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Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs shuffles the executive deck; what does it mean?

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Late yesterday, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs announced some changes at the top of the division's leadership structure on the heels of Al Weiss' retirement announcement just two weeks ago. While speculation was that a reorganization would be coming, nobody really thought that the movement would be so swift, as Weiss' retirement isn't effective until November.

This reorganization of the Parks & Resorts division follows the November 2005 shakeup where then-Parks & Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo moved Weiss to the President of Worldwide Operations position and shuffled other jobs and the "One Disney" reorganization of February 2009. These latest changes basically make Weiss a minister-without-portfolio for the remainder of his tenure at Disney. Most of his duties will go to Meg Crofton, who becomes President of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations, U.S. and France, as well as retaining her position as President of Walt Disney World Resort. In her new position, Disneyland Resort President George Kalogridis and Euro Disney SAS President Philippe Gas will both report to Crofton.

Karl Holz, previously in charge of Disney Cruise Line and New Vacation Options, has added Disney Vacation Club to his portfolio and moved out from being under the Parks leadership to report directly to Staggs. Bill Ernest will continue as President of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations Asia, and now report to Staggs instead of Weiss.

Serving two masters—or at least reporting to two bosses—are Jeff Vahle, Executive Vice President for Facilities Operations Services, and Erin Wallace, Executive Vice President for Operations Integration. Wallace, who replaced as Executive Vice President for Operations at Walt Disney World prior to moving to her current position in 2009, will add Revenue Management to her portfolio. Vahle and Wallace will report to both Crofton and Ernest.

The Sales and Marketing groups will be combined under Leslie Ferraro, who will serve as Executive Vice President for Global Marketing and Sales. As part of the consolidation, Randy Garfield, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Sales and Travel Operations for Disney Destinations and President of The Walt Disney Travel Company, will report to Ferraro.

Crofton and Holz will join Staggs' Executive Committee. Ferraro already serves on this committee, and Weiss will remain on the committee until his retirement. Also currently on the committee and remaining there are: Nick Franklin, Executive Vice President for Next Generation Experience; Kristin Nolt Wingard, Senior Vice President for Worldwide Public Affairs; Jim Hunt, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer; Julie Hodges, Senior Vice President Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion; Craig Russell, Chief Design and Project Delivery Executive for Walt Disney Imagineering; and Bruce Vaughn, Chief Creative Executive for Walt Disney Imagineering.

So a few people are changing their responsibilities. But what does this all mean?

The moves are a big indication of the increasing importance of the Disney vacation options that don't involve theme parks. Holz, who has done a tremendous job with the Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney (and previously had served as Senior Vice President of Operations at Walt Disney World and as Chief Executive Officer of Euro Disney SCA, the holding company that runs Disneyland Paris Resort) adds the Disney Vacation Club to give him command of all vacation operations not related to theme parks. Disney Vacation Club President Jim Lewis now reports to Holz instead of Crofton.

Holz will be responsible for the growth of these independent operations, which will continue to spread the Disney vacation experience away from the parks. As Staggs noted in his announcement, "Karl will be responsible for creating consistent and engaging guest experiences as they expand to new markets and destinations outside the berms of our theme parks.… These operations are an important driver of growth in our segment and a critical part of our efforts to build upon and broaden Disney’s reputation for delivering magical experiences to our guests, both inside and outside the berm."

The changes also strengthen a split between the Western world and the Eastern world. Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris Resorts all report up to Crofton, who will doubtless try to standardize as many policies and procedures as makes sense across those resorts. However, Crofton will also be charged with preserving the uniqueness of each resort. Staggs noted that "Meg understands and respects the unique heritage and characteristics of each of our theme park resort locations, which gives me great confidence in her ability to fulfill this role while preserving and enhancing what makes each of our properties so special in their own right."

Meanwhile, Ernest will have control over Hong Kong Disneyland Resort and the under-construction Shanghai Disneyland Resort, as well as support operations for Tokyo Disney Resort (which is wholly-owned by the Oriental Land Company). As the Eastern world has a different cultural approach that is less-familiar with Disney products, effective operation of those resorts will require a different approach, and so Ernest is being given freedom from the Western approach being taken by Crofton.

At the same time, those areas that are unaffected by culture, Facilities Operation, Operations Integration, and Revenue Management, will report to both Crofton and Ernest, making those standardized services available to all Disney theme park resorts.

Tying marketing with sales makes a great deal of sense, as the two organizations are strongly related. Tighter integration will allow for better information flow between the two, making each one more effective and efficient.

This is Staggs' first major structural change since he took over as Chairman of Parks and Resorts in a job swap with Jay Rasulo, who took Staggs' former position as Walt Disney Company Chief Financial Officer. From my seat, Rasulo is better suited for his current job, while Staggs shows the flexibility and understanding to excel at both positions, and has made a number of smart moves already in his 18 months in his new job, most notably toning down the former princess-and-fairy focus of Magic Kingdom park's New Fantasyland.

These moves bring the Parks & Resorts operations more in line with Staggs' approach, which will make it easier for him to manage the division in the manner that he wants it to run. If his first 18 months is any indication, this will turn out very well in the long term.

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