Posts tagged Dick Kinzel
From the Toledo Blade…
SANDUSKY — As he walked the vacant midway of Cedar Point amusement park one day last week, a blustery and cold wind off Lake Erie swirling about him, Dick Kinzel suddenly turned and pointed to a boarded-up fast-food stand.
“See that place?” he said, staring at the two-story “Walking Tacos” stand. “That used to be my first office there up on the second floor. Things sure have changed.”
For Cedar Point, its parent firm, Cedar Fair LP, and especially for Mr. Kinzel, things will change again in a very large way on Jan. 3 when the 71-year-old chief executive officer retires after 39 years with the Sandusky-based amusement park company — 25 years as its top executive.
The former Toledoan, who was a vice president with the company and general manager of its Valleyfair park in Minneapolis from 1978 to to 1986, is among a handful of men to run the amusement park chain since its founding as Cedar Point amusement center in 1906.
But it was under Mr. Kinzel’s stewardship, beginning when he became chief executive officer in 1986, that Cedar Point grew from a two-park mom-and-pop operation with revenues of $100 million into the current Cedar Fair LP conglomerate of 11 amusement parks, seven water parks and five hotels, which had revenues of $1.01 billion in 2010.
Last week, Mr. Kinzel, who lives on the Cedar Point island within walking distance of the amusement park, reflected on some of his triumphs and missteps, his best and most disappointing moments, and his impressions on the company and his industry over his almost 40 years at northwest Ohio’s premiere entertainment destination.
Mr. Kinzel, who remains a ball of energy, said he’ll most miss walking around Cedar Point on a crowded day and interacting with customers.
“It’s been a way of life for a lot of years and I’m going to miss it, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I’ll miss just coming in and walking the parks and being with the people, walking the park with [park general manager] John Hildebrandt or the general managers, and talking about what can we do to make them better.”
As Mr. Kinzel departs, Cedar Fair is but a few years away from having changed from a limited partnership whose shareholders were mostly individuals concerned about its “distribution,” or quarterly dividend, to one now dominated by institutional investors who care more about its daily share prices and quarterly earnings.
Over the last two years, Mr. Kinzel has been in several shareholder fights with the company’s largest investor, Texas hedge funds Q Investments, over the direction of the company.
Q Investments led a shareholder fight that eventually stripped Mr. Kinzel of the title of company chairman, which he held from 2003 to 2011.
Mr. Kinzel said he won’t miss dealing with Wall Street. “I much more prefer dealing with the retail base and having the shareholders in here. … we used to have shareholders just come in and say hello, and we sort of lost some of that,” he said.
Nowadays, “You have to deal with the bankers more than you just deal with what you like to do. You have to figure that I went for 23 years and we never needed a financial banker in here because we paid for all our capital out of cash flow and we paid the distributions. And we were only leveraged about three times.
“It was smooth sailing for 23 years,” he said.
But Mr. Kinzel admits that he is partly responsible for the de-emphasis of small investors — prior to 2006, 80 percent of Cedar Fair’s shares were held by individuals, but now 55 percent of its shares are held by large institutional investors — because of the $1.2 billion acquisition of Paramount Parks that he engineered in 2006.
The deal added five amusement parks to Cedar Fair’s portfolio and took its annual revenues from $569 million to $1 billion.
History, Mr. Kinzel said, is likely to prove the Paramount acquisition his biggest achievement as chairman and CEO.
“That’s probably the thing I’m proudest of, making that acquisition,” he said. “They put it up for bid for auction, and we bid on it. We paid a very high price … but we knew there were five great parks in five strategic geographic locations.”
However, Cedar Fair struggled with a high debt load for three years after the acquisition, forcing it to consider being acquired by private equity group Apollo Global Management LLC of New York. The $2.4 billion deal eventually was called off after shareholders indicated they would not approve the sale.
Looking back, Mr. Kinzel said that if he could do one thing differently with the Paramount deal, “I wish we could have … done a public offering for the stock instead of trying to pay off the debt out of cash flow. That’s what sort of got us in trouble with the banks, is when the recession hit and we couldn’t come back,” he said.
