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Virgin Galactic has hired a Disney theme-park boss as its new CEO. Here are 5 reasons why Richard Branson’s space-tourism startup made that choice.

Virgin Galactic has hired a Disney theme-park boss as its new CEO. Here are 5 reasons why Richard Branson’s space-tourism startup made that choice.

    Virgin Galactic has announced that Michael Colglazier, a former boss of Disney’s theme parks and resorts, will become its CEO later this month. Colglazier was chosen because he’s grown companies, developed experiences, realized and commercialized engineers’ ideas, and has a deep passion for space travel, according to a Virgin Galactic call with analysts. “Space Mountain is actually my favorite attraction,” he said on the call. Here are five key reasons why he was hired to be Virgin Galactic CEO. Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Virgin Galactic announced this week that Michael Colglazier, a former Disney theme-park boss, will take over as CEO on July 20, the 51st anniversary of the moon landing.

Colglazier’s appointment is one small step for Richard Branson’s space-tourism startup, but could be one giant leap toward creating a compelling and lucrative customer experience.

Here are five reasons why Virgin Galactic hired Colglazier, based on the group’s call with analysts on Wednesday. Business Insider viewed a transcript of the call using Sentieo, a financial-research site.

Scaling up

Colglazier worked at Disney for more than three decades, where he served as Disneyland’s president, head of the company’s Asia-Pacific parks and resorts, and most recently the boss of its international parks division.

As a result, he’s adept at “growing consumer-oriented, multibillion-dollar businesses strategically, commercially, and operationally,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, who will move to the role of chief space officer when Colglazier starts, said on the call.

In other words, Colglazier knows how to map out and execute a realistic growth plan, build revenues and profits, and run a giant corporation.

The incoming boss outlined his vision for Virgin Galactic during a mock board meeting.

“What jumped off the page was how to think about commercial scale, how to think about sales and a much larger and progressive sales footprint and relationship footprint,” the startup’s chairman, Chamath Palihapitiya, said about Colglazier’s presentation on the call.

Building experiences

While at Disney, Colglazier oversaw the creation and management of safe, innovative, and entertaining experiences at several of the media giant’s parks and resorts. He plans to play a similar role at Virgin Galactic.

“When he described the process of how he wants to expand the scope of how Virgin Galactic delivers our experience, not just to the astronaut, but to all the people that come with them, it was incredibly inspiring,” Palihapitiya said on the call.

It’s easy to imagine Virgin Galactic entertaining the friends and families who visit its New Mexico hub to see their loved ones leave the planet.

They might be able to watch and communicate with the astronauts inside the shuttle, buy food and souvenirs, and speak with space experts while they wait.

Imagineers to engineers

Disney famously employs “imagineers” to create, design, and construct attractions at its theme parks and resorts.

Colglazier spent years “working alongside Disney imagineers and helping them bring their visions to reality,” and will now “bring the dream of space flight to people around the world,” he said on the call.

He helped the imagineers to refine their ideas so they made commercial sense, meaning they generated the profits needed to realize even more of their idea he said.

Colglazier will collaborate with Virgin Galactic’s engineers with the same goal in mind, he added.

Making money

A key part of Colglazier’s new role will be introducing experiences for both astronauts and their companions that they’re willing to pay for.

“The ticketing revenue is just the beginning,” Palihapitiya said on the call. “This is really all about ARPU,” he continued, referring to average revenue per user.

“The ticket should eventually be 10%, 15% of the revenue, right?” he added. “But in order to do that, you really have to think about the end-to-end customer journey.”

Given Virgin Galactic’s tickets currently cost $250,000, it will have to offer extremely pricy products and services if it wants to make upwards of $1.6 million per customer.

One potential revenue stream could be selling memberships to an exclusive community of astronauts, where people could network and discuss their space flight with other wealthy and influential people.

It could also offer upgrades such as personalized spacesuits or access to a private screening room for an astronaut’s friends and family on the ground.

Passion for space travel

A final reason why Colglazier may have been hired is his deep interest in the industry.

He fantasized about becoming an astronaut as a child, and is “incredibly excited to live out that dream,” he said on the call.

Indeed, his Virgin Galactic contract includes the right to join a spaceflight and bring three guests with him if there are seats available.

“I guess this is a totally new kind of Space Mountain for you,” Credit Suisse analyst Robert Spingarn joked on the call, referring to the famous Walt Disney World roller coaster.

“Space Mountain is actually my favorite attraction,” Colglazier replied.

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