|After what seemed an extended quiet period, there's
been a whirlwind of news for Disney's Parks & Resorts division
lately, what with the first layoffs taking out dozens of well paid
executive positions in Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) last week.
is nowhere near settled for the yellow and green building out back,
and there's plenty more pink slips on the way for the lower
management ranks in weeks to come. But at least a basic power
structure is now taking shape and it's surprisingly promising not
only for Anaheim, but for the resort visitor too.
Today we'll try and make sense of the TDA carnage for you and why
it's good news for Disneyland, but first up we have a quick update
on the overall Resort and how the original purpose for Walt's
apartment in New Orleans Square has all of a sudden come back again.
Got that toaster pastry out of its wrapper yet? Have that coffee
poured now? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al
Before we start...
A quick note is in order regarding the successful vote for one of
the biggest unions at Disneyland. Last week the Cast Members who are
part of the Teamsters Master Services union, the folks in key park
departments like Attractions and Custodial and Stores,
overwhelmingly approved their latest contract. The current contract
wasn't set to expire until mid March, but the daily negotiations
between Disney and the Teamsters union went very smoothly in recent
weeks and were wrapped up early.
Their new contract grants a phased 12.5% pay raise to those Cast
Members over the next three years and maintains Disney's standard
health insurance benefits, in addition to some added perks to the
vacation policies and extra money per hour for Cast Members working
the big E Ticket attractions.
This is particularly interesting in light of the ongoing
stalemate with the union over at Disney's Anaheim hotels where their
contract expired over a year ago. The hotel union has continued to
refuse to sit down at the bargaining table for months at a time,
preferring to instead stage noisy public protests in front of the
hotels in an attempt to anger paying hotel guests and make life
difficult for the front desk managers handling the complaints.
Disney's labor relations negotiators are now completely exasperated
with the hotel union, and even the union leaders representing the
park Cast Members have distanced themselves from the hotel union.
That this latest union contract for Disneyland and California
Adventure (DCA) Cast Members was an easy slam dunk only seems to put
more pressure on the hotel union to negotiate with Disney.
Regardless of how one feels about union issues, let's hope the hotel
union at least ends the noisy early morning publicity stunts on the
sidewalk in front of the hotels that anger sleeping tourists who
have saved up to take the kids to Disneyland.
The lights aren't much brighter there...
While the plans for the DCA makeover remain largely on track and
fully funded despite the continuing downturn in the economy
(contrary to inaccurate rumors elsewhere), some of
the other plans for Anaheim expansion on and around Disney property
have had their pause buttons hit in recent months.
Nowhere is that more evident than at Downtown Disney, where four
separate retail spaces have all suddenly gone vacant within a few
weeks of each other. Department 56, Club Libby Lu, Starabilias, and
Illuminations have all been shuttered by their struggling corporate
parents. Just like other malls around the country, these sudden
closures took Disney's property management office by surprise. Those
closures, along with some additional major tenants like Rainforest
Café whose corporate owners are on very shaky financial ground, have
put a dent in plans to expand Downtown Disney north into the surface
parking lots beyond the monorail station.
More closed doors than the
Downtown Disney was the sleeper hit of the Resort expansion in
2001, and the stylish mall instantly attracted big crowds of locals
and tourists alike while DCA flopped and struggled to attract
customers with discounts, cheesy marketing gimmicks, and free kids
admission those first few years. Luckily the mall is owned outright
by Disney, and they have the ability to backfill those newly vacant
spaces with some of their own products.
First up in the replacement parade (and duly noted by Andy Castro
in yesterday's Dateline Disneyland column) is set to be a new
concept called Disney Studio 365, which is going to mirror the Libby
Lu format fairly closely. This new glitter salon will be the
slightly older version of the new Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique opening
this spring in Fantasyland, and will aim for the older sisters in
the 10 to 14 year old demographic who have been gobbling up any pop
music Disney Channel franchise that Burbank has cranked out in
Like Universal does with CityWalk, Disney is confident they can
quickly fill in any vacancies, hopefully as soon as summer, as the
remaining tenants continue to do gangbuster sales compared to other
SoCal malls. But if bigger spaces like Department 56 or Starabilias
can't be filled soon by the property managers frantically shopping
the vacant spaces around, then Disney will be forced to chip in more
of their own money and install Disney branded home furnishings or
"lifestyle" stores as placekeepers there for the time being.
