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Thomas O. Staggs: At the helm of the Disney brand

Insiders believe Thomas O. Staggs is being groomed for the top job at Walt Disney Co.

Special to the Times

Insiders believe Thomas O. Staggs is being groomed for the top job at Walt Disney Co.

Thomas O. Staggs is chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. He presides over the company's 11 theme parks in the United States, Europe and Asia, its three-ship cruise line, a vacation-ownership program and family-oriented package tours.

Before taking over this job, on Jan. 1, 2010, Staggs was senior executive vice president and chief financial officer of the parent Walt Disney Co. In that role, his duties included overseeing the conglomerate's worldwide finances, corporate strategy, brand management, acquisitions and corporate alliances — including the acquisitions of Capital Cities/ABC, Pixar Animation Studios and Marvel Entertainment.

With the change in jobs last year, insiders believe Staggs is being groomed to assume overall control of the world's largest entertainment company.

The St. Petersburg Times interviewed Staggs in January aboard the newly christened Disney Dream, a 4,000-passsenger ship that is the first addition to the Disney fleet in 12 years.

In this lengthy recession, how do you decide when to go forward with something and when to say, "Let's hold off on doing this"?

One of the most important things I try to think about is allocation of resources. They fall into two really, really important buckets. One is capital. But the other one, which I probably spend more time thinking about and is at least as important, is allocation of our people and our creative strengths — and of our energy and focus. And more often than not, it's the energy and focus that we're worried about making sure we have in the right places, rather than whether we can find the money.

We are really fortunate to be part of a well-capitalized company. Therefore, for the right opportunity, we can find the capital to invest. My prior job as CFO gives me a fair amount of perspective on that side of the equation.

In terms of timing of business cycles, I long ago decided that I probably wasn't smart enough to predict business cycles with a great degree of accuracy. … This ship was many years in the making. We happen to be setting sail when it looks like the economy is improving, and maybe our timing is fortuitous. But if I told you … that we predicted it, well, you probably wouldn't believe me. And you shouldn't.

During my visit to tour the Dream in the Mayer-Werft Shipyard in October, managing partner Bernard Mayer told me that there were perhaps 100 designs for this ship because Disney wanted everything special. That's why this vessel costs so much more, he said, perhaps twice as much per cabin or per square foot, and that the changes delayed the creation.

Getting something right is far more important than getting it fast. When we deliver on the quality, it pays dividends — and I don't mean just in the financial sense but in the reputation and the strength of the brand and the loyalty of our guests.

And if we fall short, then we see it in exactly the opposite direction.

In the short range, have you decided to delay some things, such as not raising ticket prices at the park in order to maintain a flow of guests?

Certainly our pricing was impacted by the downturn. You've seen that in the promotions and offers we've made.

We have to be responsive. We don't pretend to be immune to business cycles. What we did see in this downturn, as we've seen in previous ones, is that we are quite resilient — we tend to gain share. The consumer will continue to spend, but they are far more focused on getting value.

How do you view the success of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, introduced by your competitor Universal Studios Orlando? Is it the same as the used-car dealer who sees the competitor down the block as bringing more customers his way? Do you say, we'll take the punch for a year or two?

If you just sort of … analyze the effect, it's hard to see a dramatic step one way or the other, so far, in overall attendance.

I think that at the end of the day, to the extent that if anyone builds something that brings more people to Central Florida, given the strength of our offering, we do well with that.

So (Wizarding World) is a good thing from that standpoint. But they built a really nice attraction. … I don't think I'm going to tell you that it is a boon (for Disney World), but I also don't think it is a dramatic negative in any sense.

Have you toured it?

I have.

More than once?

Nope, I just went once, and I think they did a nice job.

Thomas O. Staggs: At the helm of the Disney brand 02/06/11 [Last modified: Sunday, February 6, 2011 3:30am]

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