5 Theories on Thomas Staggs’ Abrupt Departure

An awkward pall hung over the April 4 premiere of Disney’s The Jungle Book reboot. Hours before CEO Bob Iger, 65, walked the red carpet in Hollywood, the company had revealed that his heir apparent, COO Thomas Staggs, 55, will step down. The move, which left many at the premiere shocked, threw a carefully choreographed succession plan into disarray as Iger’s contract expires in June 2018. Disney isn’t talking, but insiders and observers have theories.

Here are five:

1. Sheryl Sandberg wants the job

The Facebook COO has served on Disney’s board since 2009 and, according to some, has made it known she would like a CEO position that likely never will become available at Mark Zuckerberg’s company. While Sandberg, 46, lacks traditional Hollywood experience, she is savvy in digital media, which could be crucial as Disney faces a declining cable business.

2. Staggs lost the board

Some insiders say Disney board members ultimately believed Staggs, who came from the company’s parks division, lacks the creative experience in TV or film needed as CEO. “This would speak to the Disney board’s view of the importance of these businesses,” says Macquarie Group analyst Tim Nollen.

3. There’s an internal candidate

Many have focused on the possibility that Disney will look outside the company for a new leader (Chase Carey? Steve Burke?). But there are internal contenders, too. Bob Chapek, 57, who replaced Staggs atop the parks unit and once ran consumer products, is considered an Iger favorite, as is Ben Sherwood, promoted in 2015 from running ABC News to co-chairman of Disney Media Networks. Sherwood, 52, certainly has creative experience.

4. Staggs took the fall for Iger’s frustration

Running parks from 2010 to 2015, Staggs was the primary executive on Disney’s Shanghai resort, one of Iger’s key legacies. Disney and its China partners had planned to open the $5.5 billion park by the end of 2015, but they pushed it to June, when portions reportedly still will be unfinished. In addition, Disney’s parks division was the source of a major PR flap when it allegedly laid off 250 tech workers at its Orlando resorts in 2015 and replaced them with foreign workers using H-1B visas. Some of those laid off are suing, which is said to have enraged Iger.

5. Iger just wants to stay

It could be that simple. Iger’s post-Disney plan was set to include helping build an NFL stadium in Southern California for both the Raiders and Chargers, and he’d have an ownership stake in one. But the NFL rejected the proposal in favor of a rival plan, leaving Iger with one fewer option after he’s through running Disney.

From The Hollywood Reporter

 

Thomas Staggs, Disney’s Chief Operating Officer, is Leaving Company

Walt Disney Co. Chief Operating Officer Thomas Staggs will depart the Burbank company this year, throwing into question the company’s succession plans.

Staggs had been seen as the favorite to replace Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Iger when his contract expires in 2018. His departure means that Disney will have to redouble efforts to find a new leader.

Staggs, 55, was named chief operating officer early last year. The No. 2 job — which was once held by Iger — was seen as a way to groom Staggs for the top post.

In a statement, Disney said that its board of directors would “broaden the scope of its succession planning process to identify and evaluate a robust slate of candidates for consideration.”

Staggs will step down from his position May 6 and remain employed at Disney through the end of the fiscal year, the company said in a statement.

He has spent 26 years at the company, serving as chief financial officer and head of the parks and resorts department.

“Tom has been a great friend and trusted colleague for more than 20 years,” Iger, 65, said in a statement. “He’s made important contributions to this company, earning wide respect across the organization for his achievements and personal integrity. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together, immensely grateful for the privilege of working with him, and confident that he will be enormously successful in whatever opportunity he chooses.”

Staggs praised Disney and Iger in a statement, saying, “Disney truly stands alone, not only because of the company’s phenomenal creativity, but also because of the thousands of remarkable people who make it such an extraordinary place.”

From the Los Angeles Times

How Disney COO Tom Staggs Sees the Company’s Present—and Future

Staags & Minnie Mouse

Tom Staggs faces the unique challenge of filling a role that the world’s biggest media company has done quite well without for a decade.

When he was named chief operating officer of Walt Disney Co. a year ago, he took on a job that was last held in 2005 by Robert Iger, before he was promoted to chief executive. Now Mr. Staggs is the leading internal candidate to succeed Mr. Iger, who has said he will retire in 2018.

A 26-year Disney veteran who before becoming COO most recently served as chairman of the company’s parks and resorts business, Mr. Staggs has remained quite involved with the $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort, which opens June 16.

He is also significantly involved in planning for the future of television at Disney, a key question for the company since its stock began tumbling last August when Disney said that profit growth for its cable business, led by sports juggernaut ESPN, would be lower than expected.

