Welcome to Accountaneering Disney

Written by The Accountaneer. Posted in Accountaneering Disney, Disney History

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Published on April 10, 2013 at 4:01 am with 72 Comments

It doesn’t take much effort to search Micechat and find the many references to me and my former co-workers…”Accountaneers,” “sharp pencil boys,” “bean counters”…the list goes on and on. Unfortunately those shout-outs are not typically followed by pleasantries or thanks. As a wise man (with freakishly large hands) once said: “I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.”

Hello Micechat…I’m the site’s newest columnist. Call me The Accountaneer. Over a series of articles I’m hoping to share with you some stories from my time pushing pencils and slashing budgets. I know that sounds incredibly dry and boring but I think you’ll enjoy the angle I can bring to the conversation. You see, there are all types of Accountaneers. Some fall squarely into the stereotype that is fostered online. One such example is a co-worker that once pointed to a park map in my office and asked “what’s in that building?” I’m sad to say he was pointing at Space Mountain. Most Accountaneers were not that far to the clueless extreme. I’d characterize most of my co-workers as incredibly smart financially, generally knowledgeable about the parks, and good intentioned.

I, on the other hand, fall into the opposite extreme of our Space Mountain friend. I was a long time Disney theme park nut from a young age who literally dreamt of working for the parks. I was lucky enough to start my professional career at Disneyland. Over the span of my career with Disney, I was fortunate to work in many departments, most of which called for a financial flare. For this Disney geek it was truly a dream job. And unlike my clueless Space Mountain co-worker, my passion earned me significant respect with the operations teams. I could not only talk the talk, but could also walk the walk.

My hope is that my stories will provide some historical context and enjoyment for the fan community.

Going back to being the bad guy…while I can characterize myself as a Disney Geek, I was still working with people who were shaving the greeter position from Space Mountain. Proposing we get by with one less open ticket booth to save the labor dollars despite making the lines slightly longer. And who put The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on the menu at “only” $40M rather than the $100M+ necessary to build Pooh’s Honey Hunt from Tokyo.

What I’m hoping to do over the course of my articles is to share with you the real stories behind some of these decisions. No decision was black or white…we were constantly balancing the art of driving profitability for the resort (despite what many of us believe, Disneyland DOES need to turn a profit) while trying to maintain what’s “right” from a Guest perspective. I fully expect that many of you will not agree with decisions made, I know I didn’t agree with many of them either. I just hope the articles provide some inside perspective that is not typically seen online.

In addition to the pure Finance/Business topics, I also want to share some fun stories from behind the curtain. For example, WDI’s Kuka arm project back in the early 2000s vs. an entire land called Carsland…I guess I won’t spoil the ending by sharing which project was picked. . . and why.

Speaking of sharing something new, I’ll tack a mini article to the end of this introduction with some pictures that I know you’ll find stunning:

What two words get Disneyland fans talking with a mix of anger, despair, frustration, and confusion? That’s right…”Rocket Rods.” I’m not going to go into the history that brought us this flop, it has been covered extensively online. I’m not going into details around the challenges in operating the attraction either (considerable). Most Disneyland fans know that it is a story of sky-high maintenance costs (side note: it is true that Disney had Goodyear design custom tires for the attraction since it was burning through tires at an alarming rate), woefully poor hourly capacity, and a ride experience that never lived up to Guest expectations (especially after waiting two hours to board).

The pictures I’m going to share relate to what happened AFTER Rocket Rods closed. You see, it was quickly decided in TDA that the attraction was unsalvageable. Despite the sign out front touting that it would re-open in Spring 2001, no one could justify the dollars needed to make it happen…especially given the massive capital outlay across the Esplanade and the subsequent emergency funding needed to fix DCA (more on that in a future article).

So, Disney was left with a bunch of useless ride vehicles that were too expensive to store anywhere and, believe it or not, had some pretty sophisticated/proprietary electronics onboard. While one vehicle was dropped off as a prop over in the back of Hollywood Pictures Backlot at DCA, it was time for the rest of the fleet to disappear. So the vehicles were taken to field far away from Disneyland and cut up for scrap and recycling. It’s shocking yet fascinating that practically new ride vehicles were destroyed like this. Despite the disdain for the attraction, the vehicles were unique and cool. I apologize for the poor quality…these were taken by a friend with a then-cutting-edge Sony Mavica and saved to a floppy disk. My how digital photography as evolved.

Next time we’ll jump into a larger topic. I’ll look forward to your feedback and/or questions! Until then, I’ve got pencils to sharpen and numbers to crunch.

About The Accountaneer

The Accountaneer grew up going Disney parks and was quickly hooked on the pixie dust. He soon found himself sharpening pencils and counting beans for the world's favorite mouse. He hopes to share with readers a little insight on how decisions are made in the Happiest Place On Earth.

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  • Tink60

    Thank you. I look forward to reading your articles in the future.

  • Puck2DaHead

    Wow!! I’m very much looking forward to reading more of your stories. You write very articulately and in a manner that is fun, interesting, and exciting. I can’t wait for your next article!!

  • yoyoflamingo

    Always wonderful to see a new columnist that I already can’t wait to read the next article.

    Welcome to MiceChat and thanks for the insight – I am glad you’re giving such a unique perspective.

  • bookwyrm

    Welcome, and thanks for the article! I think I am one of the few who loved the Rocket Rods – but then, I didn’t know any of the troubles behind them at that point. Also, I got to ride them sitting BEHIND MICKEY HIMSELF! They were doing a photoshoot, and asked if we minded not being able to sit in the front row. Nope! Didn’t mind at all! Sadly, we weren’t quick on the draw with our own camera, so don’t have photo evidence of the ride, but at least we have the memory of it!

