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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72 Comments

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  1. Great article! Looking forward to more! Seems “Light Magic” suffered the same fate as Rocket Rods..

  2. I’m really looking forward to reading more! Thanks!

  3. Welcome to the site! Looking forward to future installments!

    Maybe I’m the only one, but I would be curious of some more detail. Since you were involved and somewhat intimate with the numbers on these projects, are you at liberty to share any of these? For example: What did it cost to build RR, what were the expenses incurred in trying to fix it, and what did it cost to write it off? Like I said, maybe I’m the only one, but still kind of curious, although, it may be somewhat sickening to know these.

  4. I would also be curious to know what the original budget WDI asked for on this project was, and what it was cut to, then how much extra time and money was spent trying to fix it, then scrap. My hunch would be that if they spent what WDI had asked for in the beginning, it would have been equal to or less than the final cost to build, try to fix, then scrap.

  5. Welcome, and thanks for sharing with us yet another facet of what creates the gem we call ‘Disney’.

  6. Dear Accountanteer, only on a recent comment I mentioned the words Bean Counter and assumed complete ignorance towards people working in TDA. I apologise for any offence caused.
    Andid also like to say this introductory column was a fantastic read, and I have a feeling it will quite a popular one for Micechat, and I for one will be a regular reader, and am very interested in your side of stories and knowledge shared. Thanks for bringing this to us, I look forward to the next installment! -Q.

  7. I can’t wait to hear more! I’m actually going to school for accounting/finance and working for Disney is my dream job too! Hopefully I’m as lucky as you were.

  8. I am an economist, a profession perhaps more hated than accountants, who loves accounting. I hope you cover how Disney makes trade-offs. How do they determine the value, to patrons, of shorter lines? (I talking about dollar value: how does that translate into dollar revenue?). Or, how do they determine how much customers value rides? Do they take into account that some, but not all customers, really, really like ride X and if ride X were gotten rid of, they might lose more customers (dollars?) than if they got rid of ride Y, a generally like but not loved ride? How do they put a value on parades, turkey legs, and refurbishing a ride? You get the idea. Finally, I find Disney ticket pricing very interesting. If one buys a N day ticket that has to be used in two weeks, the added cost per day (after 5 days) is $10 (or was when I figured this out). The added per day cost (after 5 days) of a non-expiring ticket is $35. After 10 days (or so), one might as well buy a annual pass, which implies that the value to the marginal customer of days 11 thru 365 is zero. OK, you get idea!

  9. Hi,

    I love this article. It’s exactly what I want to do, I know this is a bit random, but if I was looking at transitioning careers would you know how to get a foot in the door at Disney? Is there another way to contact you? Thanks!

    Sincerely,

    ~Shrek