After just seven months at the helm of SeaWorld Entertainment, Gustavo “Gus” Antorcha has resigned as chief executive and board member of the publicly traded theme park operator effective immediately.
In a filing Monday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Orlando-based owner of SeaWorld San Diego and the Aquatica water park in Chula Vista said Antorcha informed the company that his resignation was due to disagreements over the board’s involvement in the decision making at the company.
“While I may have a difference of approach, I continue to believe in SeaWorld’s strategy, mission, team and prospects,” Antorcha said in a statement from the company.
SeaWorld has been in turmoil since the anti-captivity documentary “Blackfish” came out in 2013. While attendance at the company’s 12 theme parks rebounded somewhat last year after bottoming out in 2017, it remains below 2012 levels. And while the company returned to profitability in 2018 after two years of losses, its revenue has never recovered fully to levels prior to the documentary. With Antorcha’s departure, SeaWorld will be looking for its fourth CEO in the past five years.
The company said Antorcha is not entitled to — and informed SeaWorld that he is not seeking — any severance in connection with his leaving.
The company appointed Marc Swanson, a 19-year SeaWorld veteran and current chief financial officer, as interim CEO. Elizabeth Castro Gulacsy, who has been with the company for seven years, will take over as interim chief financial officer.
“We thank Gus for his contributions and wish him well in his future endeavors,” said Scott Ross, chairman of the board, in a statement. “We know Marc and Elizabeth will be excellent leaders in their new roles and will continue to successfully drive the business forward.”
Ross added that “the strategy we have in place is working and we have made significant progress. We look forward to continuing to execute on this strategy and driving a meaningful increase in value for all stakeholders.”
SeaWorld hired Antorcha in February. An outsider to the theme park business, he was previously chief operating officer with Carnival cruise line, where he had worked for more than eight years. Prior to joining Carnival, he was a partner and managing director at the Boston Consulting Group, a well-known strategy and management consulting firm.
He replaced Joel Manby, who stepped down last year after failing to deliver a rebound in sliding attendance and revenue that dogged the company since the “Blackfish” release.
Over the past year, however, the company has made gains in revenue and attendance as it continues to invest more money in theme park attractions such as roller coasters. Through the first six months of this year, attendance across all parks is up 1.7 percent, and revenue has increased 2.9 percent, compared with 2018.
In an interview with the Union-Tribune this summer, Antorcha insisted that animals would remain central to the company’s business model and mission.
“Animals are absolutely core to the experience of SeaWorld,” said Antorcha. “Animal experiences make us unique, and the other competition doesn’t have that. Yes, we’ve been adding more roller coasters but they’re all linked back to education and conservation. If you look more broadly, we’re trying to make sure a family will have a great day at the park, and thrill rides done the way SeaWorld does them help round out that experience.”
Last week, SeaWorld announced new roller coasters in Orlando and at Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay that will open in 2020. In August, it unveiled plans for a new coaster at SeaWorld San Antonio — all signs the company aims to rely less on marine animals to bring in visitors.
“They have just struggled so much, and I am sure their shareholders want to see a quicker recovery,” said Todd Regan, an independent theme park analyst. “Their future is minimizing any animal, and particularly mammal, type shows and going more toward entertainment and attractions. That is definitely what they have been doing.”
SeaWorld’s board has hired an executive search firm to assist in the search for Antorcha’s successor. The board also approved a decrease in the number of directors from eight to seven members.
SeaWorld announced Antorcha’s departure after markets closed. The company’s shares ended trading flat at $30.08 on the New York Stock Exchange.