|By Jason Garcia, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 23, 2011--Al Weiss, the Walt Disney Co.'s top executive in Florida and a longtime civic leader in Orlando, is retiring after 39 years with the company.
Weiss, the president of worldwide operations for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, announced the decision Wednesday afternoon in a note to Disney employees.
The 57-year-old executive will step down from his leadership position effective immediately, though Disney said he will remain with the company working directly with Disney Parks Chairman Tom Staggs until Nov. 1.
"While I will miss the great people, exciting projects and stellar vision of Disney, I am very excited to begin the next chapter of my life," Weiss wrote. "I will not miss my weekly Monday morning commute to California, but I will look forward to spending time with family, grandchildren and friends and traveling this great big world in which we live."
Weiss began his career with Disney as an 18-year-old hourly worker in the Magic Kingdom and ultimately held more than 20 different jobs with the company, from finance manager for entertainment to vice president of resort operations support. He was president of Disney World, the company's biggest resort, for 11 years, from 1994 until 2005.
He also has been active in the Central Florida community. He co-founded and remains actively involved in Vision360, an Orlando organization that builds multidenominational Christian churches. He has chaired the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, served on the University of Central Florida's board of trustees and currently sits on the board of directors for the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.
Disney said Weiss was unavailable for comment beyond his letter.
Disney is losing one of its most experienced theme-park executives at an important time, with the division in the midst of a host of big-ticket capital projects. The company launched the first of two new cruise ships in January, will open a Hawaiian hotel and time share this summer and is expanding theme parks in Orlando, California and Hong Kong.
What's more, Disney recently completed a deal to build a new $4.4 billion resort in Shanghai, in what will be the company's first theme park on mainland China. And Weiss has been a leading supporter of the company's billion-dollar "Next Generation Experience" project, which will introduce a host of technology-driven upgrades at Disney World over the next few years.
In a separate note to employees, Staggs, the former Disney Co. chief financial officer who now runs the company's theme-park division, suggested that he did not intend to directly replace Weiss. Instead, Staggs said he would detail a new operations structure for Disney's parks division in the coming weeks.
Staggs credited Weiss with leaving "a profound mark" on Disney's theme-park business.
"As you all know, he spent his whole professional life with Disney, literally growing up in the company -- and most notably serving as an integral part of Walt Disney World Resort through most of its history," Staggs wrote. "That experience enabled him to have a genuine appreciation for and true understanding of all that our cast does, and all that our guests expect. This operational knowledge has been invaluable over the years, and I greatly appreciate all he did to ground me in the business when I moved into this role a year and a half ago."
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