Five Questions with Jason Recher

Jason Recher joins us this month to share some of his favorite stories, to tell us what surprised him about working at Disney and the leadership lessons learned from President Bush that Recher benefits from in his work today.

Longtime White House and campaign staffer Jason Recher has been with the Walt Disney Company since 2017, first in Burbank, California as Director, Executive Communications & Events and since January 2020 in his current role in Orlando, Florida as Vice President – Global Communications & Public Relations – Disney Experiences. He joins us this month to share some of his favorite stories, to tell us what surprised him about working at Disney and the leadership lessons learned from President Bush that Recher benefits from in his work today.

Q:  Can you tell us about your work at Disney, and in particular what makes it fulfilling for you?

When I was a kid I had three goals: fly on Air Force One, work at a zoo, (I was Director of the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans from 2012-17) and work at Disney. I never thought years later that list would be accomplished. Disney is the greatest storytelling company in the world – celebrating its centennial this year. I pinch myself every day, I get to help tell these stories in new ways, and to see the impact they have on so many lives – our kids included. For sure, most special is our long standing connecting with Make-A-Wish. This year we celebrated the 150,000th wish being granted by Disney. The impact of this wish-granting is huge, not only for the Wish families but also for our cast members who get make the wishes come true. Being a part of something bigger than oneself is a pretty awesome feeling. Being in the trenches with the hardest working team in showbiz makes it all the better. Both aspects remind me of the magic we had during the administration – and the friendships forged in the trenches.

Q:  What might surprise people about what it’s like to work at Disney? 

Two things surprised me when I joined Disney – employee tenure and the number of veterans who are employed in our parks. People come to work here – and stay working here – for decades. On our team alone we’ve recently celebrated a 45-year service anniversary and a 40-year service anniversary. And by celebrate – do they ever. They shut down the theme parks early one day and turn it over to celebrants and their families. Mickey, churros, fireworks and all.

Our parks Cast ranks are filled with veterans – which makes sense. Disney is a veteran-founded company – both brothers Roy & Walt served in World War I – Roy in the Navy, Walt enlisted as an ambulance driver in the Red Cross at 16. Every day at sunset there is a beautiful flag lowering ceremony at Disneyland and Disneyworld that invites U.S. veterans visiting that day to participate and honor their service. If you are visiting the parks, it’s really special and worth checking out.

Our parks run with the most amazing precision and operating excellence. It makes sense to me now that it’s because of that longevity of service, combined with the contributions of veteran Cast members. They get it done!

Q:  Many BCAers have interesting tales about how they ended up on the campaign or in the Administration.  You got pulled in at a young age – how exactly did that happen?

Interview advice – first impressions matter, leave a mark (or better yet, a dent!). I clearly left a major first impression getting into a car wreck right in front of the Bush exploratory committee on Main Street in Concord, New Hampshire in Spring of 1999. They must have taken pity on me. Soon after the offer came in for what was supposed to be a summer job and lasted for nine awesome years.

There aren’t many places to hide in the Granite State – I got to know the campaign team well over many meals of chicken tenders at the Puritan Backroom, lobsters at Brown’s Lobster Pound and chowder at Geno’s. The morning after we came up a bit short in the first-in-the-nation primary, my phone rang around 6 a.m. with an upbeat candidate who brushed off the loss, was confident in victory and asked if I wanted to help out a bit more. Off I went.

There is a better version of this story that Brad Blakeman can share that involves a lonely me freezing my butt off standing in a snowbank waving a Bush sign every time the campaign bus would pull up, with someone eventually taking pity on me. The truth is somewhere in the middle – this was politics, right?

Starting in New Hampshire was a solid foundation for the campaign to come – although thankfully swing states in November were much warmer than New Hampshire in January. I also made many great friends – fellow alumni Jeff Grappone from the Concord office is still a great friend and godfather to our son Walter (8) and White House photographer Paul Morse is godfather to our daughter Presley (10).

Q:  Is there a leadership lesson from your time in the Administration that still serves you today?

Surround yourself with the smartest people you can and listen to them. Don’t be threatened by an opposing opinion. Play the long game – what may be a necessary or unpopular decision today will often evolve over time and be regarded as wise down the line. And most importantly – maintain a sense of humor with everything you do. I miss some of the shenanigans we used to get into. (I am sorry Jonathan Horn – I swear it was Nick Trotta’s idea!) 

Q:  Advance people have loads of stories.  Do you have a favorite tale from the presidential road you can leave us with?

That I can share with you? For sure, not… those all remain at the back bar at the Old Ebbitt Grill. Seriously, the visit to Graceland with Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan was a standout. I recall getting a quick directive to turn down the Elvis music blaring on Air Force One’s PA system. PEPFAR trips to Africa were incredible, again seeing the direct impact policies can have on entire communities. Most consequential for me were the many months spent in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. An odd time to fall in love with a city, but it happened and eventually became my home.

Those New Orleans visits have now come full circle for me. President Bush struck up a friendship with the legendary Chef Leah Chase. We hosted the first meal in her restaurant Dooky Chase on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Mrs. Chase and her family credited that visit by the President for giving her the oomph to re-open her historic establishment – a landmark in the civil rights movement, visited by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and sung about by Ray Charles. President Bush went back for Mrs. Chase’s gumbo many times in that post-Katrina era. Soon after, some Disney animators also stopped by to experience her magic, fell in love with Chef Chase and her story – which would go on to inspire Disney’s first American Princess – Tiana. Flash forward almost 20 years later and we are bringing Tiana’s story to life at Disney World and Disneyland this year with a new attraction, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. I’ve had the chance to join with our Imagineers as they visit Dooky Chase, visit with the Chase family and enjoy some of that legendary gumbo. All over the walls of the restaurant is correspondence from President Bush and photos with him and Chef Chase through the years. Every time I go a different Chase family member has a memory of President Bush’s multiple visits to Dooky Chase and without fail they ask about Scooter Slade. It’s a pinch-me moment every time for me to have had the opportunity to be a small ingredient in this big pot of historic gumbo.