  • aquaboi77

    Welcome to Miceage! I am looking forward to your articles!!

  • xboxtravis7992

    I am excited to learn about some of the realities in theme park finances from this series, looking forward to the next column.

    Those Rocket Rods though are a sad sight, while an infamous ride those vehicles at least looked very cool and it would have been nice to see a few more saved. On the upside, it is kinda cool to watch them scrapped in a ‘post-apocalyptic’ sense.

    • The Accountaneer

      “Post-apocolypitc”…that’s the perfect term! I think that’s why the pics hit so hard. We all think of Disneyland as something that will always be there and to see a piece of it destroyed so violently quickly brings a does of reality!

  • scarymouse

    I always wondered what went on behind the scenes. It will be an interesting read, and I look forward to more in the future .

  • Mr. Disney

    Great article!! I am looking forward to the rest of the series!

    I am taking accounting 201 right now (Theatre Major/Business Minor) and… well I’m having a rough time :/… so hopefully these articles will help me see things in a different light! :)

    • The Accountaneer

      Ironically despite the term Accountaneering, it has very little to do with Accounting. Accounting handled more of the transactional side of the business while our focus was more on Planning & Analysis. Now we obviously had to have an understanding of core Accounting principles, but it wasn’t the job. I, personally, have never taken take a pure Accounting class despite double-digit years doing Finance for large companies! At the end of the day though, FinancialPlanningeering just doesn’t have the same ring ;-)

      • Mr. Disney

        Hehe right!!! You still have the whole business/finance side of the thing though, so it’ll be pretty interesting to see! :)

  • mamabot

    Excellent first column! After years of reading about the seemingly heartless Sharp Pencil Boys, it is nice to hear stories from the sharp end of the pencil.

    Did you ever have serious conflict between your job and your passion for the parks?

    • The Accountaneer

      Were some decisions hard to make? Absolutely! I never had a conflict that compromised my ability to do my job. Most of them were heart versus logic decisions. When we made the decision to evict the Country Bears the Disney-loving side of me was bumming. What a classic piece of old-school Disney we’d be losing. But when looking at the broader picture factoring in Financials, operational metrics, and other constraints it was probably the right thing to do…I’ll cover that more in a future article.

      I always liked to think my passion brought something extra to the job. I was always able to say “but did you think of X?” when others may not have seen it. And I firmly believe that the passions enabled me to do my job better and helped me get promoted into jobs that I never imagined I’d have.

      • StevenW

        What bothers me about the Country Bears is the attraction was closed around the same time the film version was released. It didn’t make any sense as a “corporate” decision. I don’t quite remember if the closure was before or after the film arrived, but it was very strange that it happened as if the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.

        This is no different than what happened when Star Trek Experience closed at the Las Vegas Hilton (now the LVH). I know the series was in a downturn, but who knew that the property will be so quickly revived with a reboot within 5 years after the attraction’s closure. Couldn’t they wait?

        Now, we are faced with the fact that Mr. Toads will become a new feature film, but they closed the ride at the WDW’s Magic Kingdom. We haven’t heard any new news on this, but it seems like this haphazard decision making continues.

      • Norman Gidney

        The Country Bears is something that I REALLY want to hear about as it is still, in my opinion, one of the more egregious moves. But again, that is only as seen from my perspective as a park lover. Can’t wait to hear deeper discussion on the matter.

  • cal4iri

    I have a feeling this is going to be my new favorite! Great idea to bring this to MiceChat!
    Working in accounting myself, these are the questions and topics I’ve always wondered about.

  • Bonster

    More peaks behind the decision making curtain please. I’m especially interested in the balance of art/culture/fun and economics.

    • The Accountaneer

      That “balance” was definitely more art than science! I have some good stories to share in the future which will touch on that… Thanks!

  • JiminyCricketFan

    Thanks for the story. It is fun to hear about stories like this. Sometimes when I try to pinch every penny, I end up spending more than I should on replacing cheap products that should have lasted longer or on buying something that really did not live up to my needs. I have found that sometimes buying something of quality lasts longer and thus saves money.

    I feel that Walt was way ahead of me on this. From comments I have read, he really believed that quality would win out and make more money than going the cheap way. The Tomorrowland ’98 project shows how trying to pinch every penny ends up costing a whole lot more in the long run. We are still living with the ramifications of those fateful decisions, with empty Peoplemover track and a Astro Orbitor blocking the entrance. Sometime I would hope that management would learn from their waste of money, but it seems that the initial cost of building is the only criteria that is considered sometime. Carsland is a testimony of how when you don’t cut corners but spend extra for spectacular rock work and a high quality ride, Disneyland makes MORE money. If only Disney management can remember this and avoid repeating the mistakes of the original DCA and Tomorrowland ’98.

  • Norman Gidney

    TOTALLY AGREED! While I do blog about standards and show and all that, I want desperately to know WHY these decisions are made. Having the opposite perspective promises to be a real eye-opener and bring levity and understanding to how why the park is run the way it is.

  • BC_DisneyGeek

    This sounds like it will be a very interesting column. I still shake my head over the decision not to bring Hunny Hunt to Anaheim, and look forward to hearing some of the ‘why’ behind that decision.

  • ScottOlsen

    Thanks for the pictures of the Rocket Rods laying in the field.

    Frankly, I don’t think they’ve ever looked better.