Deborah Thomas will stand down as chief executive of Dreamworld owner, Ardent Leisure, just two years after she took the job and six months after the tragedy which claimed the lives of four people at the Gold Coast theme park.
The company claims Thomas instigated the leadership change at the group, which will see former Nine Entertainment executive Simon Kelly take the CEO role while she takes on the newly created role of chief customer officer and head of operations for the Australian business.
This means she will still oversee Australian businesses like Dreamworld, which are expected to take a back seat to the company’s growing US bowling operations, Main Event.
Kelly will oversee this expansion strategy, after Ardent announced last year that it will change its name to Main Event Entertainment Group to reflect the importance of this business.
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“During Deborah’s leadership our company has experienced an unprecedented level of reorientation and change and has positioned itself strongly for solid future growth,” said Ardent chairman, George Venardos.
When Thomas steps down in July, it will end a turbulent two years for the former Women’s Weekly editor.
The news of her appointment, replacing the respected Ardent boss, Greg Shaw, triggered a 20 per cent drop in the share price.
Ardent’s chairman at the time, Neil Balnaves, triggered a further storm when he criticised Ardent shareholders who had questioned Thomas’s credentials for the role. He said they were naive and accused them of a “vicious attack with no logic attached to it”.
The stock had only just recovered from that plunge when the Dreamworld tragedy hit last year and sent its share price back down to the A$2 mark.
Kelly is trying to ensure his entry to the Ardent business is less eventful.
His starting salary of A$600,000 (NZ$650,000) will be less than the A$670,000 Thomas received last year, although this is partly in lieu of a A$1.5 million share grant he will receive – but cannot sell – until July 1, 2020.
Kelly will also be entitled to incentives worth up to A$950,000 a year.
“Simon, who will transition to the role over the next few months with the support of Deborah, brings to the group a wealth of experience in the management of multinational operations, financial control and the entertainment sector,” said Venardos.