In his letter to Imagineers announcing Bruce Vaughn's return to Walt Disney Imagineering as Chief Creative Officer, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D'Amaro said that Vaughn and WDI President Barbara Bouza "will be working together to swiftly identify the most effective way to structure Imagineering."
Whenever a corporate executive starts talking about "structuring" or "restructuring," people immediately tend to envision layoffs. Past practice has taught us to, after all, for that often is exactly what C-Suite types mean.
And that might be the future for WDI, too. But from what I have observed there, Disney's theme park and experience design group faces substantial organizational challenges that go beyond mere headcount.
Starting with, where to place its headquarters. And beyond that, does Imagineering even need one, central, physical headquarters anymore?
WDI's proposed move along with DPEP to Lake Nona, near the Orlando International Airport, has been disaster for the company. The primary motive for the move appeared to be little more than a money grab from Florida's state government, as Florida promised Disney hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks for the move.
Any time a company moves jobs, it expects to lose employees, creating an opportunity to replace those former job-holders with less expensive new hires. But a knowledge- and talent-driven business such as WDI cannot afford the brain drain that started after the announcement, as many California-based cast members - especially those with children in school or working spouses - chose to leave the company rather than move to Florida.
Florida is becoming a tough market to recruit creative talent into these days, too, as rising home prices coupled with growing official hostility to the LGBTQ+ community that contributes so much to the creative design profession drive potential candidates away from the state.
That's pushed Disney to delay and even roll back assignments to the proposed Lake Nona facility. But does a creative-driven business such as WDI even need a physical headquarters for its employees to work?
As a provider of location-based entertainment, Disney always will need its Imagineers to be on-site for their jobs at certain times. But, as in many other industries, the pandemic proved that Imagineers can do an enormous amount of work from home... or any other chosen remote location.
If Disney wants to expand the talent pool from which it hires an ever-more diverse collection of Imagineers, embracing remote work would allow the company to recruit globally, without having to pay to entice people to move full-time to Lake Nona, or anywhere else.
And with legions of former Imagineers setting up shop in their own companies in markets around the country and the world, how much work does WDI need to continue to do in house, versus contracting to its former employees and their new colleagues?
A WDI that is organized for a 21st-century workforce serving the 21st-century market cannot be organized like the WDI that has served Disney's theme parks for nearly 70 years now. That's the question that Bouza and Vaughn should be facing - beyond just how many people that WDI will employ.
I would love to hear, especially from our industry insider friends who read the site, what you would like to see WDI do to help ensure that it is creating the types of attractions that people of all ages and backgrounds will continue to enjoy for decades to come?Tweet
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