In high school it was pencils, trumpets and homework. Today it's Mickey Mouse, smiling faces and travels. Tom Staggs went from being an Excelsior student at Minnetonka High School to traveling around the world as the chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
The 1978 Minnetonka grad received the Distinguished Alumni Award last week for his work with Disney.
"One of the best parts of the job is actually that there is not a typical day," Staggs said.
Staggs started working for Disney nearly 23 years ago. Before that he was working in investment banking, which proved useful for him to land a job at Disney.
"[Investment banking] didn't resonate as something I wanted to do for the rest of my life," he said. "When the Disney opportunity came along, it was sort of perfect. The good news for me is that Disney wanted to hire someone that knew how to do mergers and acquisitions. So I got into the entertainment business sideways."
Over the years Staggs has worn many hats at Disney, including manager of strategic planning, senior executive vice president and chief financial officer.
"Everyone's heard of Disney, which is great," he said. "Most have a favorite park and want to share it, which is always fun, that never ever gets old that people feel a connection to the company that I work for."
There are Disney parks in California, Florida, Hong Kong, Paris and Tokyo. Another park is being built in Shanghai. There are also Disney cruises and resorts. Staggs said he can't pick a favorite.
"It's like having a favorite child," he said.
One thing he can point out as a favorite is one of his teachers from Minnetonka High School. Staggs said to this day his band director Dan Geldert had an influence on him.
"As a student, Tom was very hardworking, goal oriented and determined. He was a leader both with his trumpet and as a role model personally for others," Geldert said. "I could see back then that whatever course he chose in life, he would do quite well."
Staggs said he still plays trumpet occasionally. Staggs said Geldert was demanding but he demanded excellence from his students.
"That's something that stuck with me to today. His demand for excellence was an important part of getting the most out of his students and certainly me," Staggs said.
Another teacher that influenced Staggs was his economics teacher, David Ringstad.
"I think that's one of the things that helped pique my future set of interests," Staggs said.
Staggs said looking back he is impressed how many quality teachers there were at Minnetonka High School.
Geldert introduced Staggs via video at the alumni brunch ceremony, where Staggs received his award, on Sept. 29.
Staggs, who lives in California, said getting the award and being back in Minnesota touched him.
"It's been amazing, the reconnection that's already happened, it's really a lot of fun. The same sense of support that I had in Minnetonka years ago is now being expressed from my friends as a result of this award, that's been really touching and the best part so far," he said.
The Distinguished Alumni Award was also given to Mark Kroll. The 1970 grad has quite the résumé, with more than 340 patents issued under his name in the United States, most of which are medical devices.
Kroll said he was very honored to get this award.
"I never managed to letter in any sports at Minnetonka so it's nice to get something from the school," he said.
Kroll is perhaps best known for shrinking the size of the implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which shocks an irregular heart beat back to normal.
An inspiring event occurred when Kroll was in ninth grade, when the first heart transplant in the world happened.
"That kind of motivated me, I thought 'well that's the secret to eternal life, we'll just make spare parts,'" he said. "It seemed to make a lot of sense to me in ninth grade, a little naïve maybe."
The former St. Jude Medical Inc. executive credited Minnetonka for having an excellent math program, but also said the biggest impact on him was his English teacher, Glenn Skoy.
"No matter how many great things you discover, if you don't write them and sell them to the rest of the world they don't get you very far," Kroll said. "I give a lot of credit to Glenn Skoy, who was the only English teacher I ever had who explained how you break down a paper and gave a nice formula to writing and that really helped me a lot."
Kroll and Skoy had lunch together last week to catch up before the ceremony on Saturday.
"Even 44 years ago before the Internet and wireless communication, Mark was good with computers. The math department had a telephone modem that went to a big mainframe at the university. Mark even then knew enough to get these very clumsy systems to talk to each other," Skoy said.
Though Kroll has achieved many accomplishments in his career, Skoy said what makes him most proud is the fact that Kroll is now a teacher too.
Kroll, who currently lives in Orono, teaches at the University of Minnesota as an adjunct professor of biomedical engineering. He also lectures around the country about cardiac implants.
"I retired from St. Jude's seven years ago but I work harder now than I did when I had a job," Kroll said.