Rasulo out as Disney theme parks chief; Staggs to replace

November 12, 2009, 11:12 AM · Jay RasuloHollywood alpha gossip Nikki Finke is reporting that Disney theme parks chairman Jay Rasulo is swapping jobs with Walt Disney Co. chief financial officer Tom Staggs.

Finke reports in an update that the move is a step in grooming Staggs for the COO post at Disney. Park cynics have said that Rasulo's always seemed more comfortable around spreadsheets than inside the parks, so it's a good switch for him, too. ;-)

Here's is Disney's corporate bio on Thomas Staggs.

Reaction? Ultimately, Rasulo's greatest legacy as Disney theme park chairman may have been, simply, that he wasn't Paul Pressler. That was enough to be judged a success. Pressler, Rasulo's predecessor, was reviled for the decline Disneyland suffered under his watch. Disneyland fans started a website to get Pressler promoted anywhere away from Disneyland, but, ironically, he ended up in charge of all the company's theme parks.

Staggs worked on the Pixar acquisition, which raises questions about how much more closely he might work with John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios and principal creative advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering. Lasseter is the de facto creative force driving decisions at the Disneyland Resort now, and having someone he's closer to in charge of all Disney theme parks might extend his influence in Orlando and around the world. (That would be a very, very good thing, IMHO.)

I don't know details how how well Lasseter and Staggs have worked together. But Lasseter and Rasulo weren't known for a close relationship.

Replies (7)

November 12, 2009 at 11:23 AM · I like where she writes: "And, with Disney theme parks and resorts expanding into Shanghai, etc, this is an area where Staggs could make a name for himself."

Being a Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of the largest multi-national media and entertainment company on the planet does not constitute making a name for yourself?

Ms. Finke has some very high standards.

November 12, 2009 at 11:27 AM · FWIW, here's the New Yorker's recent piece on Nikki Finke, for those of you unfamiliar with her work.
November 12, 2009 at 1:11 PM · What I'm getting from most of the Disney boards is that things are extremely unlikely to get any better under Staggs and may likely get worse. Really, at this point it's quite hard to tell, as Staggs doesn't really have much track record on the creative side of Disney, let alone the Theme Park side. But as with having any Financial executive as Chair of Parks and Resorts, you can expect profit to reign supreme, and budgetary cutbacks to be the norm. That's not to say we won't get any new projects or that the current slate will be adversely affected, simply that the scale of future attractions may not be as grand. The park that will feel this the most is without question Shanghai, as that is the park whose budget is not yet set in stone. When that park opens in 5 years, it will have Staggs' full input on its design and cost.

So in conclusion, Rasulo was not a good chair at all. Staggs is unlikely to be any better as he comes from the same cost-cutting background as Jay, but there could possibly be some improvement if he is able to look at the parks as more than a resource and see how they're suffering from the misconduct of the executives that lead them. So likely the end results won't change particularly much, though there is potential for it to shift either way.

November 12, 2009 at 1:54 PM · Dan M writes: That's not to say we won't get any new projects or that the current slate will be adversely affected, simply that the scale of future attractions may not be as grand. The park that will feel this the most is without question Shanghai, as that is the park whose budget is not yet set in stone. When that park opens in 5 years, it will have Staggs' full input on its design and cost.

I respond: I'm sorry but "without question?" I think there are a bunch of questions generated by that claim. First there is the assumption of the partnership arrangements related to the SDL project. Disney's parks in Hong Kong, Paris and Tokyo are not solely financed by Disney.

Second, I'm not certain what you mean when you assert Mr. Staggs will have "full input" on its design. Perhaps you could elaborate.

Finally, as you note, SDL will not open for several years (you posted five). The economic environment and Disney's financial standing will likely change over that period of time. To make assumptions about the company's decisions and the power and standing of this one executive five years into the future, seems to be a bit of a stretch.

November 12, 2009 at 3:05 PM · BTW -- Disney's 4th Quarter numbers are out. Theme parks reported a 17% drop in profit on 4% lower revenue. http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20091112-717719.html
November 12, 2009 at 4:53 PM · I think it is very reasonable to suggest that Shanghai Disneyland will certainly be affected by this change in management. As for whether or not it is a change for the better or worse remains to be seen. You are correct in that the international parks are not solely financed by Disney. (Or in Tokyo's case financed by Disney at all). But my reasoning for this, is that from what I've heard, the budgets for the announced expansions state side are set in stone. I believe that from what I've read there is a lump sum of cash for both the Fantasyland Expansion and the DCA revamp. A certain amount of cash has been allocated for both, and while that sum remains the same, it continues to be divided between projects included in those respective expansions. For example, we have seen some budget cuts in the Paradise Pier refurb (No wrap-around boardwalk for Fun Wheel, No rethemed Carousel) because that money is instead financing the other projects like Cars Land or The Little Mermaid that might be seen as more valuable than the little things being done throughout the park.

The situation in Shanghai is quite different from my understanding however. While the agreement was made with the Shanghai government last week giving approval to the park, the actual contents of the park may still be in flux. In Disney's own press release, they state that this agreement simply allows them to negotiate towards "A final agreement to build and operate the park and begin preliminary development work." This could very well mean that their are significant strides to be taken in the planning process that the Chairman of Parks and Resorts would certainly be involved in. A final budget has yet to be approved for the project (To Our Knowledge) and while Imagineering certainly has many plans laid out, there are still choices to be made for both the WDC and Shanghai, and Staggs will certainly have his say. I said that he will have full input, which I believe he will. That does not mean however, that Staggs' word is law in our Magical Kingdom. This project is certainly one of great interest to Mr. Bob Iger, and he isn't going to let Staggs make any decisions that he disagrees with. Also, as you point out, there is the will of the Chinese Government that comes into play in the creation of this park. But just look at how some of Disney's parks have changed from announcement to opening. Beastly Kingdom cut from Animal Kingdom, Frontier Land stripped from HKDL, and let's not even get started on the mess that Disney Studios Paris is said to be. So in response TH, perhaps "without question" may come off as strong, and your rebuttal is certainly not without justification. But from my outlook on the current situation, Shanghai is the project that is in the most susceptible state. The projects that have been approved stateside for the next three years have budgets that are essentially set in stone. Whether he chooses to interfere with said projects remains to be seen, but I think most of what will happen within the next 3 years will be WDI prioritizing and working within the budgets they have to put out the best overall project possible.

Sorry for the novel, but I'm just sort of typing as I think. This is all speculation mind you, but I hope I gave you a reasonable response to your inquiry Mr. Creative, and hope that we might be able to see eye to eye.

November 13, 2009 at 1:05 AM · ^ What the Shanghai park has going for it is that the Chinese syndicate - 57% owners of the venture - saw exactly how the underbuilt Hong Kong park fared and are not about to make the same mistake.

Inside word is they are insisting on a "world-class" park with many more attractions than HKDL opened with. So even if Staggs was inclined to shrink the Shanghai budget, I doubt the Chinese would allow it.

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