SeaWorld CEO resigns five months into job, cites board

FILE - This Jan. 31, 2017, file photo, shows the entrance to SeaWorld, in Orlando, Fla. (John Raoux, Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – SeaWorld Entertainment's chief executive has resigned only five months into his job, becoming the third leader of the theme park company to depart in just over two years, according to a company filing released Monday.

Sergio Rivera cited his disagreement with the board of directors' involvement in decision-making at the company, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

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His predecessor, Gustavo “Gus” Antorcha, cited a similar reason for his leaving last September.

Rivera handed in his resignation Saturday. He was named the CEO of the company last November.

“The board remains united in guiding the company through the tough but necessary decisions to best position the business for long-term success,” board chairman Scott Ross said in a statement.

The spread of the novel coronavirus has paralyzed the theme park industry. Like most other theme park companies operating in the U.S., SeaWorld's 12 theme parks have been closed since mid-March.

The company said more than a week ago that it was furloughing 90% of its workers.

SeaWorld employs about 4,700 full-time employees and approximately 12,000 part-time employees. During peak season in 2018, the company hired more than 4,000 additional seasonal workers, many of whom are high school and college students. None of the company’s employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

The pandemic also has forced the closures of SeaWorld's crosstown rivals, Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, as well as their California counterparts. Disney World said last week it would start furloughing executive, salaried and hourly non-union employees in mid-April, as it didn't know when its parks would reopen. Universal Orlando had previously aimed to re-open its parks in mid-April, but a spokesman said that the closures likely will be extended.

Marc Swanson, SeaWorld’s chief financial officer and treasurer, was named interim CEO. The company said he would stay in the job at least until the theme parks reopen.

“The board will review the role once the company reopens its theme parks," the SEC filing said.

Before the pandemic forced its parks to close, SeaWorld had been on an upswing after suffering lost attendance and revenue in the years after the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish." The film focused on the life of Tilikum, a killer whale responsible for killing trainer Dawn Brancheau when he dragged her into a pool in front of shocked visitors in 2010.

In the fourth quarter of last year, SeaWorld had a 2.2% increase in attendance from the same time in 2018. Attendance for fiscal year 2019 was 22.6 million visitors, up 0.2% from the prior year. Total revenue for fiscal 2019 increased almost 2% over the prior year to $1.4 billion, and net income jumped in fiscal year 2019 by almost 100% over the previous year to $89.5 million.

“This is a unique and extraordinary period for our company, our industry, and the world," Swanson said in a statement. “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.”


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