Meanwhile, in the parks, John Lasseter can't seem to get enough
of his latest company perk, the Disneyland Dream Suite in New
Orleans Square. Any Disneyland fan knows this sprawling apartment
home was originally built as a three bedroom suite for Walt and his
grandchildren, but wasn't completed in time for Walt to occupy it
himself before his sudden passing in late 1966. Remodeled and
lavishly refurnished under a multi-million dollar budget for the
second half of the Year of a Million Dreams, the apartment has
largely sat empty since the marketing promotion ended in 2008.
But now that the apartment no longer has lucky contest winners
camped out in it every night, the Lasseter family has taken to using
it as their home away from home when John needs a Disneyland fix.
Disneyland Guest Relations now controls the use of the suite, and
they are quickly growing accustomed to Mr. and Mrs. Lasseter
checking in for a visit. Unlike most other senior Disney executives,
the Lasseters clearly enjoy spending full days and nights in the
park like any other family, although Dad seems to get the biggest
kick out of the trips.
Anaheim managers over the last few decades had grown used to the
occasional and strategically scripted visit by Michael Eisner or Bob
Iger once or twice per year. Those brief corporate appearances are
usually timed to specific media events and are pre-planned down to
the minute, if not nano-second. At best, Bob Iger or Jay Rasulo
might take a quick walking tour of the park to see a major new
attraction, surrounded by top ranking TDA suits who nervously stick
to their talking points and tight itinerary, with a nearby assistant
constantly checking their watch to ensure the group isn't deviating
from the approved schedule or route.
Anaheim actually sees more of the senior executives than Orlando
does, obviously because of its close proximity to Burbank. For
instance, Bob Iger has been attending the Disneyland Resort Cast
Member Christmas Party in recent years, standing on Main Street as
the party begins to pass out candy canes to thousands of arriving
Cast Members and pose for pictures beside the Town Square Christmas
Tree. On the other hand, until just recently Disneyland President Ed
Grier was a no show when it came to spending unscripted time in the
park, and most curiously only when an official TDA cameraman is
present to capture the rare moment. But with the Lasseter family,
it's simply a full day of going on rides, watching parades and
Fantasmic, browsing the shops of New Orleans Square and Main Street,
taking family photos in front of the empty lagoon at DCA, and just
generally goofing off without a personal assistant in sight.
The view from above.
Not surprisingly, being the Disneyland fan that he is, John
Lasseter has quickly realized that the real fun happens after the
park closes and everyone goes home for the night. Mr. Lasseter has
been keeping both his Guest Relations minders and the night managers
at the park smiling this winter as he heads out of the Dream Suite
after park closing to wander the park and climb through the sets and
back areas of his favorite E Ticket attractions to see for himself
how it all works.
Now what Disneyland fan could blame him? Who hasn't dreamed of
taking a flashlight to explore sprawling 1960's attractions like
Pirates of the Caribbean or The Haunted Mansion in the middle of the
night? The end result is that despite a few lapses in judgment (like
his approval of small world's misguided "enhancements") many Anaheim
Cast Members are growing even fonder of their number one fan, as it
has been a very long time since any senior company executive
actually shared a genuine and unscripted interest in the park and
Walt and his family may have never been able to spend the night
in the luxurious New Orleans Square apartment back in the day, but
for current Anaheim Cast Members having John Lasseter and his family
staying there is a happy 21st century use of the facility.
Obviously though, every day can't be a trip to Disneyland in the
current economic climate, and Team Disney Anaheim has joined the
rest of the Parks & Resorts division in laying off hundreds of
senior executives. While no one wants to see someone lose their job,
the silver lining here is that this TDA house cleaning was long
overdue and desperately needed. The simple numbers speak for
themselves with almost 100 Anaheim positions eliminated at the
Director, Vice President and Senior Vice President levels. These are
positions that started with healthy six figure incomes at the
Director level, and rose higher when it came to the Vice Presidents
and Senior Vice Presidents who then had perks piled on like lavish
travel budgets and Company provided Cadillacs that were gassed up
for free each week by assistants at the Disneyland service garage.
