For Disney fans, some of the people they idolize most are the Walt Disney Imagineers. Imagineers are responsible for every detail seen in Disney Parks, from building designs and paint colors, to what items you see on shelves. Imagineers are the heart of Disney, and nothing would be possible without their endless creativity. However, Disney is not the only one with Imagineers. I mean, they are the only ones with the title, but other companies have their own version of Imagineers.
One of Disney’s biggest competitors is Universal, and, over the past few years, Universal Parks have quickly been gaining on Disney, which has always been at the top of the theme park game. Not only has Universal created some incredible attractions like Jurassic World: Velocicoaster and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at the Universal Orlando Resort, but they have also created new lands like Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood. In addition to that, they are hard at work on Universal Orlando’s third theme park — Epic Universe.
Epic Universe is set to open in the summer of 2025, but we are learning that things may have just been thrown into chaos. According to an exclusive report from The Wrap, several high-ranking Universal Creative Executives have announced they are leaving the company.
Thierry Coup, the charismatic and forthright senior vice president and chief creative officer of Universal Creative who oversaw the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (among other Disney-challenging expansions); Mike Hightower, president of Universal Creative; and Mike Harrington, vice president, engineering and safety at Universal Studios Florida, are among the executives who have quietly opted to take voluntary early retirement packages.
These packages are part of an NBCUniversal-wide initiative offered to employees who are over 57 and/or who have worked at the company for more than 10 years. (One Universal Creative staffer said that pretty much every remaining SVP has left the division.)
In recent years, Universal’s creative team has been gaining favor with Guests for their ability to work quickly. In 2017, Disney announced TRON Lightcycle/Run would be coming to the Magic Kingdom. It is still not open and will not open until 2023. Universal, on the other hand, announced its newest rollercoaster — Velocicoaster — in 2019, and it opened in 2021. Universal announced Epic Universe in 2019, and it will open in 2025. Disney has taken six years to build one ride, and Universal will only take about seven to build an entire theme park.
While the exit of so many high-level executives is shocking and a bit confusing, those who spoke to The Wrap shared that Universal has strong succession training, which should make the transition from old executives to new a smooth one.