For a decade, between 1979 and his retirement in 1989, Carl Bongirno led the Disney Imagineers to unimagined heights of creative achievement, worldwide expansion, and unprecedented growth and change, both within the organization and within the themed entertainment industry.
During that decade, Walt Disney’s boutique creative enclave met the challenge of The Walt Disney Company’s directive for growth, adding Epcot Center and Tokyo Disneyland, the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park and Disneyland Paris. In addition, new attractions for existing parks and ambitious ideas for new business directions were being aggressively pursued.
“We have more than 40 projects in various stages of design and construction,” Bongirno told Disney News in 1987. “In all, it’s approximately $2 billion worth of work.”
Born in Pueblo, Colorado in 1937, Carl holds an associate degree in business from Pueblo College, and B.A. and B.S. degrees in accounting and finance from Denver University. Before joining Disney, he was a member of the Denver office of Arthur Anderson & Co.
Before his involvement in resort finance, Carl spent four years as treasurer for WED Enterprises. He first joined the Disney Company in 1963 as chief accountant and controller for the then-Disney-owned Celebrity Sports Center in Denver, Colorado.
Between 1972 and 1979, Carl served as vice president of finance and treasurer of Walt Disney World in Florida. He had begun his association with Walt Disney World at the very beginning of that resort as director of the Finance Division, a position he had also held at Disneyland a year earlier. He not only was responsible for all financial matters for Walt Disney World but had overall responsibility for all service activities: wardrobe, warehousing, transportation, laundry, even the Disney telephone company. This was no small feat in the essentially barren “outback” of Central Florida at the time.
Carl served for many years on the board of directors of SunTrust Banks, one of the nation’s largest commercial banking organizations, and was a member of the Florida Governor’s Tax Reform Commission and the Business Advisory Council of the College of Business Administration at the University of Florida.
Carl curtailed his business activities for health reasons in September 1987. He remained as a special adviser to Walt Disney Imagineering, assisting with the development of special projects until his retirement in June of 1989. After his retirement, Carl and his family returned to Pueblo, where he remained active in local civic affairs. Although far away from his Disney roots, Carl’s thoughts on Imagineering in 1987 remain true today:
“Epcot and all of Disney’s attractions will always be in a state of becoming,” Carl told Disney News. “The challenge to us is enormous, but we are ready to meet it. We seek ideas that spark the interests of our guests. We’re looking for ways to engage the imagination, through story and technology. Our Imagineers will always be discovering new frontiers. It’s a process that I believe makes Imagineering the most unique design organization in the world.”