Walt Disney Imagineeringthe workshop that does everything cool the things you live at Disney Parks, brings back a veteran to co-lead the division. Bruce Vaughn was previously at WDI for 22 years, leaving for VR experience company Dreamscape before landing at Airbnb.
Vaughn will take on the role of creative director and co-head of WDI. This news is likely to send shock waves (in a good way) among present and past Imagineers and those of us who follow parks and the people who create them.
Vaughn has been with Airbnb for a year and a half leading its creative experiential product team. He was hired to develop more “immersive” experiences at Airbnb, which had also hired former Disney Parks director Catherine Powell to help them create excursion packages for Airbnb customers to go beyond accommodation reservations.
Vaughn previously co-led WDI as Chief Creative Officer for 9 years, where he worked on projects across the company, including EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth renovation early in his career.
“I have remained an Imagineer at heart, so I am thrilled to join Barbara and reunite with this phenomenal global team of creators and innovators during this pivotal time,” Vaughn said in a statement provided.
Imagineering is a unique organization with a very different way of working. Leaders within the division bring together the resources of a group of people who blend a mix of artistry, engineering, organization, supply chain and storytelling into environmental works inhabited by millions of people. every year. The internal process of creating and maintaining a flow of unique ideas balances tax restrictions, personalities, and income goals with the much more nebulous issues of art and emotion.
It’s a startup that was born in 1952 and still manages to maintain the feeling that projects being built are somehow organically formed out of chaos. It’s a rare environment that attracts truly talented people, but also loses them quickly.
WDI has gone through a huge overhaul in recent years under the leadership of the company’s former CEO, Bob Chapek. Long-time thinkers who have carried out huge projects and transported a huge amount of institutional knowledge like Joe RohdeJon Snoddy, former co-president of Imagineering White bucket hat and others have all evolved recently – with a series of departures around Disney’s stop-start WDI moves to Florida.
Effective leaders in this organization need to understand them and know how to perform this balancing act. Weis was co-chairman with Barbara Bouza – a project manager who rose to the role in 2021. Bouza will now be the solo but co-chairman of Imagineering with Vaughn as CCO. Both will report directly to Josh D’Amaro, President of Disney Parks. He officially joins on March 20.
“With so many exciting projects underway and tremendous opportunities ahead of us, I look forward to partnering with Bruce to fuel creativity and deliver next-level experiences,” Bouza said in a statement.
Disney is betting here that a veteran and respected leader who previously worked as a co-lead will make up for a recent brain drain and loss of history. While it’s easy to attribute every move made since Bob Iger took over the CEO role to “problem solving” – this move appears to be more of a maintenance and upkeep maneuver that will make up for Weis’ departure and will pair Bouza with an (almost) equally experienced leader. for WDI.
D’Amaro also sent an internal memo to Imagineers today:
DATE: March 7, 2023
RECIPIENTS: DPEP leaders, All WDI
FROM: Josh D’Amaro, President, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products
SUBJECT: WDI Organizational Announcement: Welcome Back Bruce Vaughn
As Bob Iger often says, creativity is the heart and soul of who we are and what we do at Disney. In fact, as we examine our company’s 100-year history to bring compelling and memorable stories to life, the common thread that unites us as a company across all segments is our ability to drive innovation through through creative projects.
Across Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, we continue to invest in new initiatives that deliver the most compelling experiences, immersing our Guests around the world in the stories they love most. Over the past few years, we have found ourselves at
crossroads of a wave of new technologies and a seemingly unlimited amount of new stories and franchises, allowing us to develop new revolutionary experiences. Of course, none of this comes to life without a strong commitment to creativity and
innovation by the amazing team at Walt Disney Imagineering.
With that in mind, I’m happy to share that effective March 20, Bruce Vaughn returns to Walt Disney Imagineering as Chief Creative Officer. Bruce will co-lead the organization with WDI President Barbara Bouza, both leaders reporting directly to me.
Together, Bruce and Barbara will work closely to connect visionary creative thinking with project opportunities and flawless execution and delivery. With significant developments underway and more on the horizon, this focus on creativity and innovation will help us deliver next-level experiences in the future. To achieve this, they will work together to quickly identify the most effective way to structure Imagineering.
Many of you have had the opportunity to work with Bruce before. He has a long history with Imagineering, having served for more than two decades in leadership positions, including with WDI R&D, as well as co-leading the entire WDI organization as Chief Creative Officer for nine years. Bruce left Disney in 2016 to become CEO and CCO of Dreamscape Immersive where he worked with teams to advance virtual reality technologies for consumer location-based entertainment, and most recently with
Airbnb where he developed and led the Experiential Creative Product team.
Please join me in welcoming Bruce to Disney.