The Wall Street Journal spoke with Mr. Staggs at his office, across a lobby from Mr. Iger’s, at Disney headquarters in Burbank, Calif. Edited excerpts follow.

The long view in Shanghai

WSJ: Are there specific tasks you have taken on as COO? How have you and Bob Iger divided responsibilities?

MR. STAGGS: It’s basically a dual-report system across all the businesses. Our approach has been somewhat fluid, making sure that separately or together we’re focusing on businesses and projects as need be and to be the most effective we can be.

WSJ: How will you measure success in Shanghai?

MR. STAGGS: We’ll really be looking forward to the initial reception, but at the same time we build these parks for generations. We won’t judge where we are a week out, a month out, or even a year or two out.

Clearly we are planting an important flag for the Disney brand in China. We want to make sure people recognize the quality of what we provide. And hopefully it will be an aspirational kind of experience for people in China the same way it has been aspirational for people here. And therefore it represents the brand in a way that is broader than just that individual park.

WSJ: To what extent are you concerned about the state of the economy in China?

MR. STAGGS: This is a very long-term proposition, so what’s going on in the economy at any given moment is not a big concern for us. We look at the trends over the long term and continue to be as bullish as we’ve ever been in terms of the number of income-qualified people, the prospect for continued growth of the middle class in China, etc.

Focus on television

WSJ: What has been taking a lot of your time outside of the parks business?

MR. STAGGS: I have spent a great deal of time on media networks recently, focusing on the future of television.

WSJ: Is TV moving toward a more direct relationship with consumers? Does that require a change of thinking?

MR. STAGGS: It’s not so much a change of thinking. For the past few years, our business has been leaning toward the brands and products consumers seek a relationship with. There is an increasing opportunity to take advantage of the strength of those brands and to reach consumers more directly.

We just mentioned on our last earnings call, however, that we think for the foreseeable future the bundle of programming is going to be the predominant way people get their television. Some people might view that as a contradiction. It’s not. That bundle can be strong even as we’re taking advantage of opportunities to have direct relationships with consumers.

WSJ: Clearly there are benefits across Disney from owning Marvel or “Star Wars” that few other companies can match. And that may be only more true in the digital world. Is the same true of ESPN, or is that more of a stand-alone business?

MR. STAGGS: One of the things this company does well is nurture and manage high-quality branded franchises. The nice thing is, quite a lot of them are highly interconnected in terms of cycling through many of our businesses.

But as a high-quality branded entertainment franchise, ESPN has real synergies with the rest of what we do and our expertise as a company.

WSJ: What are the most important synergies?

MR. STAGGS: Understanding how to manage a brand is not simple. There’s ESPN The Magazine, on television, radio and digital. Managing all of those touch points is not a simple construct, and it’s something we happen to do well.

By having that scale, we have been able to invest in a technology platform that allows us to publish across all those areas seamlessly. Also, I believe if you look forward as we increasingly establish those direct-to-consumer relationships, that expertise in consumer engagement will be a skill set that’s transferrable around our business, even if you’re not handing off an ESPN consumer to other Disney businesses.

WSJ: As you package Disney content in different ways online, do you see it all going together, or is the Marvel consumer different from the animation consumer and so on?

MR. STAGGS: We find it’s not sliced as finely as your question might imply. People tend to like Disney. They have their favorites, to be sure. Generally, if you’re a big fan of “Frozen,” that leads to a desire to engage the characters, the music and the franchise in other ways.

We want to make sure there are as few barriers to that deeper engagement as possible. That’s one of the tricks in designing the notion of what’s direct-to-consumer, what’s in movie theaters, what’s in [cable] bundles, etc.

From the Wall Street Journalhttp://www.wsj.com/articles/how-disney-coo-tom-staggs-sees-the-companys-presentand-future-1456110344

‘Star Wars Land’ at US Disney parks to Break Ground in 2016

Star Wars Land Concept Art

Walt Disney Co. will break ground on “Star Wars”-themed lands at Disneyland and one of its Florida theme parks in 2016, Chief Operating Officer Thomas Staggs said Thursday.

The 14-acre “Star Wars” areas represent the largest expansions in the Burbank-based company’s history for a single-themed area at its parks. The Florida iteration will be built at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is part of Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.

The projects were announced at Disney’s D23 fan expo at the Anaheim Convention Center in August. A Disney spokesperson said then that construction would begin by the end of 2017.

Staggs, who was speaking at the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch 2015 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference in Beverly Hills, did not say when the “Star Wars” lands would open.

