Virgin Galactic Taps Disney Consumer Veteran to Be New CEO

Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. is turning to a customer-experience specialist from the Disney theme park world, naming Michael Colglazier as chief executive officer of the space tourism company to succeed George Whitesides.

Colglazier, who oversaw multiple Walt Disney Co. theme parks, will take the job as of July 20, Virgin Galactic said in a statement Wednesday. He’ll also join the company’s board. The departing CEO, Whitesides, will remain at the company as chief space officer.

The leadership change occurs as Virgin Galactic works to build a consumer-oriented experience for affluent adventure-seekers who also want luxury during their four-day trips to Spaceport America in New Mexico, which will include a journey into space. The company plans to reveal the interior design of its spacecraft cabin on July 28, and has been seeking to highlight Virgin Group’s reputation as an upscale travel brand.

First Flight

Virgin Galactic has said it intends to make its first flight this year -- with founder Richard Branson joining its initial customers -- although that schedule could be delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic and its test flight schedule after having moved operations from California.

At Disney, Colglazier was a longtime theme-park executive. He served as president of Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and helped lead a $2 billion expansion that included the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction. Most recently, he was president of Disney’s international parks. Jill Estorino, a 29-year Disney veteran, will now take over the role vacated by Colglazier.

Whitesides, a former chief of staff at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, joined Virgin Galactic in 2010 as its first CEO. He and his wife, Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides, were also among Virgin Galactic’s first customers to purchase tickets.

During his tenure, the company grew from 30 employees to more than 900, according to the statement.

“George’s vision and outstanding leadership have enabled Virgin Galactic to reach this point, and I am excited to work with him in his role as chief space officer where he will spearhead our future development efforts,” Colglazier said in the statement.

In his new role, Whitesides will develop future business opportunities, including its plans for point-to-point hypersonic space travel and orbital space travel, Virgin Galactic said. The company’s current vehicles are suborbital craft that reach space but then glide to a landing at their departure point in southern New Mexico.

Virgin Galactic rose 5% following the announcement , which came after the close of New York trading. Shares gained 61% this year to $18.55 as of the close.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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