Texas Tech University

Curiosity Could Lead to Disney's Next CEO

Ashlyn Grotegut

May 17, 2023

First-year Texas Tech student Cori Borgstadt has garnered worldwide attention with her questions at Disney’s annual shareholder meetings and her goal to lead them one day.

Cori Borgstadt planned a trip home to Peoria, Arizona during spring break of her first year at Texas Tech University

She expected to catch up with her brother, sister and parents. Maybe even reminisce while sorting through her childhood trinkets in her room. 

What she never dreamed was a Wall Street Journal reporter and photographer would join her there, with aims to share her biggest ambition with the world. 

“I was shocked,” Cori said. “I was a little thrown off guard, but then I was like, ‘That's pretty cool. Not everyone gets interviewed by The Wall Street Journal.'”

But not everyone publicly wishes to be Disney's CEO – much less attends every annual shareholder meeting since 2008. Thanks to Cori's grandmother, she and her sister have a place at those meetings with the gift of one share of Disney stock apiece, which sparked the idea for the Borgstadts' annual vacation. 

Cori was only 3 years old at that first meeting, but the next year she began a tradition of asking a question to Disney CEO Robert Iger. 

Her mother, Jan Borgstadt, can still hear that “little voice” as she held Cori up to the microphone. 

“Her favorite movie was ‘Cars' and ‘Cars 2' was coming out,” Jan said. “So, she wanted to know if her favorite character, which was Mack at the time, was going to be in Cars 2.”

Since that moment, Cori has asked 13 questions at separate shareholder meetings. Many of them derived from Cori's genuine wonderings passed along to Jan, who would encourage Cori to ask Iger if she didn't know the answer. 

The questions started off as sweet as the first one. But as Cori grew, so did the maturity of her curiosity. Arguably, her most hard-hitting question came in 2015, when she asked Iger a direct question:

“What advice would you give a kid like me who would like to have your job one day?”

Cori Borgstadt

“I clearly thought all he did was stand up at the shareholder meetings and answer questions, and then he's done,” Cori said. “As I progressed, I learned more and more that's not true. He has so much more on his plate.”

Nearly 10 years have passed since that question, and Cori has changed a lot – but not completely.

“My interest to become Disney CEO never went away,” she said. “It was something that came on my radar and never left. Some people go through phases, but this wasn't a phase.”

Not giving up has paid off for Cori in the past. Before she was in high school, she decided she wanted to be a drum major in the marching band – check. Then she wanted to be the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper – check. 

“Throughout my life, I've always set big goals,” Cori said. “I find that by setting these big goals, they keep my mind laser-focused on a goal and then I'm more likely to go out and get it.”

That mindset is also how she ended up as a Red Raider.  

When You Wish Upon a Star 

Cori grew up wearing the Double T and knew how to get her Guns Up from a young age, because Jan not only received her BBA and a bachelor of science in international trade from Texas Tech in 1985, but also went on to earn a master's in economics along with a law degree

By the time Cori was in third grade, Jan decided to take her to visit her alma mater. 

“I just fell in love with the campus,” Cori said. “I didn't have a concept of what college is, but I loved Texas Tech. I just loved how it felt.”

It helped that Jan and Cori stumbled upon a promotional shoot with the Texas Tech cheerleaders, Saddle Tramps, Masked Rider and Raider Red at Memorial Circle, which led to an incredible meet-and-greet experience for Cori. 

Jan remembers it as the “coolest thing,” but also was a bit flabbergasted. 

“I told her, ‘I was at Texas Tech for nine years and the closest I ever came to a mascot was seeing them out on the field or at a basketball game,'” she said with a laugh. “And there she was meeting them all in one day.”

Jan not only shared her Red Raider pride with Cori, but another interest she developed while in college: economics. 

While Jan did not know what economics was until after a professor asked her for the definition in class, Cori took some related classes in high school and found the subject came naturally to her. 

“When I was bored, I would grab my mom's economics books off the shelf and read them because I thought it was really interesting,” Cori recalled. 

It may come as no surprise that Cori decided to major in economics. 

Cori Borgstadt

“Economics definitely would help me as a CEO because you need to know how the economy is doing and all the different factors between inflation and money power so you can steer your company through recessions,” she said. 

Her minor, film and media studies, is a nod to her Disney CEO ambitions to broaden her knowledge of the industry. Her student organization of choice, the Goin' Band from Raiderland, not only allows her to continue her passion for playing saxophone but helps her gain team and leadership experience. 

“At Disney, you're part of something large,” Cori said. “Being a part of the largest student organization on campus, the Goin' Band, helps me learn a bunch of different components that come together to achieve one goal – whether it's entertaining the campus, or for Disney, entertaining the world.”

Just as Cori dreamed of being a drum major in high school, she set large goals for her Goin' Band experience. She joined the 2023 Goin' Band Student Leadership team, which Joel Pagán, director of the Goin' Band and assistant professor of music, said is an integral part of the organization's success. 

These student leaders lend their unique skillsets to the organization in several different ways. Cori is a member of the team that creates content and manages the Goin' Band's social media accounts. 