Up until last week, Disneyland alone had over 100
different Directors and nearly 25 separate Vice Presidents and
Senior Vice Presidents. The made up titles for some of these folks
were mind boggling, such as "Vice President of Business Insights",
and many of them were hired over the last 10 years from other
industries with no prior theme park or hotel experience. They
typically spent their days memorizing their corporate psycho-babble
talking points and trying to pretend they were an integral part of
operating a theme park or a hotel.
Each of these Vice Presidents had their own little fiefdom to
control in TDA, and many of them had only a tenuous connection to
the actual visitor experience at Disneyland. Tellingly, before the
mass layoffs, the average paying customer at Disneyland would only
experience goods and services provided by five of the twenty five
Anaheim Vice Presidents; those being the Vice President of Resort
Operations (Attractions, Custodial, Security, Parking, and Guest
Services), the Vice President of Resort Stores, the Vice President
of Resort Facilities & Maintenance, the Vice President of Resort
Food & Beverage, and the Vice President of Resort Entertainment. If
that Anaheim visitor stayed in the Disneyland Hotel or shopped at
Downtown Disney, they could add a sixth Vice President to the list,
with the Vice President of Resort Hotels & Downtown Disney.
Entering the Twilight Zone.
Even with all the above noted, that still left nearly twenty
extra Vice Presidents working in Anaheim, all dutifully hosting
PowerPoint shows and gassing up the free Cadillac as part of their
effort to keep Disneyland going each day. Believe it or not, even
with all of those extra executives Anaheim was actually running
rather lean compared to Orlando. Prior to the layoffs, there were
nearly 140 Vice Presidents working in Orlando alone, assigned to
Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line, several dozen of which
were Senior Vice Presidents. And then there were the three hundred
Directors spread throughout Walt Disney World and in office
buildings in the nearby town of Celebration, waiting for their turn
to be promoted to Vice President.
Now however, the new structure rolled out for the Parks & Resorts
division has removed hundreds and hundreds of these executives, and
left Anaheim particularly lean and mean. The executive focus now is
no longer on the fancy Frank Gehry designed TDA building, but
instead has shifted to, believe it or not, operating the theme parks
and hotels that the paying customers actually visit Anaheim to see.
Instead of dozens of Vice Presidents and hundreds of Directors all
reporting to Ed Grier in a mish-mash of responsibilities and
questionable productivity, Ed now has just four Vice Presidents and
a handful of Directors reporting directly to him.
The new organizational structure has been purposely lined up to
resemble the structure Anaheim had for most of the 20th century,
until Paul Pressler arrived in 1996 and began mucking things up by
adding on layers of extra executives hired from outside who were
supposed to tell him how to run Disneyland. Each of the two Anaheim
parks will now have a single Vice President who will have a handful
of General Managers responsible for daily park operations and short
term planning. The Hotels and Downtown Disney will keep their
current Vice President, the very capable and well respected Tony
Bruno. And finally, the Disney legal department will keep a Vice
President in TDA reporting to Ed, with responsibility for Anaheim's
risk management and legal issues in this litigious age. Sounds
simple, right? It is.
The rest of the necessary functions supporting Disneyland, things
like Public Affairs, Information Technology, or Marketing are all
being lumped into a radically downsized "Domestic Steering
Committee" made up of eight key Vice Presidents that will share key
administrative responsibilities between Orlando, Anaheim, and the
Disney Cruise Line. A few of the previous TDA Vice Presidents have
moved to that new Domestic Steering Committee, and they will be
keeping their office in TDA. But dozens and dozens of previous Vice
Presidents and literally hundreds of Directors in North America have
been eliminated entirely. Under this new structure the business of
TDA's executives are now primarily to operate two theme parks and
three hotels. That you would need to go through massive executive
layoffs and a radical reorganization to get to that rational setup
only proves how poorly structured and ridiculously bloated the Parks
& Resorts organization was in the first place.
The really good news however is that for the most part these
layoffs were very effective at removing people who had little to no
understanding of what makes Disneyland special, and elevating or
protecting those who have a strong understanding of how to keep the
flame burning in Anaheim. For instance, the new top dog of the small
group reporting to Ed is obviously the Vice President of Disneyland,
who has the most General Managers reporting directly to him and is
responsible for the flagship of the line for Parks & Resorts.
