SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby leaves company as losses spiral

SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Joel Manby has stepped down from the position at the same time as the company announced that its net losses surpassed $200m in 2017.

The company has “initiated a leadership transition plan” which has seen its president and CEO Joel Manby step down from those roles. John Reilly, chief parks operations officer for SeaWorld, will become the interim CEO while the company searches for a replacement.

Yoshikazu Maruyama, chairman of the board, has become interim executive chairman until a permanent CEO is appointed. A search firm has been hired to find the new chief executive.

Donald Robinson, lead independent director, said: “The board agreed that this transition plan is the right approach to advance the company’s progress and create value for all our important stakeholders.

“We know John will be an excellent leader in this new role and we thank Yoshi for taking on this additional interim responsibility to ensure a smooth transition. Finally, we want to express our deep appreciation to Joel for his leadership and contributions as CEO.”

Spiralling losses

The change in leadership comes as the company reports spiralling losses. SeaWorld Entertainment generated $1.26bn in revenues last year, down from $1.34bn in 2016. Net loss for 2017 was $202.4m, compared to $12.5m the previous year. The theme park operator puts much of the increase in losses down to a “non-cash goodwill impairment charge”.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) was $300.8m for 2017, which beat forecasts by more than $5m but was still down $32m on the previous year.

Fourth quarter total revenues were $265.5m, compared to $267.6m in the same period in 2016, with a net loss of $20.4m. Attendance in the quarter also dipped 2.7% from the prior year and was down 5.5% across 2017 as a whole.

SeaWorld owns 12 parks in five US states, including Busch Gardens and Sesame Place. It has faced negative image problems as public attitudes have changed to orca breeding and keeping sea mammals in captivity.

The company cut 350 jobs in October last year as part of an effort to shed $40m in costs by the end of 2018. It is also investing more in marketing to combat “public perception issues”.

Parques Reunidos and Merlin Entertainments were reportedly among a number of companies considering purchasing SeaWorld in late 2017.