“None of these groups work in silos; on the contrary, they work as a larger team and must communicate with each other often,” Pagán said. “These student leaders are learning to manage their time, work as a team, and learn to be servant leaders. I believe these are traits that will serve these students well into the future and prepare them to be leaders in their future workplace. These are all traits that will certainly help Cori in her aspirations to become the future CEO of Disney.”

Another testament of Cori's “inherent leadership skills and work ethic,” Pagán said, is the Outstanding Woodwind Member – Band 1 award she recently received. 

“This is a peer-recommended award, which is evidence of the positive impact Cori has on her peers,” he said. “If the work and dedication she is currently exhibiting is any indication of her future success, she will no doubt develop into an outstanding leader.” 

In addition to the collaboration practice, Cori said it's been beneficial to travel out-of-state with the Goin' Band. 

“It's helped give me world experience,” she said. “I'm getting to see things I would not have seen and have experiences I would not have had before.”

Makes No Difference Who You Are 

Cori's world experience expanded even more from the comfort of her dorm room after the Wall Street Journal ran her story April 2, then another version about two weeks later. She began to receive more interview requests, including ABC15 (her local TV station) a TV station in Chicago, Fox News, and most mind-blowing to her, The London Times. 

Some of the interviews were fun. Others felt more like an intense job interview. Combined, the stories shared online resulted in many friend requests on social media and numerous comments – most positive, some not so much. 

The negative comments Cori read (before Jan advised her not to) were mostly about her race. But she regards her Chinese roots as a strength, especially when it comes to Disney's values of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“With my background, being in a leadership position and getting to talk to people on many different levels within and outside a company, it'll be a way to show there's so much more than the surface of race and gender,” she said. “I think that'll help instill the values of Disney, of how they try to include everyone.”

Cori Borgstadt

That inclusivity is one reason the Borgstadts enjoy Disney theme parks so much. Cori's father is in a wheelchair, and the company goes above and beyond to make sure he can ride rides and easily access restaurants and bathrooms. 

“That's one major way Disney practices what they preach,” Cori said. “Everyone wants to be included. No one wants to feel excluded, and I think Disney is trying to take that stance and find that balance. I think they're doing a really great job.”

Cori's constant words of support for Disney do not mean she doesn't believe the company could improve in areas. Excessive criticism is just not her nature. 

“Trusting the company and supporting it is the best way we can make it successful,” she said. “Just like with someone you're close to, the best way you can help them get better is by supporting them instead of constantly tearing down their negative traits.”

Cori has expressed similar opinions with the same level of passion to so many reporters over the past several months that Jan has seen a transformation in her daughter. 

“She definitely has grown from this experience,” Jan said. “I am excited about what Cori will do in the future. I don't know how that's going to unfold. I never could have envisioned the last couple of months playing out the way they did, but it was definitely an exciting time. It will be fun to see what is in store.”

Anything Your Heart Desires 

As Jan has always told Cori and her siblings, “every experience is a puzzle piece for the puzzle of your life,” and Cori has more pieces to add to her puzzle before it's complete. 

First, she plans to apply for a corporate Disney internship. After her graduation, she will apply for Disney jobs, particularly film-related, with a goal to gain exposure and work her way up the corporate ladder. 

“I'm really interested in filmmaking,” she said. “A lot of the positions interest me, like sound, directing and cinematography. I think economics will play into that because making a film is kind of like keeping a business afloat. You have to stay within a budget and you have to make money. You have to raise funds, things like that.” 

Cori is thankful her degree allows her the flexibility she needs as a backup plan.

“Who knows what'll happen?” she said. “Even if CEO doesn't pan out, economics is one of those well-rounded degrees that will help me anywhere I go.”

In the meantime, Cori will continue to work at her hometown Target during her college breaks and when she's not learning about the film industry, she'll stay a film fanatic in her free time. 

Cori Borgstadt

Most recently, she watched “Top Gun: Maverick” 25 times in theaters. 

“One of my favorite things is watching movies on the big screen the way they're meant to be watched,” Cori said. “I think back to when we saw ‘Cars 2' seven times in theaters and now I'm like, ‘That's low.'”

Your Dreams Come True 

Cori also believes shareholder meetings, like movies, are better enjoyed in person rather than virtually. Maybe that will be her next question to Iger, who used to only recognize her face after they would introduce her as a shareholder from Peoria, Arizona, before she asked her annual question. 

Now he knows her name. 

Iger even issued this statement about Cori to The Wall Street Journal: 

“One of the things that makes Disney unique is the deep connection and passion so many of our individual shareholders have for our company, and that's certainly true for Cori. We couldn't be more appreciative to have investors who love Disney as much as she does.”

Cori read that with a smile, and remembers thinking, “That was really special.”

Never did 3-year-old Cori dream her curiosity would lead to this recognition. Now that she has seen the impact of her persistence, she will live by a line from one of her favorite Disney movies, “The Princess and The Frog”: 

The only way to get what you want in the world is through hard work.

“Many people are like, ‘Oh, there are a million reasons why you can't do that,'” Cori said. “I like to find the one reason why I can.”