When Tom Staggs was announced as Chief Operating Officer, it was mentioned he’d retain control of the Disney Parks division until a successor could be found. I think everyone had a 6 to 12 month timeline on that, but Disney can move fast when it wants to.
Effective today Bob Chapek has been named Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Chapek is a 22-year veteran of The Walt Disney Company, having served since 2011 as President of Disney Consumer Products, driving a technology-led transformation of the Company’s consumer products, retail and publishing operations. Prior to that he managed Disney’s Home Video/DVD division.
If this move seems familiar it’s because Disney already tried this once with moving Paul Pressler from President of the Disney Stores to Disneyland (and then Disney Parks). The implication that the parks are little more than giant Disney stores is clear. Paul and his successor Cynthia Harriss were never quite able to shake themselves of the rules of retail and took their eyes off the real important things at the theme parks. I have a few suggestions for Bob on how to avoid that fate at the end of this article.
It’s true that this could be a move to expand Bob’s horizons and groom him for additional responsibility within the company. The good news is that merchandise mix at the parks is one thing the parks are generally doing well (the Big Hero 6 mix was a failure, alas). I don’t know much about Bob, this could a perfect fit for him, and I hope it is, but history hasn’t been kind on similar moves.
“Under Bob’s leadership, Consumer Products has seen great success, focusing on brands and a franchise-driven strategy while launching new products and retail experiences that combine technological innovation and creativity,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said. “He is an experienced and versatile executive well-suited to lead Parks and Resorts into the future.”
As Chairman of Parks and Resorts, Mr. Chapek succeeds Mr. Staggs, who was named Disney’s Chief Operating Officer earlier this month. Mr. Chapek will report to both Mr. Iger and Mr. Staggs.
“Bob is stepping into this role at an incredibly dynamic and exciting time for our Parks and Resorts business,” Mr. Staggs said. “The ongoing construction of Shanghai Disney Resort as well as the new Avatar-themed land at Walt Disney World continues an era of unprecedented growth and historic expansion.”
“I am grateful for the many opportunities I have had during my years at Disney, and am thrilled to join the incredible Disney Parks organization,” Mr. Chapek said. “I look forward to working with the remarkably talented team dedicated to creating magical memories for millions of guests around the world.” A successor to Mr. Chapek at Disney Consumer Products will be named at a later date.
Prior to leading Disney Consumer Products, Mr. Chapek served as President of Distribution for The Walt Disney Studios from 2009 to 2011, and was responsible for overseeing the Studios’ overall content distribution strategy across multiple platforms including theatrical exhibition, home entertainment, pay TV, digital entertainment and new media. He also served as President of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, where he spearheaded the successful “vault strategy” for the company’s iconic films and transformed the primary format of home entertainment from DVD to Blu-ray.
Welcome to the parks division Bob. A few things you might want to learn right off the bat. Employees are called cast members because the theme park division is all about the show. The parks division works best when everything that happens on-stage is carefully choreographed and rehearsed and then put in the hands of competent experienced leaders who rose through the ranks of the parks. Unfortunately, the choreography has been cut in favor of simpler stage directions and training (aka rehearsal) is not as sufficient as it once was either. In your work at the studios, I’m sure you encountered divas, and you’ll be glad to hear that the parks are mercifully devoid of much of that drama, a little appreciation of what cast members do can go a long way to improving the show.
You’re also now working with one of Disney’s most valuable, but also most under utilized groups – Walt Disney’s Imagineering. They’ve been on a pretty tight leash during the economic downtown, it is well past time to give them more rope. (I see signs of this at Disney’s Animal Kingdom right now, so that’s a good place to start.)
The potential of MyMagic+ has just begun to be explored. I think the parks should have focused more on the potential of magical technologies instead of Fastpass+, which is bound to always leave a large portion of your guests disappointed due to the intrinsic non-equal nature of how its distributed to guests who are willing to work the system instead of just enjoying the flow of a vacation. Focus on what technology best tells the story for the guest and you’ll never go wrong. But don’t do it just because someone with a spreadsheet says it will make the company money. Not all sales are good sales, as I’m sure your time in The Disney Store has shown you.
The parks and resorts are the crown jewel of the Walt Disney Organization. They can be a huge cash cow for Disney if managed right, but the reputation tarnishes fast as marketing is primarily word of mouth and you’re only as good as the last family returning from a trip tells their neighbors and co-workers you are. Listen to your long time cast members, but also listen to the fans. Their passion may color their remarks, but it’s because they really do care for and love the parks.
We really do wish you luck Bob! You have our dreams in your hands.