Who’s in Charge at Disney Now? And Why Did This Happen?
The Walt Disney Company just played a game of musical chairs that will have a profound impact on Disney parks.
Several executives have gained new positions of power within the company, while one notable figure has exited. Let’s talk about what the big Disney shakeup means.
The Big Winner
Let’s start with the promotion that matters the most. Josh D’Amaro is no longer in charge at Walt Disney World.
Wait, that’s not quite right. Josh D’Amaro is in charge of ALL the parks. The former head of Disneyland is an upward career trajectory that’s the envy of everyone.
In September, D’Amaro left Disneyland to take the role of President of Walt Disney World Resort. It seemed like a destination promotion at the time.
Surprisingly, the gig only lasted only eight months. That’s all the time D’Amaro needed to prove that he deserved more.
Bob Chapek, the new CEO at Disney, has promoted D’Amaro. The rising executive will take over Chapek’s old job as Chairman of Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products.
Obviously, this move positions D’Amaro to become the next CEO at Disney. He’s not technically second in command, but that’s a quibble.
D’Amaro’s popularity and reputation suggest that he’s upwardly mobile, and this position is the one Chapek leveraged to become the person in charge at Disney.
Even so, you may think that Kevin Mayer is still above him on the totem pole. Well…
The “Loser” Who Also Wins Big
“When you play the Game of Thrones, you win, or you die. There is no middle ground.”
I mentioned this quote in an article I wrote five months ago. It’s remarkable how much has changed at Disney since then.
However, the quote proved prescient. One of the article’s subjects was Kevin Mayer, a rising star at Disney, who seemed likely to replace Bob Iger as CEO.
Wall Street certainly expected Mayer to win the big promotion. Here’s a quote from CNBC:
“Media industry insiders almost unanimously expected Kevin Mayer to be Iger’s heir.”
Well, it wasn’t, and Mayer did the math. He realized that at 58 years old, he was stuck behind Chapek for the next several years at a minimum.
Mayer’s New Gig
Not content with his status as a secondary figure at Disney, Mayer started weighing his options. The release of Bob Iger’s book certainly aided Mayer’s cause.
As I mentioned in my review, Iger praised Mayer on more than 10 occasions. And Iger is one of the most revered executives in Wall Street history.
So, outside parties had an interest in Mayer, who has landed on his feet. He has left Disney to become the CEO of TikTok.
Now, there’s a bit of confusion here. Mayer isn’t in charge of the company that owns TikTok. That’s ByteDance, a business with a market cap of $78 billion.
Mayer leaves Disney to become the COO at ByteDance and, specifically, the CEO of TikTok, the primary asset.
If you know anyone under 18, you’re undoubtedly familiar with TikTok. It’s a short-form video that effectively replaced Vine after Twitter (inexplicably) killed that app.
Mayer’s skills as a digital guru make him a natural fit to run TikTok. Also, he pads his resume in case he wants to do something else in a few years.
What I’m saying here is that Mayer lost this round of the Game of Thrones. However, he’s not entirely out of the picture forever.
Iger loves him so much that Mayer will always have support within the building. Apparently, Disney’s Board of Directors preferred Chapek, and the pandemic hasn’t caused anyone to waver.
So, Mayer has launched a golden parachute to a company with a market cap that’s nearly one-third of Disney’s. Mayer wins by losing.
His absence does continue the trend set by Jay Rasulo and Thomas Staggs. The people who don’t become CEO inevitably leave Disney.
Other Changes at the Top
Disney announced a lot of changes. I’ll briefly take you through all of them. Then, I’ll discuss what they all mean in the final section.
The promotion of D’Amaro and the exit of Mayer had ripple effects across the top of Disney’s corporate ladder.
D’Amaro needed a replacement as President of Walt Disney World. The new person is Jeff Vahle, most recently President of Disney Signature Experiences.
Vahle is perhaps best known for his time as President of Disney Cruise Line and Disney Vacation Club (DVC). Both businesses are grafted into Disney Signature Experiences now.
On the West Coast, Ken Potrock becomes President of Disneyland. He’d formerly run the Consumer Products division.
