joined The Walt Disney Company in 2005 and now serves as vice president of global external affairs with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Worldwide. He plays a key role in the Disney subsidiary’s engagement with the communities it serves through its theme parks, cruises and other enterprises throughout the world.
“It’s working with all those businesses to help them create strategies for the most effective ways to give back to their local communities,” DiPietre said. “Sometimes that is a combination of providing in-kind support in terms of expertise or strategic planning. Sometimes it’s just cash. Sometimes it’s a broader campaign.”
DiPietre uses his government relations experience to understand the expectations of consumers, policy makers and advocacy groups. He leads a team that works to inform stakeholders of policies while upholding the high expectations of the Disney brand. Whether he’s dealing with the mayor of Orlando, Florida, or a prefecture in France, DiPietre is working to assure them that Disney is a trusted partner and economic catalyst committed to improving their communities.
“The exciting and challenging part about it is the markets where we have resorts vary so significantly around the world,” DiPietre said. “You can’t really make a comparison in terms of community needs between Anaheim and Shanghai, for example. There is no cookie cutter approach.”
DiPietre’s journey has been a serendipitous one. A Columbia, Missouri, native, he was set on enlisting with the U.S. Navy after graduating from high school – until his father found him in line for a military bus and physically removed him, adamant that he give college a try.
DiPietre ended up at Northwest, where he took advantage of opportunities as a reporter and eventually as editor-in-chief of The Northwest Missourian.
“I remember (Northwest’s then-President) Dean Hubbard talking a lot about there needs to be academic opportunities for the whole spectrum of ability,” DiPietre said. “There are some students who need vocational experience. There are some students who need the community college experience. There are some students who need the Ivy League experience and there’s a whole bunch of students who need something in between. He was talking then about how Northwest can be a great tool for those kids who want something in between, who want to be close to home, who want to specialize in something and do it for an affordable price. That really turned out to be me.”
The experiences he had at Northwest imprinted a high level of responsibility that he’s carried into his career. After stints as a newspaper reporter and as press secretary for Missouri Congressman Sam Graves, DiPietre – having visited Florida only twice on family trips to Disney World – applied for a spot with Bush’s transition team after his 2002 reelection.
DiPietre held the press secretary role in the Bush administration for nearly four years and looks back on it as “a phenomenal time.” He played key roles in developing and communicating the administration’s stance on the controversial Terri Schiavo right-to-die legal case as well as the state of Florida’s response after four destructive hurricanes rolled over the region in six weeks in 2004.
“Seeing all the functions of government at the local, state and federal level coming together was really interesting and neat to see,” he said.
In 2005, with a growing family and looking for a change of pace from the long days he was logging in the governor’s office, he became a spokesman for Walt Disney Parks. In 2008, he was put in charge of government relations for Disney World, the globe’s largest single-site employer and held that role until his 2014 promotion.
At Disney’s Burbank campus, DiPietre holds an office in Team Disney-The Michael D. Eisner Building, where statues of Snow White’s seven dwarfs are depicted as holding up the roof. Disney Legends Plaza, which features bronze plaques with the hand prints of actors, animators, music composers and other groundbreaking Disney contributors, is a short walk away.
The walls of his office are filled with photos, memorabilia and other relics from his career that are abundant with backstories – from a check signed by Walt Disney to the Republican Finance Committee to a proclamation issued in his honor by the mayor of Orlando. One photo shows DiPietre with his event-planning team and Barack Obama when the former president visited the Disney World’s Magic Kingdom to announce a plan to boost tourism – an event DiPietre managed.
For DiPietre, whose Northwest diploma also hangs prominently on a wall of his office, the work aptly brings together his interests in communication and politics.
“What I love about this job is helping to set the strategy for how to deal with advocates and policy makers and consumers, and helping to enhance and protect and defend the reputation of Disney Parks and Resorts around the world,” DiPietre said. “It’s really an awesome responsibility, and one that’s a lot of fun, too.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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