Friday, July 18, 2014

Arrow's "Mystery" Founder

Walter Schulze perusing business about 1968
While I was gathering images and stories for this blog and Building Disney's Dream when I was contacted by someone who claimed that her father was one of Arrow's founders. This came a surprise, as I wasn't aware of anyone besides Andy, Bill, Ed and Karl having anything to do with Arrow's birth. I had a photo of several men standing around a miniature car,  including Walt Disney, Joe Fowler, Dick Irvine, Karl Bacon and Ed Morgan, but I hadn't been able to identify one man on the far left. Walter Schulze steps onto Arrow's stage a bit later but fills a vital role in their future success.

Graduating from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania with an MBA, Walter and his wife Pauline were transferred to San Francisco about 1946. His father, Henry, had been a Vice President and ran the Fore River shipyards in Quincy Massachusetts until his untimely death in 1941. San Francisco Bay Area shipbuilders produced nearly half of all the cargo ship tonnage and 20 percent of warship tonnage built in the entire country during World War II, building an average of one ship per day for the duration of the war.

In addition to his day job, Walter and Pauline did accounting for several small businesses in the Bay Area, including Dura-Bond Bearing, thru which Walter heard of Arrow Development. He is the mystery man the photograph with Disney, Irvine, Fowler, Bacon and Morgan, inspecting an Arrow Antique Ford automobile around 1954.

Schulze, Bacon, Irvine, Fowler, Morgan and Disney
(image courtesy of Robert Reynolds)

Walter's daughter Linda recalls that her father joined Arrow about 1953, after hearing that one of the founders was interesting in selling his share of the company.  Schulze borrowed $15,000 from his mother Edna and purchased a 1/3 interest. From that time on he became the point man in all of Arrow's business dealings, setting prices for ride systems and filling the role of treasurer and accountant.

It was likely the combination of Schulze's business sense, Karl's design skill, Ed's manufacturing prowess and Walt Disney's focus on the customer that laid the foundation for much of Arrow's future success. Even as late as 1956 Arrow was struggling to achieve profitability. Caroline Anderson Moyers, daughter of Arrow co-founder Andy Anderson recalls that the contract with Disney for the Fantasyland rides was fixed at $250,000.  She also has a copy of correspondence from her dad to Bank of America, dated April 1956, stating that he was no longer an owner of Arrow.

After the park opened, Disney asked how Arrow had come out on the deal and discovered that they had lost money on the contract. Disney wrote a check to cover the difference. Four years later he would buy 1/3 of Arrow in an effort to assure their viability. By the time Arrow was sold to Rio Grande Industries in 1971, the company was valued at $3 Million, with a portion of the proceeds in the form of Rio Grande Industries stock. Much of the credit for the a 6600% increase in value has to go to Walter Schulze's business acumen.

Linda Schulze had a job as a secretary at Disney in the early 70's and recalls that by that point the relationship between Arrow and Disney had begun to cool. Her father was also looking to retire and spend more time in civic activities - he had been a huge booster of the Rotary Club - and wanted to travel. That had a significant influence on Karl and Ed's decision to sell, as the company had grown to the point that it was no longer possible for any one partner to raise enough personal capital to finance a buyout. Although all three would consult to RGI for a few years after the sale, no new projects were funded during that time. RGI would sell Arrow to Huss in November of 1981.

Walter Shulze died on November 17, 1984 in Los Altos, California. Years earlier, he'd sold off all of his RGI stock.  He must have had a inkling of what was to come.

Building Disney's Dream is available on the iTunes Store.

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