How Lynne Kaplan ’73 Made a Career Out of Her Gift for Communicating
[Attending Simmons] supported my confidence. I felt that I was smart and capable of making decisions and acting to make things happen.
Lynne Kaplan ’73 has enjoyed a long career in business consulting, working with many organizations such as Disney and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the NFL, and many others. A common thread that links her work is the commitment to support individuals in personal and professional development. We spoke to Kaplan about her career and her time at Simmons.
What led you to study Communications at Simmons?
“When I was little, I talked a lot,” recalls Lynne Kaplan ’73. “When people told me that I talked too much, I said that when I grew up I was going to talk all I wanted. As an adult, I added that people would pay me for it.”
Naturally, Kaplan was a Communications major at Simmons to build on her talent for speaking and writing. After graduating, Kaplan got her first job at the Springfield Daily News. “It seemed perfect,” she recalls. “But it was horrible. I was not cut out for the newsroom.”
After a stint in Human Resources at UMass, Kaplan landed a position at the University of California 4-H Youth Development Program, offering programming focused on the “Head, Heart, Hands, and Health” and teaching leadership skills to young people. “I was hiring people to offer leadership training, but realized that doing the training was more fun than being the logistics person,” Kaplan recalls. “I learned that I had the skill to train others, and I loved it.”
Wanting to enter the world of business consulting, Kaplan got her MBA and, through internships and networking, found a position at Disney — a consulting gig that lasted for 21 years. “The company is so big that I could be working with the Parks Division one day, then with the Hotel Division, then Administrative Support,” she says. “My first role was to work with the craftsmen building the Epcot Center to find ways to make the construction more cost effective. I worked with fabricators, welders, painters, and ultimately saved the company approximately $3 million dollars.”
In the late 1980s, Kaplan had an opportunity to support the goals of the president of Disney Attractions. The late Judson Green, who was president of the Walt Disney World Resort, she says, “was a brilliant strategist. He recognized the need for a cultural shift and the necessity of creating a real appreciation and recognition of the power of the contribution of the cast members. [Before then, Disney] had been run by ex-military guys who had a ‘my way or the highway’ outlook. Quality people didn’t want to work in that environment. The company needed to change or we wouldn’t be able to keep our talent.”
Kaplan was retained to lead the effort to develop this cultural change initiative. Over the next two years, Kaplan collaborated with Disney executives to clarify values, and mission. The team developed a training program that started with the executives and eventually included every salaried member of the cast. “The initiative was called Performance Excellence and the training program that outlined the behaviors leaders should employ was called the Leaders Pathway and trained every leader, starting with the executive team,” she says. “We created a culture that promoted engagement, respect, and soliciting feedback from staff. We identified behaviors we wanted leaders to show, and found a way to measure the results with 360 degree feedback [a performance review tool that relies on colleague feedback to measure a leader’s performance].”
In the late 1990s, Kaplan was hired by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to design and facilitate a leadership program for student athletes. Reggie Williams, who led the creation of the Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney, recommended Kaplan to structure an effective event that participants still remember almost 25 years later. “The experience was so impactful that the NCAA went from holding one national leadership conference a year to ten or twelve a year, for D1, D2, and D3 student athletes and institutions,” says Kaplan.
In her own consulting business, Do What Counts, Kaplan taught her clients the ideals she followed to keep her life — both at work and at home — on track. These are the “5C’s” of her approach to balancing work and home life:
- Connections - have people who will support you and offer honest advice
- Creativity - find ways to be creative in your daily work
- Clarity - make sure your daily work aligns with your personal values
- Congruence - find work that uses your natural talents
- Confidence - have the confidence to feel like you can achieve your goals
Now looking forward to her retirement, Kaplan has plans to travel to Japan, Egypt, the Canary Islands and, next summer, an Alaskan cruise with her grandsons. Inspired by The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon, Kaplan hopes to write about her travels and her interest in cooking through the lens of her work in personal development.
“[Attending Simmons] supported my confidence,” she says. “I felt that I was smart and capable of making decisions and acting to make things happen.” She recalls the sense of independence she had in choosing which courses to take each semester. “I shaped my future by making it work for me, and trusted my decision-making to figure out the right direction. I also met wonderful, bright women at Simmons!”