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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  • Mr Snappy

    Thank God!

    I won’t call out any of the other columnists on this site, but I always have to bite my cyber-tongue when I see everthing bad being placed at the feet of the “bean counters”

    As and MBA and having worked in Finance departments for over 25 years, I know the type of hard (and mostly unappreciated) work that goes into this career. I also know that the guys in the Finance dept’s know the REAL story of almost every success and failure.

    You will be my new favorite writer by default. Keep it honest and juicy. Don’t get fired.

  • victoriaskitten

    Another wonderful perspective for us MiceChatters to learn more about our beloved Disney. Thank you for the new information. Welcome to The Magic.

  • Princess K

    As a fellow accountant and Disney fanatic, I am super excited to read your upcoming stories! This is right up my alley :)

  • DyNaH428

    Very cool! I’m looking forward to future installments, and reading up on a different perspective that most ppl do not see. Thank you.

  • Amy VandenBoogert

    Wow, seeing all those Rocket Rod vehicles like that… looks like something out of a Mad Max movie or something.

  • MasterA1024

    Great article! Can’t wait for the next one!

    • MasterA1024

      Hey and if you have any tips to share with a fellow “numbers” guy who’s dream is to work for Disney in the future, they would be greatly appreciated!

  • CupcakeTerror

    Brilliant idea for a regular article! Love hearing all about Disney and this would be a side I don’t know much, if anything, about. Thanks!

  • techskip

    I think what bothers me about the way the RR sleds were handled is that there was no foresight, no recycling. If Disney had scrapped the Charging Rhino and sent it to the dump than Davis wouldn’t have given us the Trapped Safari. If Lucas had scrapped an old army truck after a film shoot we wouldn’t have one in the Indy queue. Granted you can’t use all of them… I get that… but WDI didn’t even try to strip parts and reuse them elsewhere.

    I will give you a prime example that haunts me to this day. Glendale had one of the old Jungle Cruise boats in storage. They were looking for an excuse to get rid of it. Instead of shipping it down to Disneyland on a bulk ship with everything else they put in an order to have it scrapped… WDI EASILY could have cut it in half and had a wrecked boat scene on Jungle for the fraction of the cost…

    That’s what bothers me. Old Disney and Old WED found ways to make things work because they DIDN’T have the money to just scrap something. New Disney just tosses the toy aside and pays for a new one.

  • 4Apples4Disney

    Really looking forward to reading the next article!

  • tenchikiss

    Are you using the Pooh’s Honey Hunt as a comparison of what people were doing or is this a real example of what people DID do? Because I was under the impression that OLC had the rights to Pooh’s Honey Hunt until a certain amount of time had passed. Therefore there is no way that the The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was built instead of Pooh’s Honey Hunt.

  • eicarr

    I don’t get replacing old attractions(with superior craftsmanship and higher original budgets) with inferior lackluster ones like pooh and RR. It would have been cheaper to keep or improve The People mover and Country Bears.

  • Gwendolyn Dreyer

    Welcome to the family, Accountaneer!

  • DobbysCloset

    …maybe a bean counter, but they were MAGIC beans… I am totally looking forward to more!

  • Disneykin Kid

    Great article! I love to hear about the decision-making process. Actually, people working for Disney who are clueless about the product don’t bother me, unless they are in the top positions. The top people DO need to know the product, and no amount of job skills can compensate for that.

    Besides that, what bothers me is people in creative positions who think that Disney is dumb and corny. This happened when Broadway-types were brought in to ‘improve’ Disney and make the entertainment relevant, hip and edgy. One result was the Snow White stage show in Disneyland a few years back. Trying to make Snow White hip is much worse than the old-fashoned but still appealing original.

  • Scotty

    So does anyone know what happened to the one RR vehicle that was saved and used as a prop at DCA? Is this one in storage or has it also been scrapped?