In what seems like deja vu for SeaWorld Entertainment, CEO Serge Rivera, who joined the company just five months ago, has left, citing disagreements with the board — the same reason given by his predecessor when he exited last year.
Formerly an executive in the hotel and vacation ownership industry, Rivera told the board last Thursday of his plans to resign, stating that his resignation was “due to disagreements over the board’s involvement in the decision making at the company,” according to a filing Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. River’s last day as CEO and as a member of the board was Saturday.
Hired with an annual base salary of $600,000 as part of a three-year contract, Rivera is not seeking any severance pay, the SEC filing stated.
Rivera was SeaWorld’s fourth CEO since 2014 when then chief executive Jim Atchison stepped down amid steep attendance and revenue declines fueled by the anti-captivity documentary “Blackfish.” His successor, Joel Manby, left the company in 2018 when he failed to deliver a rebound amid continued financial woes for the theme park company.
Quickly regrouping on Monday, SeaWorld’s board appointed Marc Swanson, who had served as the company’s chief financial officer, to interim CEO — the same position he held when Rivera’s predecessor, Gus Antorcha, resigned in September.
Rivera’s abrupt departure couldn’t come at a worse time for SeaWorld, which, like other theme park companies, is grappling with an unprecedented shutdown of all its parks amid the coronavirus pandemic. Wednesday it announced it was furloughing 90% of its employees and has said it has no firm date for reopening its 12 parks. In addition, its executive officers have agreed to reduce their base salaries by 20% until the theme parks “substantially resume normal operations.”
Before the arrival of the coronavirus, SeaWorld had been starting to rebound as it added more thrill rides and attractions, although it still was far off from its pre-”Blackfish” peak.
Said Swanson, “This is a unique and extraordinary period for our company, our industry, and the world. We have a long-tenured and experienced leadership team that is focused on managing this business through this difficult time, resuming operations and welcoming our valued ambassadors and guests back as soon as possible.”
As part of the hasty reorganization this week, Elizabeth Gulacsy, 46, SeaWorld’s chief accounting officer, will take over Swanson’s former position as interim chief financial officer. And Walter Bogumil, 46, previously the chief strategy officer, was named the interim chief operating officer.
“Marc, Elizabeth and Walter are experienced leaders with proven track records and the right people to lead the company through this unprecedented environment,” said board chairman Scott Ross, whose private-equity firm Hill Path Capital owns a substantial stake of SeaWorld. “The Board remains united in guiding the Company through the tough but necessary decisions to best position the business for long-term success.”
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