The evolving status of Walt Disney Imagineering, the secretive arm of the company responsible for designing theme park attractions, cruise ships and retail experiences, continues, with news of a major leadership shake-up.
On Tuesday, Bob Weis, who has been president of Walt Disney Imagineering for the past few years, announced that he would be stepping down. Barbara Bouza will become president of Walt Disney Imagineering, while Weis moves into a consultant role at the division. Bouza joined the company in June 2020 as president of business operations, design and delivery. Before that she had served as a co-managing director of architectural firm Gensler Los Angeles. The news comes just ahead of Walt Disney Imagineering moving their operation from Glendale, California, where it had been established by Walt Disney. (It was just down the street from the studio but far enough away to keep prying eyes out.) The division will now move to Lake Nona, Florida, not far from its Walt Disney World resort complex.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a number of notable Imagineers have either been fired, let go, or quit voluntarily, unable or unwilling to move their families and spouses across the country – folks like Joe Rohde, Amy Jupiter, Kevin Lively, Jim Shull, and more are no longer at Imagineering. Weis will still technically be at the company but in more of an advisory, ceremonial role. (He’ll still be in documentaries, undoubtedly, and appear at events and openings.)
Weis joined the company in 1980, shortly before the opening of Epcot Center in Florida. He spearheaded the Disney-MGM Studios project, which opened in 1989 and made him the golden boy of former Disney CEO and chairman Michael Eisner. Eisner tasked him with developing a European version of the Disney-MGM Studios park, then called Disney-MGM Studios Europe (it was eventually opened as Walt Disney Studios Park in 2002) and an embryonic version of what would turn into Tokyo DisneySeas. Around the same time Eisner also had Weis embark on a much iffier project that was ultimately mired in controversy and defeat – Disney’s America, a historically themed park which was set to open outside Manassas, Virginia.
Following the very public fallout from the Disney’s American quagmire, Weis quietly left the company in 1994. He later started his own company, Island Designs, eventually returning to Walt Disney Imagineering in 2008, where he worked on the redesign of Disney California Adventure and the Shanghai Disneyland resort. In 2016, he was named President of Walt Disney Imagineering.
In the years since, Weis has tried to implement some subtle but significant changes within the company, opening it up a little bit and loosening the CIA-like levels of secrecy while still maintaining the class and mystique of Imagineering. This is evidenced with things like “The Imagineering Story,” a prestige documentary series on Disney+ that offered an inside look at Imagineering and remains one of the very best original programs on the platform.
“As Imagineers, we are inspired by our history and by those who helped shape it. Disney Legend Marty Sklar — who was a close friend and mentor to me — served as a visionary leader at Imagineering for over five decades and, ultimately, became our Global Imagineering Ambassador. In this role, Marty was able to invest in our legacy as a way to build our future, mentor and advocate for our talent, recruit the next generations of Imagineers, and help record our history through his writing,” Weis wrote in an email to staff that was graciously provided by Walt Disney Imagineering. “Today, I am excited to announce that I will follow Marty’s lead and assume the Global Imagineering Ambassador role beginning next year.
“I am confident about transitioning into this role now after working with Barbara Bouza over the past 16 months and knowing that the future of Imagineering is secure under her leadership,” ” Weis wrote. “Barbara has taken on increasing responsibility during her tenure, and I am continually impressed with her talent, her leadership and the relationships she’s already built across our company. I’m also very grateful to have the full support of Josh D’Amaro, who has demonstrated his commitment to Imagineering time and time again and his belief that WDI is critical to our company’s future and overall success.”
According to one former Imagineer who spoke on background, Weis’ removal signifies that there really is “no safe grand to stand on” within the unit.