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Published: Tuesday, 6/21/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Disney exec to replace Cedar Fair CEO

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Matt Ouimet Matt Ouimet
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SANDUSKY -- Concluding its search for a new leader with amusement-industry ties, Cedar Fair LP Monday chose former Disneyland operations manager Matt Ouimet to become its next chief executive officer, replacing 70-year-old Dick Kinzel in January.

In naming Mr. Ouimet, 53, to the position held by Mr. Kinzel for 25 years, company Chairman C. Thomas Harvie called Mr. Kinzel's successor "the right leader to join Cedar Fair now as it builds momentum on its renewed path of sustained, profitable growth in 2011 and beyond."

The change, which had been expected because Mr. Kinzel said last year he would retire, comes after more than a year of battles between Cedar Fair and its largest shareholder, Texas hedge funds known as Q Investments. They forced the split of the CEO and chairman's positions, which Mr. Kinzel had held, and criticized his financial acumen.

Mr. Ouimet will become the president of Cedar Fair immediately. Mr. Kinzel had held that position until Monday. The former Disney executive will not become CEO until Mr. Kinzel steps down on Jan. 3, 2012.

"Matt is an impressive business and operation executive whose character and values will be a great complement to the strong Cedar Fair culture," Mr. Kinzel said in a statement.

Mr. Ouimet's compensation was not disclosed Monday.

Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc. of Cincinnati, said of the hiring: "The great thing about having Matthew coming in is there's not a learning curve for him. He knows what a Ferris wheel is, and he also knows about finances. In this day and age, it's all about the finances."

Even though Mr. Ouimet has been away from the amusement industry for five years, Mr. Speigel said, he remains well thought of and respected.

Q Investments, which own 18 percent of Cedar Fair's stock, was reserved about the selection, choosing to restate its frustration at Cedar Fair's current bylaws that do not allow shareholders to nominate candidates for its corporate board, an issue Q Investments tried to change recently with a special shareholder vote and a change it continues to pursue.

Cedar Fair's stock, with a full day of trading after the announcement, rose 15 cents Monday to close at $18.45 a share on the New York Stock Exchange.

The selection of Mr. Ouimet concludes a nearly seven-month search. In December the company hired an executive search firm, Korn/Ferry International of Los Angeles, to assist with the search.

In a statement, Mr. Ouimet said he was "thrilled" to join Cedar Fair and work with Mr. Kinzel. "Cedar Fair is a wonderful company -- its properties are vibrant and extremely well-run, its reputation is superb, and the record-setting … performance has put us on a path to deliver the positive financial results Cedar Fair has long been known for."

Dick Kinzel Dick Kinzel
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Mr. Ouimet comes to Cedar Fair, which owns Cedar Point, 10 other amusement parks, 7 water parks, and 5 hotels, after 17 years with Disney, over two years in the hospitality industry as president of the hotel group of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, and most recently 15 months as president and CEO of Corinthian Colleges, a $2 billion publicly held company that provides postsecondary technical, trade, and professional degree programs. He also has been a board member of shoe and footwear conglomerate Collective Brands Inc.

When Mr. Ouimet left Disney in 2006, he was president of Disneyland Resort, where he developed and implemented a comprehensive strategic plan that led to a significantly improved and sustained performance for the California theme park's 50th anniversary in 2005. He also was president of Disney Cruise Line, and executive general manager of the company's timeshare Disney Vacation Club operation.

Early on he was senior vice president and chief financial officer of Disney Development Co., responsible for the financial management of Disney properties in California, Florida, and Paris.

Al Lutz, a Los Angelesonline journalist who operates MiceAge.com, a Web site of news about Disney parks and resorts, said Mr. Ouimet was well thought of and loved by employees during his time as the head of Disneyland. "I can't speak highly enough of this guy. He was the best thing that ever happened to Disneyland," he said.

Mr. Lutz predicted Mr. Ouimet "is going to be a great match" for Cedar Fair and that his operating style is similar to Mr. Kinzel's.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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