Putting IE skills to work for Disney

Author: Eric Nelson
Growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Kathy Kortte Kilmer (BSIE ’92) was much like other girls her age—at least in her love of all things Disney.

Kathy Kortte KilmerShe regularly visited the entertainment giant’s theme parks and resorts, faithfully followed its legendary characters, and imagined living in Cinderella Castle.

Exceptional abilities in the fields of math and science, however, distinguished Kilmer from her peers, male and female alike. And while it’s no magic that her academic skills led to a scholarship at Purdue and a degree in
industrial engineering, Kilmer could only dream of a career with The Walt Disney Co.

In the meantime, Kilmer lived a fairy tale of her own as a member of Purdue’s 1991 Homecoming Court. She was also active in numerous student and professional organizations, including Chi Omega, Alpha Phi Mu, the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE), and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

Kilmer stood out with potential employers as well. After completing five terms in Purdue’s engineering co-op program with General Electric (GE), she could have safely pursued opportunities with the company after graduation. Instead, Kilmer followed the adventure offered by Disney during her senior year and joined its industrial fellows program in 1992.

“I remember when I first started with the company,” Kilmer says. “I’d leave my office at night at the Magic Kingdom, look up at the castle and think how lucky I was to have such a view to end my workday. After 17 years, I still feel the pixie dust!”

Now serving as director of industrial engineering for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Kilmer is responsible for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of all business areas, including six theme parks, 25 resorts, new initiatives and products around the world, and “back-of-house” operations such as distribution, asset maintenance, and energy management.

Based in Central Florida, Kilmer’s team of more than 100 industrial engineers also serves as an internal business consultant on a multitude of efforts, from establishing operating hours and monthly sales goals to building queuing and simulation models for reservation and information call centers and theme park attractions.

“IE’s span of support across all units makes us uniquely qualified to solve even the most complex challenges,” Kilmer says. “Our goal is to constantly improve the guest experience using solid analytical techniques.”

When Disney Cruise Line recently added two new, larger, ships to its fleet, for example, Kilmer’s IE team was called in to analyze how the change would impact dining, labor and activity scheduling, port logistics, front-desk operations, and more. “We looked it as a holistic system rather than an isolated logistical issue,” she says.

As a member of IIE’s Council on Industrial Engineering Executive Committee and Purdue’s Engineering Advisory Council, Kilmer also works diligently to advance her profession and her alma mater. She is especially passionate about increasing K-12 students’ awareness of the engineering field and evolving Purdue’s IE curriculum from an industry perspective.

Toward that end, Kilmer helped produce a Web video for IIE (www.iienet.org) that describes what it’s like to be an industrial engineer at Disney. “It’s a great transition piece into IE for young people because they already know Disney and can easily relate to the work we do,” she says.

Echoing one of Disney’s most famous advertising slogans, Kilmer’s message to prospective engineers is simple but powerful: “If you’re looking for some of the most exciting IE opportunities in the world, where are you going to go? You’re going to Disney World!”