Jay Rasulo, Disney's theme park chief, said having seasoned executives poached by other companies came with the territory.

"You can't have the luxury of managing a strong team and not occasionally see great opportunities come up for them on the outside," Rasulo said.

Rasulo said he considered "a wealth of choices" before deciding on Grier. One of the highest-ranking African American executives at Burbank-based Disney, Grier, 51, has been in Tokyo for the last two years. Before that, he served as general manager of Epcot and Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Fla. "He's been a masterful leader," Rasulo said. "He is steeped in Disney and knows how to create Disney magic all over the world."

Grier has a hard act to follow. Ouimet was a popular executive who spent hours walking through the park and talking to visitors and employees. He took the reins in late 2003 after a series of cost cuts had hurt park morale.

"Matt's reputation is that he walks on the Rivers of America," said park watcher and author David Koenig, referring to the waterway that cuts through Frontierland. "Everything turned around when he came on board. Disneyland's biggest problem is that it was falling apart. All the cameras were rolling to the park for the 50th and in less than two years, he got the place looking beautiful."

Despite his lengthy career with Disney, Grier is relatively unknown to Disneyland fans, said Alex Stroup, chief executive of, a website that monitors the parks.

"He's pretty much an X-factor at this point," Stroup said. If the parks in Japan are any indicator, Grier comes with good credentials. "They do enjoy a reputation of being very well-managed, very strong in the Disney ethos," Stroup said.