Ben May (’68) retired as the Global Director of Corporate Alliances for the Walt Disney Company, where he created multi-million dollar relationships for Disney with international companies and governments. As Disney’s global senior leader, he was based in Paris for two years, where he led Disney’s corporate alliance development in Europe, the Middle East, and Russia. In addition to creating international alliances, Mr. May also created interactive social marketing experiences that educated millions of visitors about Epcot in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
In 2018, Mr. May shared in chapel how his Casady education taught him critical thinking skills and self-discipline that laid the foundation for his successful future. His gift for storytelling made a great impression on me that day, and a copy of his chapel speech can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vA2jcOndOEw&feature=youtu.be
I reached out to interview Mr. May to learn more about him and to seek advice for those interested in pursuing a career with the Walt Disney Company. Mr. May is currently loving his retirement in Orlando, and I found him to be incredibly gracious, wise, and well-versed.
Like most students, Mr. May tried several career possibilities before finding his niche. As a young child, Mr. May wanted to be a firefighter. However, with an interest in the weather and a number of science fair awards, he went on to pursue meteorology. Awards from the American Meteorological Society led to an internship at the National Severe Storms Lab in Norman, Oklahoma during his junior year at Casady. Since meteorology requires high level math, his advisor, Father Barnes, suggested he pursue languages instead of meteorology. Mr. May did very well in his German lessons at Casady, and his German teacher, Mrs. Nagle, helped him find a Russian tutor when he began independently learning the Russian language junior year.
These languages made sense to Mr. May, and by the time he went to the University of Oklahoma, he became very proficient at them. Mr. May majored in the Russian language and public affairs at OU, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He earned his master’s degree with honors in international communication in Russian and German from the School of International Service at the American University in Washington D.C.
While working as the Vice President of Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Company, Mr. May worked many years with a fellow Oklahoman, Lee Cockerell, who would go on to be the Executive Vice President of Walt Disney World. Mr. Cockerell suggested Mr. May interview for the position of Manager of Business Development at Epcot. The unlimited opportunities at Disney were a perfect fit for Mr. May to pursue a wide variety of his passions. He just had to convince Disney and the client companies of the subjects he wanted to pursue. Mr. May said, “this involved creating multimillion dollar alliances with other companies, or, in some cases, countries, to leverage the Disney brand for them while they gave Disney the money to create the attractions and subjects I wanted to bring to Disney, like fire protection, meteorology, Russian culture and other areas like space travel, Israeli culture; and in one case, the state of Oklahoma in 2007 to commemorate 100 years of Oklahoma Statehood.” Mr. May’s creativity and diligence paid off as he was promoted several times while working at Disney.
As the Global Director of Corporate Alliances for the Walt Disney Company, Mr. May spent most of his time “researching and contacting the companies and countries I wanted to work with, convincing their corporate officers to meet with us to present our proposals for our ideas, making sure we understood their brand and convincing them to create an alliance with us.” Oftentimes, this involved traveling to foreign countries to present the Disney case. Mr. May worked with attorneys, financial consultants, and client alliance companies to create contracts for the deals. Working with Disney’s Imagineers and marketing executives to make presentations for their concepts to potential alliance partner’s executives was an incredibly fun experience for Mr. May. He also had wonderful opportunities to meet with senior people in government, such as the Secretary of the Department of Commerce, NASA, and ambassadors from countries such as Russia and Israel. While working at Disneyland Paris corporate offices for two years, Mr. May’s most memorable events were completing “the extension of a very large multi-million, multi-year alliance with the Coca Cola Company Europe vs Pepsico,” and “presenting a very large concept with our Imagineers to the Scottish Government in Edinburgh to create an attraction for the movie Brave for the UK Pavilion at Epcot in the U.S.”
For students who are interested in following Mr. May’s footsteps, he recommends pursuing “a combination of marketing, business and, definitely, finance. Also, the ability to make compelling presentations in many different circumstances to large and small groups at different executive levels.” He also suggests applying to the Disney College Program as an intern in your area of interest, and acknowledges that getting a position working for Disney is part luck and part preparation. Mr. May is extremely grateful for Casady preparing him with a solid foundation for success.