Disneyland's Vice President, Jon Storbeck, began his career a
quarter century ago as a ride operator in Fantasyland and worked his
way up the ladder in nearly every operations department a paying
customer would encounter. His new team of General Managers already
knows him as a man who has Disneyland running through his veins, and
he could find his way from the Matterhorn to Splash Mountain while
Where VPs lurk...
On the other hand, there's Mary Niven, the new Vice President of
DCA, a woman hired by Cynthia Harris back in 2000 to help with the
DCA expansion. While Mary is well liked by her immediate underlings
and has been able to adapt to three very different Disneyland
Presidents, she is rather unknown to anyone outside of the Food &
Beverage department. But anyone who has had to suffer through an
expensive and tasteless cheeseburger at Tomorrowland Terrace lately
is not going to be a Mary Niven fan.
Niven has a smaller group of General Managers reporting to her,
some sharing responsibility with the operation of the hotels and
Downtown Disney, and it's unclear exactly how she is going to take
to the day to day operation of a fast growing theme park like DCA.
While Jon Storbeck is a proud Disneyland lifer, it will be
interesting to see if she takes to broader theme park operations and
decides to stick around. Regardless, the new streamlined structure
has been designed to bring clarity and renewed purpose to the daily
operation of the parks and hotels, something that had been too
easily lost when there were dozens of Vice Presidents all fighting
for attention and resources previously.
But those layoffs are not the end of it. Now that TDA's executive
ranks have been slashed and burned and reborn from the ashes, the
attention now turns to the ranks of middle and lower management in
Anaheim. With departments being combined on both coasts, and even
under the two new park Vice Presidents, there is a great deal of
overlap and excess in almost all back of house departments in
Anaheim. The same thing is now playing out in Orlando, which isn't
being helped by the fact that many functions that the Californians
were doing better or more efficiently, such as the creation of
parades and park entertainment, are to be consolidated in Glendale
and Anaheim. And then there are the big elephants in the room,
sprawling departments like Human Resources and Public Affairs, that
are rumored to have many of their major functions outsourced
entirely, effectively wiping out entire office floors on both
There's also some additional restructuring coming for the new
park Vice Presidents, like the dismantling of the Outdoor Vending
department that was greatly expanded by Paul Pressler in the late
1990's. The Outdoor Vending carts in the parks are now planned to be
supervised by the nearest park restaurant, instead of being managed
by a separate team of Directors and managers that had grown into
their own sprawling empire in far flung offices.
You can't escape ODV.
Ed Grier hosted several information sessions for all salaried
Cast Members regarding all of these changes in recent days, and his
PowerPoint script included some rather blunt and serious talk. Those
staring at the new org charts on the screens could realize that most
people not working for a front of house operations department were
going to be under some intense scrutiny. The words "Guest
Experience" and "Operations" were repeated on all of the key slides,
phrases that too many folks in TDA know nothing about. It was
implied that if you're a salaried Cast Member who doesn't report to
one of the new General Managers now running the daily operation in
Anaheim, it's time to 'dust off your resume'. Ed very clearly stated
that "massive change" and "radical" restructuring would be sweeping
through the middle management ranks in the next 60 days, with many
more "eliminated positions" to be the result.
In a world where Disney managers have become accustomed to soft
politically correct blather from their executive leaders, those
strong words were very sobering. There won't be voluntary severance
packages offered to those managers in advance however, just a tap on
the shoulder and an empty box for your personal belongings. Ed did
say that the layoffs need to be decided upon quickly and the dust
should settle soon, and that the Anaheim managers remaining would
surprisingly be getting a merit-based salary increase in April.
Still, the layoff target is now aimed squarely at the cubicles and
offices of TDA, with a smaller amount of layoffs to also hit a few
of the managers out in the parks and hotels.
The executive layoffs that happened last week, and the swelling
number of layoffs to come in March, are clearly the most sweeping
and tumultuous headcount reductions in Disneyland history. While the
loss of all of those white collar jobs is also a blow for the local
economy, especially for the much smaller / less affluent Orlando
community, it is change that was long overdue.
So much more to cover...
While there's still plenty of good stuff coming to Anaheim in the
next few years, we'll just let the above sink in for now. Barring
unforeseen developments, we'll be back next Tuesday with some upbeat
news for DCA and, yes, even some new things headed for Disneyland.