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Theme Parks: Merlin Entertainments Group appoints Sir John Sunderland as Chairman


Merlin Entertainments Group, Europe’s No 1 visitor attraction operator, today announces the appointment of Sir John Sunderland as Non-Executive Chairman. Sir John, the former chief executive and chairman at Cadbury Schweppes and President of the Confederation of British Industry until 2006, will take up his new post with immediate effect.

Sir John takes over from Peter Phillipson, who has spent almost three years as Non Executive Chairman of Merlin.  Prior to that, he was Chief Executive of The Tussauds Group for seven years.  Peter will continue to pursue his other interests within private equity backed businesses and with The Children With Special Needs Foundation.

Nick Varney, Chief Executive of Merlin Entertainments, said: “We are really looking forward to working with John. His considerable experience at the top of British industry and of chairing a successful multi-brand consumer business will be immensely valuable to us as we drive Merlin for continued success. Merlin is a high growth business with a balanced portfolio of uniquely branded attractions. Developing this portfolio globally is the core of our business strategy and we see significant opportunities ahead of us".

“The Board would like to thank Peter for the enormous contribution he has made. His deep experience of the leisure sector and his wise counsel were invaluable through the process of integrating Merlin and the Tussauds business and as we have gone from strength to strength in the wake of that deal. We will miss him and we wish him well for the future.”

Sir John Sunderland said: "I am delighted at the prospect of working with the Merlin Entertainments team. This is a world-class business, operating in the dynamic visitor attraction sector with great brands across three continents. It has an impressive track record and an exciting and achievable growth strategy. I am looking forward to working with the management team as they capitalise on their success to date and take the business to the next phase of its development."

Peter Phillipson said: “I am pleased to be handing over the chairmanship of Merlin to Sir John, one of Britain’s leading businessmen. When I took on the chairmanship it was with the joint aim of helping to achieve successful integration and contributing to the development of a strategy capable of generating sustainable, long-term growth. There is no doubt in my mind that these objectives have been achieved, evidenced by Merlin’s continued strong growth in a competitive marketplace. I am confident that Merlin’s outstanding management team and committed and hugely talented workforce will continue to deliver the industry-leading returns that have been such a characteristic of our success to date.”

Merlin Entertainments Group       Tel: ++ 4420 8899 6110/ ++ 208 948 4225 / ++ 7774 415372

Sally Ann Wilkinson
Penny Roberts
Tulchan Communications  Tel: ++ 44 20 7353 4200
David Allchurch
Susanna Voyle


Sir John Sunderland (age) was Chairman of Cadbury Schweppes PLC until July 2008, having worked at Cadbury’s in various roles, including that of Chief Executive, since 1968. He is a non-executive director of Barclays Bank plc, a Director of the Financial Reporting Council, an Adviser to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, an Association Member of private healthcare provider Bupa, and a Governor of both Reading and Aston University Councils

MERLIN ENTERTAINMENTS GROUP is the leading name in location based, family entertainment, and has seen the most successful and dynamic growth of any company in the sector over the last five years. The world’s second largest visitor attraction operator, Merlin has 59 attractions and six hotels/ 2 holiday villages in 13 countries and across 3 continents.   The company aims to deliver memorable and rewarding experiences to its 35 million visitors worldwide, through its iconic global and local brands, and the commitment and passion of its managers and 13, 500 employees. Merlin Entertainments operates the following attractions – SEA LIFE, Madame Tussauds, LEGOLAND, The Merlin Entertainments London Eye, Dungeons, Gardaland, LEGOLAND Discovery Centres, Alton Towers Resort, Warwick Castle, Thorpe Park, Chessington World of Adventures and Zoo, Underwater Adventures, Heide Park and Earth Explorer.

MERLIN ENTERTAINMENTS is a privately owned company.  Its primary shareholder is the Blackstone Group, which purchased the company in May 2005.  Other shareholders are Dubai International Capital LLC (DIC), and KIRKBI A/S


The Blackstone Group is one of the world’s leading investment and advisory firms. We seek to create positive economic impact and long-term value for our investors, the companies we invest in, the companies we advise and the broader global economy. We do this through the commitment of our extraordinary people and flexible capital. Our alternative asset management businesses include the management of corporate private equity funds, real estate funds, funds of hedge funds, credit oriented funds, collateralized loan obligation vehicles (CLOs) and closed-end mutual funds. The Blackstone Group also provides various financial advisory services, including mergers and acquisitions advisory, restructuring and reorganization advisory and fund placement services. Further information is available at

KIRKBI A/S is a privately held, family-owned investment and holding company based in Billund, Denmark.  Its holdings include a 75% ownership share in the LEGO Group, the remaining 25% being held by a family foundation.

The LEGO Group was founded in 1932 and today the group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of play materials for children, employing approximately 8, 000 people globally.  The LEGO Group is committed to the development of children’s creative and imaginative abilities.  LEGO products can be purchased in more than 130 countries.
LEGO and the LEGO logo are trademarks of The LEGO Group. ©2009 The LEGO Group.

Dubai International Capital LLC is an international investment company established in 2004 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Dubai Holding. DIC invests private funds on behalf of Dubai Holding with a mandate to build a portfolio of internationally diversified assets. DIC invests via two core divisions Private Equity and Emerging Markets.

DIC Private Equity invests in high performing mid-cap companies in Europe and North America with a focus on secondary buyouts that include Travelodge, Merlin Entertainments, Doncasters, FastenTech, Mauser, Alliance Medical, and Almatis.

DIC Emerging Markets invests in buyouts, buy-ins, listed equities, single-country funds and sector specific funds with a geographical focus in the Middle East.  Notable investments include the UAE-based Rivoli Group and KEF Holdings, Oger Telecom and Indian bank ICICI. Jordan Dubai Capital is a US$300 million fund investing exclusively in Jordan. Sector-specific funds include the US$300 million MENA Infrastructure Fund and Ishraq, a US$150 million vehicle to launch Holiday Inn Express hotels across the Middle East.

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