By Danielle D’Oyley
When someone asks Triple Gator Derek Bruce (JD/ MBA 98) to describe himself in one word, they hear one answer — blessed. Thankful for the opportunities he’s been afforded, he now devotes his career to a place that makes dreams come true for others.
As director of government relations for Walt Disney World, he describes the position as a role that works with both internal and external stakeholders to protect and promote Walt Disney World through the development of legislation and government policies and procedures.
Bruce said his current career is highly rewarding with a great deal of intangible benefits.
“Sometimes when you work at a certain place, you can forget about just how much of an impact the work you do has on people,” he said. “But here at Walt Disney World, I’m reminded on almost a daily basis by interacting with people that we provide memories — magical memories — that last for a lifetime for people and their families. Just coming to work is remarkable.”
One of his greatest accomplishments as the director of government relations was a recent project — an initiative to bring the United States Bowling Congress’ Open Championship and Women’s Championship tournaments to Central Florida between 2011 and 2029. On behalf of Walt Disney World, Bruce worked with Osceola County government and the Central Florida Sports Commission to help garner the community support and financing necessary to secure those tournaments.
This is expected to bring tens of thousands of bowlers and spectators to Orlando, Fla., for 13 tournaments, each lasting approximately 20 weeks. A powerful economic impact for Central Florida and the entire state is anticipated — a predicted three-quarters of a billion dollars.
“My favorite component of the job is that I get to work on projects that will shape policy and have a significant impact on shaping both the economic and recreational climate for not just Walt Disney World but for our Central Florida community and the state of Florida in a lot of cases,” Bruce said.
Another large aspect of his work is collaborating with elected of fiscals on community-based and charitable initiatives. For example, in 2007, Bruce worked tirelessly with community and business leaders who helped win support from city and county of fiscals for three Orlando-area projects — a new performing arts center, a renovated Florida Citrus Bowl and a new events center that will be home to the Orlando Magic. These projects will enhance recreational and entertainment offerings for Central Florida residents and visitors.
But he hasn’t always worked at “the happiest place on earth.” In fact, while at law school, he never imagined using his law degree for lobbying and shaping public policy from a business perspective. An avid Trial Team competitor, one of his most memorable experiences at UF Law was participating in the Trial Team Final Four competition. It’s no surprise that he spent his first two years out of law school focusing on litigation.
He quickly determined that his skill set was better suited to a different type of practice — that of government law. Before finding a niche with Walt Disney World in 2006, he spent eight years at GrayHarris in Orlando (changed to GrayRobinson in 2005) and was elected shareholder in 2005.
“It was just a slight career path shift because so much of what I did was representing private clients in their dealings with government entities and agencies,” he said, explaining his move to Walt Disney World. “But now I do a similar kind of work for one of the world’s most recognizable companies.”
Bruce described his UF Law degree as invaluable, highlighting the success of fellow UF Law graduates. In the business world, he has interacted with UF Law alumni in high profile and important positions, such as chairpersons,
CEOs and general counsels of companies. “A UF Law degree can open doors in so many areas that a person may not be thinking of when they’re just making the decision to go to law school,” he said. “I’m a good case in point.”
Bruce was also a winner of the Orlando Business Journal’s 2002 Up & Comers, which originally published his self-description as a blessed individual. He said his good fortune relied in part on his parents, teachers and professional mentors, emphasizing the strong support he’s had throughout his life.
“While I like to think I’m a talented professional who works hard and has a lot of capabilities, when you step back and reflect on it, you know that everything you do and accomplish you’re standing on the shoulders of people who’ve helped to make that accomplishment possible,” he said.