Speaking at D23, Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Iger said the “Star Wars”-themed areas will include a re-creation of the Millennium Falcon, the iconic spacecraft from the film series. Iger said guests would be able to take the controls of the ship for a “customized secret mission.”

Disney, which bought “Star Wars” producer Lucasfilm for $4.06 billion in 2012, will soon release the first new film in the franchise in more than a decade.

The picture, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” comes out Dec. 18 and stars John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac, among others.

SOURCE: Los Angles Times

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Post Record Attendance and Revenue

Mickey:Minnie - Disneyland

The run up to Disneyland’s 60th anniversary was a boon for Anaheim’s two theme parks during the third fiscal quarter, posting the highest attendance and profit in any quarter in Disneyland Resort’s history.

Officials at the Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday, during a conference call with shareholders, said the excitement of the original theme park’s diamond celebration, mixed in with the debut of three new shows, led to the influx in attendance and spending.

“No question that people responded well,” said Tom Staggs, chief operating officer at Disney. “There’s a lot of attachment to Disneyland and that has led to … the best quarter ever for Disneyland Resort in terms of attendance and profitability.”

The two parks kicked off their celebration of Disneyland’s 60th birthday, which was July 17, on May 22. The anniversary celebration is expected to last another 15 months or so.

Christine McCarthy, Disney’s new chief financial officer, said attendance at the Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is up 4 percent compared to last year’s third quarter, and per capita spending increased by 2 percent because of guest spending on food, beverage and merchandise.

Helping drive attendance and spending in the quarter that ended June 27, Staggs said, were new editions of Disneyland’s fireworks display and California Adventure’s “World of Color,” and the new Paint the Night Parade.

Although not tied to the anniversary, Disney also recently upgraded three classic rides: the Haunted Mansion, Matterhorn Bobsleds and Peter Pan’s Flight.

The record attendance at the Disneyland Resort and Disney World carried Disney’s Parks & Resorts division – which also includes its cruise lines, vacation resorts and international parks – to its highest quarter in revenue and operating income, Staggs said.

In the third fiscal quarter, the division grew by 9 percent to $922 million and revenue rose year-over- year by 4 percent to $4.1 billion, despite lower attendance figures at Hong Kong Disneyland and pre-opening expenses for Shanghai Disneyland.

Disney’s latest earnings report showed a companywide 11 percent year-over-year increase of profit to $2.5 billion.

From the Orange County Register

Disney to Bring Mobile Technology to More Parks

Staggs, Chairman of Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the New Fantasyland in Lake Buena Vista, Florida

The mobile technology that helps Walt Disney Co theme park guests beat lines and pay for Mickey Mouse ears at the company’s flagship resort in Florida will expand in some form to other Disney resorts, Chief Operating Officer Tom Staggs said.

The $1 billion MyMagic+ program features wristbands and a mobile app that let Walt Disney World visitors unlock hotel room doors, pay for food and merchandise, and book dinner reservations or ride times.

The technology aims to help people plan trips in advance, move more quickly through the park and personalize visits. More than 11 million wristbands, called MagicBands, have been used.

“The folks who are saying the MyMagic+ experience is excellent is the vast, vast majority of folks who are using it, and that, we know, is good for our business,” Staggs said on Thursday.

Staggs spoke in an interview on the patio of an apartment once occupied by Walt Disney at the Disneyland Resort, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

The executive ran the Disney parks and resorts division from 2010 until his promotion in February to chief operating officer, which put him in the lead to succeed Chief Executive Bob Iger in 2018.

The parks unit’s earnings have climbed over the past few years as Disney invested billions to add Cars Land at the Anaheim resort, expanded Fantasyland at Walt Disney World, built a new cruise ship and made other improvements.

For the six months that ended March 28, operating income rose 22 percent to $1.4 billion. It is Disney’s second-largest division.

Adding new technology is one way Disney aims to keep the business growing.

“We will bring variations on MyMagic+ to our parks and other businesses around the world,” Staggs said.

He said it was “possible” the use of the MagicBands will be enabled at parks outside of Walt Disney World. The company also is exploring if other wearable technology could offer some of the same functions as consumers adopt new products such as the Apple Watch.

“We are really open to doing that,” Staggs said, though he said there were no plans specifically for the Apple Watch.

As part of its 60th anniversary, Disneyland is unveiling new night-time entertainment including a fireworks show that adds projections inside the park. Classic characters such as Mickey will appear along with new ones such as Anna and Elsa from blockbuster movie “Frozen,” part of Disney’s strategy of bringing its hit franchises into the parks.

