Larry Kurzweil is out at Universal Studios Hollywood according to a press release from NBCUniversal. Karen Irwin, who previously served as Executive Vice President of Global Merchandise and Partnership Development for Universal Parks & Resorts, will succeed him as Universal Studios Hollywood’s new President and COO.
Who is Karen Irwin?
A veteran of Universal Parks and Resorts, Irwin holds considerable experience in the theme park industry. According to the presser, she served as part of Universal Studios Florida’s opening team in 1990, and has served as Director of Operations and Director of Support Services for Food and Beverages, Vice President of Merchandise Operations and Vice President of Revenue Operations.
In addition, Irwin’s appointment also serves as a reaffirmation that Universal Orlando continues to be the power center for Universal Parks & Resorts. While Kurzweil has had a working relationship with Universal Orlando during his tenure, Irwin’s ascension may allow Universal Studios Hollywood to share additional synergies with their sister resort in Florida.
It is notable that a Universal Studios Hollywood-native wasn’t selected for the park’s top position. Before Kurzweil’s rise to President and COO, he served as Senior Vice President and General Manager of CityWalk Hollywood in 1997.
What does this mean for Universal Studios Hollywood?
Since projects are planned months and years in advance, the park – in the immediate sense – may not change all-too drastically. That being said, Irwin may attempt to unify Universal Studios Hollywood’s branding with that of Florida’s. Universal Studios Hollywood has always retained a set of unique identifiers such as Gate A and Front of Line (in lieu of Universal Express) alongside their own unique annual pass system. Irwin may work to make both coasts more cohesive by rebranding Hollywood’s amenities to match Florida’s.
Potential long-term changes are more difficult to predict. Because of Kurzweil’s incredibly long tenure, the exact power and influence of Hollywood’s park president is not known. Irwin may elect to shuffle Universal’s existing executive team to more closely align the park with her vision. Within Parks and Resorts, Florida has always been seen as the company’s model-theme park for operations, and Irwin may elect to have Hollywood further follow Florida’s mold.
How have Team Members reacted to this news?
Generally speaking, many Team Members were surprised by Lurzweil’s announced departure. While rumors have surfaced in recent months suggesting a potential executive change at Parks & Resorts, many were not anticipating that the change would affect Universal Studios Hollywood in such a direct manner.
How should we judge Larry Kurzweil’s tenure?
While much has been said about Kurzweil’s stewardship of the park during Universal’s transformation, we should also acknowledge his tenure at Universal Studios Hollywood during two difficult events: the recent economic recession in the United States and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks – both of which had a devastating impact on the theme park. His leadership allowed Universal to survive, and not many executives can say that they’ve directed their corporation through two tumultuous economic seasons.
It’s also important to note Kurzweil’s philanthropic efforts, and his annual Giving is Universal charity events that help the greater Los Angeles community.
In many respects, Kurzweil’s tenure has been largely successful, and fans should acknowledge his successful stewardship of the company for the past 17 years.