A former Disney executive warned Tucson business leaders Friday that a down economy is not the time to try to "save" their way to prosperity.

While there may be an inclination to "circle the wagons and hunker down" in grim times, it's the organizations that take risks and reinvest their dollars and creativity that will be better poised to emerge when the economy rights itself, said Doug Lipp, the former head of training at Disney who is now a motivational speaker.

Lipp, the keynote speaker at the Tucson Metro Chamber's Good Morning Tucson event at the Westin La Paloma, told about 500 business people in attendance that success is not about employee head counts or budgets, but about being willing to change and doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.

He said there were other theme parks that might have had better rides, but Disney retained its market dominance by providing outstanding customer service and "flawless execution" of what those customers wanted.

Employees need to understand the "on stage" mentality, Lipp said, saying Snow White was never allowed to have a bad day in public. Few raised their hands when asked how many were confident 100 percent of their employees understood the difference between what makes up a good show and a bad show.

And it's not a matter of academic education, he said, telling the story of the day his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The nurse bellowed back to the doctor, "Here comes your cancer patient." That, he said, is a bad show.

Companies also have to have what he called "dreamers" and "doers" - those with the vision, and those who go through the dress rehearsals to make sure the lights come on when they're cued, for example. A smattering in the audience raised their hands when he asked how many have succession plans for grooming new dreamers and doers.

Lipp said there was much to learn from Disney, which struggled in the 1980s with an aging product line and stagnant management.

The company was stuck in a rut, he said, letting the old ways rule. The fact the company had been so successful worked against it to some degree, allowing arrogance and complacency to settle in. As the company faced shrinking numbers, he said, little by little it whittled away at its core product.

It wasn't until the company was on the ropes, with the prospect of a hostile takeover, he said, that company leaders were free to challenge the status quo legacy mentality.

In the end, Lipp said, what's going to draw customers isn't going to be the price. Someone will always offer a better deal somewhere. It isn't going to be technology, since it ages so rapidly.

It may sound simple, but he said what companies need to know is what customers demand from them. And then deliver it. Flawlessly.

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at rbodfield@azstarnet.com or 573-4243.