Disney Promotes Parks Chief Staggs, Seen as Successor to Iger

Staggs, Chairman of Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the New Fantasyland in Lake Buena Vista, Florida

Walt Disney Company named Thomas Staggs, the head of its theme parks and resorts unit, as chief operating officer of the company on Thursday, putting him in the lead to succeed Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger in 2018.

Staggs will assume the role of COO immediately while he continues to run the parks business until a successor is named, Disney said in a statement.

Disney shares rose 1.2 percent to $102.52 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The 63-year-old Iger, who has led Disney to record profits, recently extended his contract for a second time through June 2018. Staggs and Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo have been considered the top candidates to replace Iger, Wall Street analysts said.

Disney operates television networks including ABC and ESPN, theme parks on three continents, a movie studio and gaming and consumer products divisions. The company blew past Wall Street estimates when it released quarterly results on Tuesday, driving its stock to record highs.

Staggs, 54, is a 25-year veteran of Disney and previously served as CFO. He became head of the parks division in 2010, when Iger switched the jobs of Rasulo and Staggs so each could broaden experience.

Disney Files Permits for Work at Disney’s Hollyswood Studios Soundstage 1

Soundstage 1

Disney has filed permit paperwork for what is expected to be a major project in Soundstage 1 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The soundstage which is located between Toy Story Mania and the Studio Backlot Tour, has recently been used as gift shop during Star Wars Weekends, a base for MyMagic+ testing, and most recently as the home to Wondering Oaken’s during Frozen Summer Fun.

Simply titled, ‘Project 3 – DHS Soundstage 1 Renovation,’ the permits do not give away any details, other than the expiration date of 9/30/2016, and Whiting Turner being involved in the project. The long expiration date for the permit suggests something on a large scale.

Adding further weight to a coming addition is the appearance of several key executives and Imagineers at the park today. WDI’s Tom Fitzgerald, Tom Staggs, George Kalogridis, and Meg Crofton were reportedly seen in the area of Soundstage 1.

Some recent rumors have suggested one possible use of Soundstage 1 may be for an expansion of Toy Story Mania to provide additional capacity. Personally, I’m not buying into that rumor.  This appears to be a much bigger project than simply an expansion of Toy Story Mania.  Other rumors for Soundstage 1 have also mentioned a Monsters Inc themed roller coaster attraction, expanding the Pixar Place mini-land.

The upcoming closure of the Studios Backlot Tour this weekend would appear to also be a significant step in this project, given its close proximity to Soundstage 1.

Disney has not yet commented on any expansion, or given any indication of what will replace the Studios Backlot Tour.

Disney Plans to Increase Number of FastPass+ Entitlements Per Day and Include Park Hopping

FastPass+

Tom Staggs, Chairman Walt Disney Parks and Resorts said in a blog post –

“When we first shared a glimpse into our plans to take the Disney guest experience to the next level, we had just begun to unveil MyMagic+ at the Walt Disney World Resort. Our goal from the beginning has been to enhance the guest experience and make it even more immersive, seamless and personal than ever before.

Now, nearly 3.5 million guests have participated in testing, and the vast majority are telling us that MyMagic+ has made their trip even better. This is a big step forward in the evolution of our guest experience, and what we’re seeing in early returns is fantastic.

Guests are telling us that they really like being able to arrange the day the way they want to, with the flexibility to make changes on the go. They also are particularly excited about their experience with the MagicBand. They love the convenience, and we have received a lot of photos from guests showing the fun ways they are wearing them even before they arrive on property or after they return home.

As expected, most of our guests think that securing times to ride our attractions is one of the best ways to maximize the fun of a Walt Disney World Resort vacation. We’ve heard from a number of guests that they would like the opportunity to add additional FastPass+ entitlements during their visit, in addition to the three they can plan in advance. So, we’re working on providing them with the ability to add and enjoy additional entitlements on the day of their visit. Once they’ve used the three they’ve booked, we’ll enable them to select another at kiosks in the parks. And once they’ve used the fourth, they can select another, and so on. We also heard that other guests liked the fact that with the FastPass+ service they could use FASTPASS when they park hopped. So we’re working on a service enhancement to add that feature to FastPass+ as well.

One of the best aspects of MyMagic+ has always been that our guests can relax and better enjoy their time with us, all the while knowing that the attraction they want to ride, or the moment they want to experience, will be there, waiting for them.

And isn’t that what a vacation is all about? The more we can have everyone that goes to our parks feel like a VIP, the happier we’ll be with the experience we’re giving them. And that’s exactly what we’re striving for with MyMagic+.”