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Mark Shapiro is out at Six Flags; Former Paramount Parks head Al Weber is in

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Published: May 12, 2010 at 8:38 AM

So... it looks like Six Flags is making a big management change, after all.

Mark ShapiroThe amusement park chain, which emerged from bankruptcy earlier this month, has lost its CEO, Mark Shapiro. Six Flags said today that Shapiro is no longer with the company and that Al Weber Jr. - the former head of Paramount Parks - is now Six Flags' president and interim CEO.

Six Flags will seek a permanent CEO and has hired a search firm to help identify candidates.

Shapiro and former chairman Dan Snyder had the right idea for Six Flags - to convert the company's parks from teen hang-outs to family-friendly destinations. But the company lacked the multi-millions of dollars it needed at each park to build the type of attractions that would attract the family audience.

Six Flags' previous owners, the former Premier Parks, had positioned Six Flags exclusively as thrill parks, with no theming and minimal customer service. Perhaps if Snyder and Shapiro had gained control of the company earlier, when it could have sold parks for maximum real estate value, they could have raised the cash they needed for a massive capital conversion at Six Flags' remaining parks.

But by the time Shapiro's team had control of the company, the real estate bubble was beginning to burst and there was no market to buy theme parks at top dollar. So Six Flags added some relatively inexpensive kiddie lands (Thomas the Tank Engine, the Wiggles) and made do the best it could.

The improvements at many Six Flags parks have been substantial. My local park, Magic Mountain, is a joy to visit now, compared with a decade ago. So theme park fans owe Mark Shapiro their thanks for that.

But what will Al Weber and the new Six Flags owners do with the chain now?

Readers' Opinions

From David Kirby on May 12, 2010 at 9:12 AM
This is sad news. I think Shapiro really was a great CEO and had the right idea for the chain. In his short time, it seems like he made a lot of changes that set the parks in the right direction. It was also so refreshing to see a park head try to connect with the fans as much as he did. I haven't really ever seen that from any other national park chain. He will definitely be missed and I wish him all the best.
From Derek Potter on May 12, 2010 at 11:10 AM
Interesting...

I think that Shapiro seemed to have the right idea as well. I don't blame him for all the problems of the past few years. Not only did he inherit a giant mess, but he had to deal with it in the middle of an economic crisis. Despite that adversity, standards and customer experience at Six Flags has greatly improved. If he was voted out or fired, I'm not so sure that Six Flags made the right move.

The early years of the Paramount parks (1990's) were good ones (at least for Kings Island), but by the end, it seemed that a culture of mediocrity was starting to settle in. Whether it was budget or vision, they weren't putting as much care into ride designs and environment like they initially did, and aside from Nickelodeon, they took very little advantage of all the media that Viacom/Paramount had to offer. Al Weber was CEO of Paramount Parks from 2002 till the Cedar Fair sale in 2006. While that fact doesn't necessarily indict him as a sole reason for the company's decline, the fact is worth mentioning. By all accounts, it seems that he's a temporary CEO. Whoever they find to be the permanent CEO, I hope it's someone who also has the spirit of entertainment, and isn't just a corporate "suit" that's out of touch with the amusement/theme park industry and its customers.

From Robert Niles on May 12, 2010 at 11:35 AM
I would find it hard to believe that Shapiro's departure was voluntary on his part. If it were, he likely would have stayed on while the replacement was found. And we'd have heard from him in the release. No, I think it's clear that the new owners sacked him to find their own guy.

That's certainly their right; but I think they'll have a tough time finding anyone clearly better than Shapiro for this gig. He did well, in a very tough position.

From 71.204.115.218 on May 12, 2010 at 7:03 PM
He may have made some good changes throughout the Six Flags parks, but he made some really bad choices as well. He doesn't care about the employees that actually run the park. He went through and made cuts where no cuts should ever take place (that affect the safety of the guests). He took away the employees moral and if you take that away - how are they suppose to go out there and greet the guest. He took everything he possible could away from the employees. I guess when you're born with a silver spoon in your mouth - and never wanted for anything, why should he care? He walked away with a $3 million dollar bonus...got this when the company went bankrupt?? The employees didn't even get their little 3% raise. I'm glad to see him GONE!
From Anthony Murphy on May 13, 2010 at 8:55 AM
Shapiro did pump the rides and money into SFGA as well and its a better park than it was ten years ago too! Still, SFGA, has to harken back to the Marriot Days when it was closest thing to Walt Disney World.

I think Al Weber can do a good job, I mean he does have the experience. Now, if they can only get Al Weiss.......

From Joshua Counsil on May 13, 2010 at 9:18 AM
71.204.115.218 -

Where are you getting this information?

From 71.164.199.110 on May 15, 2010 at 9:04 AM
It's very interesting how divergent the views are from outsiders vs. insiders of Six Flags. Everyone but the anonymous poster obviously is not aware of what has been going on inside Six Flags since Snyder and Shapiro took over. They were the primary reason the company went bankrupt. Hopefully, the rest of the worthless espn cronies will be out soon too.
From Robert Niles on May 15, 2010 at 9:30 AM
Um, no.

Six Flags' balance sheet was sunk long before Snyder too over. In fact, that's why and how he took over - because the company, under the former Premier Parks management, was so over-leveraged that bankruptcy appeared imminent.

In hindsight, Snyder should have let Six Flags go into bankruptcy then, and bought the company's best parks in bankruptcy auction. Then, he could have started with a clean balance sheet and raised capital to remake the parks along a more family-friendly model, instead of pouring capital into debt service.

But he didn't, and SF ended up broke anyway.

There's no way any informed person can blame Snyder and Shapiro for what happened to Six Flags. Blame Premier Parks for that. Shapiro gave it a go, and couldn't pull off a miracle.

If the park's new owners wish to move away from Shapiro's course and reposition a thrill parks for locals, good luck with that. The chain will be back in bankruptcy within the decade.

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