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Six Flags CEO leaves after bankruptcy reorganization

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Six Flags chief executive Mark Shapiro, who was chosen for the job by Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder more than four years ago, has left the theme-park operator, the company said Wednesday.

Shapiro's departure comes less than two weeks after the company won approval for its bankruptcy reorganization and brings to a close Snyder's attempt to turn Six Flags into the centerpiece of an entertainment empire.

Snyder took control of Six Flags in 2005 after a bitter proxy fight and became its chairman. But the company collapsed under $2.4 billion in debt that he inherited from Six Flags' previous owners and filed for Chapter 11 protection.

Under a recent reorganization plan submitted by Six Flags' junior bondholders, nine people, including Shapiro, were named directors of the restructured company, according to a filing in U.S. bankruptcy court in Delaware.

However, Snyder and his friend and Redskins partner, Dwight C. Schar, declined to seek reappointment to the reorganized company's board. As a result of the bankruptcy, Snyder lost his equity investment in Six Flags, which at one time was roughly 5 to 6 percent of the company.

Shapiro did not return messages requesting comment.

A source who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter said Shapiro and the theme park's new owners did not agree on an operational strategy for the company.

Snyder and Shapiro, a former ESPN executive, had sought to create a more family-friendly atmosphere at Six Flags by adding attractions while forging partnerships with sponsors such as Sara Lee and Chase Card Services.

Entertainment sources, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Shapiro maintains a close relationship with Snyder and will continue to oversee Dick Clark Productions, the television home of the Golden Globe Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards and "American Bandstand." Red Zone Capital, Snyder's private equity firm, bought Dick Clark Productions in 2007 for $175 million in hopes of incorporating its features in Six Flags parks.

In a statement, Snyder called Shapiro's departure a loss for Six Flags. "Mark Shapiro bravely led Six Flags through an incredibly difficult period. He has been an energetic, optimistic leader and problem solver," Snyder said. "Most of all I admire his tenacious dedication to protect the interests of the 28,000 Six Flags associates during this period of transition."

Six Flags, which owns about 20 parks throughout North America, said Wednesday that it had named Alexander Weber Jr. as president and interim chief executive and that it hired an executive search firm to find a replacement.

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