For success: ‘Embrace diversity’

Yvonne Chang’s Disney corporate executive portrait shows a familiar shadow over her shoulder.

Cultural diversity has defined a distinctive philosophy for the success of alumna Yvonne Chang, a woman who traces her roots to Cuba and her greatest inspiration no further than her Caribbean/Chinese parents.

“All that I am and will ever be, I owe to my parents,” said Chang, MBA ’09, director of Operations Integration for Disney Vacation Development Inc.

Their values led her to believe in true love, following her dreams against all odds and giving 150 percent to achieve her goals, she said. Add loyalty, faith and deep love of family to the powerful mix and the sum is an extraordinary business and community figure who advises the School of Business and is helping select its next dean.

Chang’s formula for her success is simple: Embrace diversity.

“Diversity isn’t optional if you want to be successful. It’s essential,” Chang says of her philosophy. A basic life lesson she has learned is that humans tend to view the world through the infinite perspectives of their personal experiences.

“A successful person simply cannot let bias get in the way,” she said. “If we do not push ourselves to be open and accepting, we will sadly miss many opportunities in this world. My personal and professional successes have come from my willingness to be open to all possibilities.”

The philosophy springs from Chang’s own experience growing up in a home where three cultures were “equally celebrated” – Hispanic, Chinese and American. Her Cantonese father, SuTai Chang, met her mother, Rosa, in Havana where they married and started a family. But after losing their business to the Communist revolution, they fled the oppressive environment to seek a better life for their children in America.

That flight’s aftermath forged the shy child’s character and her values as she grew up in Washington,D.C., to become more and more aware of the deep sacrifice and purpose of her parents’ lives.

“They left Cuba and came to the United States with essentially no resources and very limited English fluency with the hope and dream of creating a better future for their children,” Chang said. “When I think of their unimaginable sacrifices, and the extraordinary challenges they overcame when they first arrived, working nearly seven days a week, it makes my heart swell.”

Yvonne Chang after her induction into the Beta Gamma Sigma honor society, with husband Bill Wahl, left, and parents Rosa and SuTai Chang.

Without significant material wealth, her parents focused on a legacy that could not be lost, a key to a bright future – a good education, high integrity, strong work ethic, commitment to excellence and community. As eldest child, Chang shouldered uncommon family duties, helping handle family business, translating for her parents, helping care for younger siblings and feeling a “tremendous sense of responsibility” to be a strong role model who embodied the values of her parents.

From a very early age, she said, she began to understand that her parents’ sacrifice and hard work was all so their children could have a better life with greater opportunities.

“I became obsessed with supporting them in this goal,” she said. “It drove me and defined me.”

She was determined to give her parents the best possible “return on their investment” and to leverage to the fullest her education and opportunities. In recent years, her parents lived a few minutes away from Chang and her husband, Bill Wahl, but her mother passed away in 2011.

“I try my best to honor her each and every day by being the best human being I can possibly be,” said Chang. “Everything my parents did, and everything they stood for, has led me to this very moment in my life.”

From missiles to magic: Chang’s career

Yvonne Chang’s engineering degree from George Mason University helped her land a job with a Department of Defense engineering contractor in 1986, which included work on missile guidance systems. She went on to hold a variety of posts, from research and development to public relations, during 11 years at AT&T/Lucent Technologies.

In 1998, she took a job at Disney, a move that led to a number of roles in Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, including Communications and in the Multi-market Business Development division. She directed critical initiatives involving multicultural and multilingual products and services, strategic partnerships with women and minority business and civic organizations, diversity and inclusion strategies for workforce, workplace, products and services and corporate citizenship.

Chang now serves as the director of operations integration for Disney Vacation Club, which offers timeshare experiences to nearly 500,000 individual members in 50 states and nearly 100 countries. She leads a variety of operations and business areas to support the organization’s global growth.

“One of my personal passions is community involvement,” said Chang, who has in the last decade helped lead many Metro Orlando organizations, including the National Entrepreneur Center, the Hispanic Chamber, the International Affairs Commission, Orlando Magic Youth Foundation, African American Chamber, Hispanic Business Initiatives Fund, Leadership Orlando and Women Unlimited.

Chang is a member of the School of Business Board of Advisors and the Business Dean Search Committee.

By Ronald Williamson