SeaWorld named its new leader Thursday, less than two months after the previous CEO left amid a disagreement with the board.
Sergio “Serge” Rivera, 57, a former hotel executive, will take over the Orlando-based company starting Monday. Rivera will be paid $600,000 annually and receive stock options as well as part of his three-year contract, according to a new SEC filing.
“Serge has a strong track record as a leader and operator in the hospitality and leisure industries,” said Scott Ross, SeaWorld’s board chairman. “Serge brings to SeaWorld exceptional leadership and management skills across sales, marketing, operations, development, finance and commercial management.”
The announcement came on the same day the company reported third-quarter earnings that showed nearly a 3% attendance drop for the quarter, as Hurricane Dorian loomed on the Florida coast during the busy Labor Day long weekend. That alone hurt SeaWorld’s attendance by an estimated 90,000 visits, the company said.
Rivera spoke briefly during Thursday’s earnings call with investors, saying he has visited the SeaWorld’s theme parks over the past few weeks. Rivera said he believes the company is making “good progress” but he looks to “dramatically increase shareholder value.”
“I’m excited to be here at SeaWorld Entertainment,” he said.
Rivera becomes the fifth leader, permanent or interim, at the company since February 2018.
“They clearly need to get a captain at the helm, first and foremost,” said Dennis Speigel, a longtime theme park consultant who is president of the Ohio-based International Theme Park Services.
Naming the new CEO comes at a critical time, right before thousands of people in the theme park industry attend Orlando’s IAAPA convention later this month, he added.
Speigel said it makes sense for SeaWorld to tap into the hotel industry, which is like a “cousin” to theme parks. Both industries deal with bookings and helping guests on a daily basis.
“We believe Mr. Rivera’s professional experience in the hospitality and leisure industries makes him a natural fit for the CEO role, and expect investors to welcome the rather quick backfilling of the recently vacated CEO seat,” said Stifel, which follows SeaWorld, in an analyst’s note.
Rivera was president of the Ocean Reef Club, a private residential club, from February 2019 until May 2019. SeaWorld said. Previously, he was president and CEO of ILG’s Vacation Ownership Segment from 2016 until September 2018. Last year, Marriott Vacations Worldwide acquired ILG.
Rivera also was president of the Americas for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide from 2012 to 2016.
He takes over after SeaWorld’s former CEO Gus Antorcha quit in September after seven months on the job amid discord with the board of directors.
The company’s leadership change comes at a time when it’s also mounting a comeback after years of declining attendance and building new roller coasters at several parks.
During Thursday’s call, SeaWorld executives detailed how the weather played a major factor in the parks’ attendance decline that led to an estimated 221,000 fewer people going through the turnstile this quarter.
Besides Hurricane Dorian, the Florida parks faced 50% more rainy days in July and August.
The company’s total revenue fell 2% to about $474 million compared with the previous third quarter. Net income rose $2 million to $98 million. Executives also said they significantly overspent on marketing for the quarter but didn’t elaborate on what or where the money was spent on.
Despite those attendance challenges, there were optimistic moments, including three days in July that nearly topped record daily attendance.
The company, which operates 12 theme parks across the country, is also opening several attractions, including a new roller coaster in Orlando.
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