The Wonderful World of Wallace
Distinguished Alumna credits UF engineering with her career start.
Erin Wallace (BSISE ’82) stands on Route 66 in front of Flo’s V8 Café at Disney’s California Adventure. Out of the corner of her eye, she catches a flash of red as Lightning McQueen zips between the crowds. It’s another one of those Disney days, she thinks.
As executive vice president of operations integration for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, the 52-year-old, who is based in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., is used to these moments — the times you can feel the magic and see the pixie dust in the air.
Her responsibilities are broad and diverse. On any given day, her team could be focused on new menu concepts, amenities and services, or operational improvements at all of the Disney Parks and Resorts worldwide. She reviews initiatives involving everything from merchandise to animal viewing, while balancing day-to-day tasks such as heading meetings and leading teams.
“There’s nothing like creating memories for people, both young and young at heart,” Wallace says. “It keeps you so uplifted and proud that you work for a company that matters in the hearts of guests.”
Supporting and integrating initiatives in operations has its challenges, though. “We dream pretty big at Disney — sometimes without boundaries — and the challenges are when you have to take those big dreams and figure out how to put them to reality in a disciplined and focused way,” she says.
Erin’s teams have helped to implement many big dreams including a spectacular Castle projection show on Cinderella’s Castle, themed princess hotel rooms and the inclusion of healthy food items for all children’s menus.
To find solutions like these and ensure operations run smoothly worldwide, Wallace’s leadership style is one of encouraging her team to find effective ways to enable global inclusiveness in decision-making. She says successful leaders work collaboratively and recognize every co-worker as a teammate; using strategies and rewarding employees for doing the same sets a precedent in the workplace.
After all, Wallace didn’t get where she is today with the flick of a wand. The St. Petersburg native credits the engineering department at the University of Florida for helping her land her first job at one of Frito-Lay’s largest factories in Topeka, Kan.
“The engineering degree sets you on a course of having lots of tools to solve problems,” she says. “To me, that’s a cornerstone of what has made me a strong contributor.”
And the happy ending doesn’t stop there. During her senior year, a friend introduced Wallace to Stephen (BSISE ’82), a fellow engineering student. Today, they are married with two children.
Although Wallace graduated 30 years ago, she stays connected to her alma mater by being an active member of the Industrial and Systems Engineering Advisory Board and visiting campus to hire interns, co-ops and engineers.
Her glass slipper came in the form of the UF Distinguished Alumni Award she received last year for her excellence in the field and service to the university.
“I still feel enormously grateful for having gotten that engineering degree,” she says. “Getting an award for that is just a supreme honor.”
She encourages current and future alumni to maintain their Gator ties. “I think your UF experience is what you make of it, and it doesn’t stop once you graduate,” Wallace says. “You can continue to enrich and build upon it.”
—Styliana Resvanis (4JM)
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