Before that, Potrock had worked as GM of DVC. Before the pandemic, DVC had risen dramatically in recent years. Potrock and Vahle both deserve some credit for that.
Placing both men in charge of Disney’s American theme parks seems like a lateral move, though.
Potrock’s job came available because the recent holder of the title, Rebecca Campbell, is switching back out of the Parks division.
Campbell had previously worked on the launch of Disney+, especially in international markets. When Mayer left, Iger and Chapek settled on Campbell as the best choice to lead Disney+.
Make no mistake on this point. Out of everyone listed here other than D’Amaro, Campbell’s career just received the biggest jolt.
Disney+ is a runaway success. If she keeps the train on the tracks, Campbell will become one of the rising stars among Wall Street executives.
The last promotion goes to Thomas Mazloum, who had been a Senior VP at Walt Disney World. He replaces Vahle as President of Signature Services.
The Weirdness at Disneyland and Walt Disney World
On September 25, 2019, D’Amaro left Disneyland for Walt Disney World. Simultaneously, Campbell took over for D’Amaro at Disneyland.
At the time, both parks seemed like they had their leadership in place for years to come. However, the pandemic threw a wrench into the plan.
On March 14, Disneyland closed and has yet to reopen. Two days later, on March 16, Walt Disney World followed suit.
During the downtime, Disney’s leadership team evaluated all phases of corporate operations. This step proved beneficial to D’Amaro and Campbell.
Chapek selected two people he trusted to claim more significant roles within the company. Their replacements, Potrock and Vahle, have proven that they can maximize revenue over the years.
So, let’s not sugarcoat it. Pandemic-related financial struggles are driving these changes. Mayer’s sudden defection plays a part as well.
Disney+ should become the breadwinner for the entire company over the next few years. When Mayer left, the promotion of Campbell became an imperative.
That’s the corporate perspective. You have different concerns.
How These Changes Impact You
Disney’s primary goal right now is getting the parks up and running. You’ll notice that all the people I mentioned have park experience.
However, I want you to appreciate one other aspect of these changes. Disney is prioritizing cross-training more than ever before.
The company is moving executives around different, seemingly disparate divisions. In fact, on his way out the door, Mayer praised his successor during a CNBC interview:
“I wouldn’t have left Disney if I didn’t think it was in great hands,” said Mayer. “Rebecca – I’ve known her for years — she was a big part of the team as head of Europe for Disney+. She’s wonderful and will do a great job. She’s a great leader and she’s going to pick up the reins and move forward seamlessly.”
The catch with Campbell’s sudden switch is that Disney faces a different sort of perception problem. Leadership park turnover has become an issue that’s difficult to ignore.
Why D’Amaro Deserves This Opportunity
Cast members won’t care, though. This move serves a crucial purpose to them and, thereby, you.
D’Amaro has mastered the game of boosting troop morale. He speaks Disney Employee at a doctorate level. It’s the reason why cast members adore him.
People who have worked under/with D’Amaro suggest that he’s too much of a synergy guy and not focused enough on original IPs.
That’s a quibble, though. To plenty of cast members, D’Amaro shows that one of them can make it to the top of the corporate ladder.
His ascension is inspirational and should smooth over some of the harsh feelings caused by furloughs and lackluster corporate communication.
For park fans, D’Amaro has proven that he can run the business without sacrificing guest satisfaction. In fact, guest satisfaction scores under D’Amaro are reason enough to feel excitement over this news.
Chapek had the reputation of being a nice man dedicated to Disney, …but also someone who cared about numbers too much.
D’Amaro shares similar traits to his boss, Chapek, but he does it in a way that makes guests and employees happy. Right now, we ALL need more happy, right?
Overall, this was a good day for Disney and its fans.
PS: One other promotion occurred. Kareem Daniel became President of Consumer Products, Gaming and Publishing. I didn’t discuss it earlier since it doesn’t have the direct impact on the parks that the other jobs do.
Daniel has an awesome resume, though. He was once the President of Walt Disney Imagineering Operations/ Product Creation/Publishing/Games.
So, he had the job that all of us dreamt about when we were children.