Disney Exec. Tom Staggs Steps Down; is He Shanghai’s Scapegoat?

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Fmr. COO Thomas Staggs (Disney)

Straight out of Burbank, CA:
The Walt Disney Company making the announcement today that Chief Operating Officer (COO) Thomas Staggs will be stepping down from his position on May 6th, 2016. Staggs was considered by many to take over as the company’s CEO, replacing Bob Iger when he steps down in two years. Staggs will stay with the company as one of Iger’s special advisors through the end of the current fiscal year.

Staggs was promoted to COO just 14 months ago.. leading to this head-scratching announcement. Per TWDC, CEO Bob Iger says “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. Mr. Staggs’ planned departure caps a distinguished 26-year career that began in Strategic Planning. He rose through the ranks to be named Chief Financial Officer, earning praise from Wall Street for his financial and communications skills. Mr. Staggs also led Disney’s Parks & Resorts through an era of historic growth.”

Tom Staggs did not officially announce his resignation, but he did say ““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. It’s been a privilege to work with them and be inspired by their creativity and commitment. It’s also been a great experience to work with Bob during this dynamic era of unprecedented growth and transformation. I remain grateful for that opportunity, and I’m confident that Disney’s future will be just as exciting as its legendary past.”

Staggs is ending a 26-year run with the company and moved mountains during his tenure. He was the main proponent of Animal Kingdom’s Avatar expansion… something that’s been in the works for years. He got on board with Film Director James Cameron to make this happen and he was in town the the construction crews broke ground, unfortunately now, he won’t see the whole project through as his stint with Disney comes to a close.

Staggs has also been one of the key executives in all of the plans for Shanghai Disneyland and the progression of that project.

With no clear cut frontrunner to take over as CEO once Iger leaves, Disney’s Board of Directors is now saying they will “broaden their scope of its succession planning process to identify and evaluate a robust slate of candidates for consideration.” Two years may seem like a long time to narrow down a list of candidates, but as many have seen with President Obama trying to find a Supreme Court replacement for late Justice Antonin Scalia– these are tedious tasks that take a lot of work.

Speculation on what really went down:

Today’s news came as quite a shock as it was a very ill-timed announcement. The COO stepping down in the midst of Shanghai chaos as they are severely over budget (project is currently at $5.5B) in addition to being behind schedule.

I feel that Staggs is not particularly or solely at fault for what’s happening overseas, but I am led to believe him stepping down is a result of butting heads with other executives. It’s extremely eerie that someone would leave his post after holding the COO title for just over a year… and not sticking out the final two years before his anticipated promotion to CEO.

Like I said, this is speculation, but I believe Shanghai Disneyland is responsible for this shift in executive hierarchy. Cuts are being made around WDW and DLR in order to pump more money into the Disney pipeline overseas as they prep their grand opening. I think one side might have said “Woah, we need to stop doing funding that project and they need to adjust their budget or delay opening” and the other side disagreed. 

I can picture the bigwigs sitting in on a conference… and someone pitches the idea to decrease additional funding while another party comes in and says “No, we need to pay whatever it takes to get Shanghai completed, we can’t flop again like Disneyland Paris first did.”

One person pitched the idea to me that Staggs might have stepped down because of Disney potentially asking him to take the blame or be the scapegoat for Shanghai’s budget catastrophe. It’s not out of the question, only time will tell.

With all that’s going down behind closed doors, we will not know the answers until likely the fall; once Staggs is officially done and once Shanghai Disneyland is taken care of (anticipated opening June 16, 2016). But I will stick by my theory of this decision being a mutual agreement between Staggs and the company to step down. Hopefully a more clear picture is painted in the future.


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