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As a co-founder of Club Penguin, one of the biggest virtual worlds for children, Lane Merrifield has led its management, operations and strategy since it was launched it 2005. Since Disney bought the company in 2007, he has overseen development of Walt Disney’s virtual worlds. He is based in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.
I have breakfast with my kids and half the time I drive them to school. It is important for me to have the time with them, and I have said to my assistant that “whatever else you need to cram into my day, do it, but I need to be home for breakfast and dinner”. I originally created Club Penguin as an adventure for my children, and it would be terrible for it to end up becoming the thing that takes me away from them.
● Even when I travel, a lot of the time it is with the family. Last week, we were all in Orlando, Florida, where I was presenting to the Disney board of directors. Now we are all in the UK, where I am visiting our offices in Brighton. It is the kids’ first trip across the Atlantic.
● By 8.30 or 9am, I am usually in the office and jump into looking at e-mail. I get a couple of hundred a day and try to respond to most of them, even if it’s only a one-sentence answer.
● My first meetings start at 10am. One thing we look at constantly is the “kids calendar”, so that we think not just about the products we are developing, but what the kids are experiencing. For example, right up to last weekend we were getting ready for the fireworks going off in the US for the Fourth of July.
We can’t celebrate every holiday in every country, but we need to be mindful of them – such as knowing when it is bonfire night in the UK or carnaval in Brazil.
● I travel down to Los Angeles about once a month to meet the teams we have in the LA studios. In between trips we videoconference regularly.
I love going down there. I am a bit of a Disney nut; my first job was working in the parades at Disneyland. Once in a while I go to a studio lot and even if I don’t really have time, I look through the archives of old props, sets and even notes that Walt Disney himself wrote.
● Lunch is usually in my office with a meeting going on. Once or twice a week we spend time with some of the charities we support. A couple of weeks ago, I wandered into the lunchroom with some senior Disney executives and there was an African children’s choir singing for our staff.
● Those Disney bigwigs were willing to hold a meeting in one of our creative pod rooms, complete with giant beanbag chairs that look like Puffles – the small, hairy creatures that are pets in Club Penguin. We are trying to create the same environment in our office as in our virtual worlds: fun, gracious, warm and friendly. I wanted the Disney executives to remember who our real bosses are: the children that use the sites.
● I spend about half an hour a day in the virtual worlds. My “penguin”, Billy Bob, writes on the blogs.
● Late in the afternoon a spontaneous Nerf – foam ball – battle might break out. I have been in meetings where someone has just come in and started shooting away with a Nerf gun. That is why I keep a Vulcan 25, a giant Gatling gun for Nerf darts, in my office. And a Nerf handgun in my pocket.
● After the kids have gone to bed, my wife and I watch TV, and I have my new iPad on my lap. I play a lot of games, even though I have been dealing with games all day in the office. I go to bed by 11pm and read. Right now I am reading Freakonomics, in print. I have read a few books on the iPad, but I am not fully converted.