Trying to absorb the debt of the deal left the company weakened, and it was forced to suspend its dividend, a move dictated by loan agreements, but one that cost it goodwill with its smaller shareholders. Many small shareholders sold their stock as a result, and it was snapped up by institutional investors intently interested in the company’s financial bottom line.
“In hindsight, I’d do it all again … but I certainly would do an offering for [new shares] to get that debt down,” Mr. Kinzel said.
Mr. Kinzel’s other strategic regret is letting the opportunity to buy Kings Island near Cincinnati get away in 2000. The company acquired Kings Island in 2006 in the Paramount deal, but Cedar Fair could have had it six years earlier at a lower price. A $40 million tax liability on top of the sale price killed the sale to Cedar Fair in 2000, he said.
“Kings Island, that was always my favorite park outside of the Cedar Fair system. It opened in 1972, the year I started at Cedar Point, so we knew the park, and I visited it just about every year just to see what they were doing,” Mr. Kinzel said.
With retirement just days away, the CEO said he is “real proud” of Cedar Fair’s financial position as he leaves. “If you look at our projections, our forecast for this year, we’re going to leave the company with record projected revenues, record attendance, and projected record [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization]. So I’m real pleased. It’s a nice way to go out.”
A known name
Mr. Kinzel also is most proud of the fact that Cedar Fair went from a regional company to an international brand under his watch. One of the company’s most successful parks now is its Canada’s Wonderland in Toronto, and every year Cedar Point is visited by coaster enthusiasts from several continents eager to try its world-renowned collection of roller coasters.
“We put in the first 200-foot, 300-foot, and 400-foot coasters and I think our capital [expenditures] plan, our five-year plan for all these years has been good. It’s kept attendance coming and revenues increasing every year,” he said.
“It’s sort of nice to be the trendsetter in some things, and certainly Cedar Point is known for the roller coasters. To be voted the No. 1 amusement park for the last 14 years, most of that is attributable to not only the cleanliness and our employees but also to putting in those major attractions,” Mr. Kinzel said.
“You know, it’s always been a surprise to me that when we put in the Magnum XL-200 [in 1989], no one followed through with a big coaster like that,” he said. “Then we put in the 300-foot coaster. Then we put in a 400-foot coaster, and Six Flags did match us. They modeled theirs after that one, but other than that, no one’s really modeled the success we’ve had with the big steel coasters.”
While coaster enthusiasts view Mr. Kinzel as the main architect of Cedar Point’s collection of 17 roller coasters, Mr. Kinzel said he didn’t set out to make the park the “coaster capital.”
“I was basically just doing my job — you do what you do to draw attendance, to bring attendance into the park,” he said. But building the Magnum in 1989 “just changed the whole environment of what Cedar Point was,” Mr. Kinzel said.
“All of a sudden Cedar Point was the coaster capital of the world, and John Hildebrandt, who is now the general manager of Cedar Point, was vice president of marketing then, and he took that and ran with it and helped build the brand,” he said.
The launch of the Magnum XL-200 also gave Mr. Kinzel his most memorable — albeit scariest — moment in 39 years at Cedar Fair.
“When we opened the [310-foot high] Millennium Force in 2000, that thing, they ran it for a month before they’d let anybody on it,” Mr. Kinzel said. “But with the Magnum XL-200, it was the Saturday before the park opened and we were on the platform. And they sent the first train around — one time around! — and somebody said, ‘Let’s go,’ and we hopped in the front seat and we went up that crazy hill.
“Coming in, the brakes weren’t on in the station. You know how you come around and you come back into that station and there’s a set of brakes there? None of those brakes were hooked up and we didn’t know it,” Mr. Kinzel said.
“So we went screaming into the station. Nobody was hurt or anything but that was a real exciting day,” Mr. Kinzel said, laughing at the memory. “You know what though? I knew we had the best ride in the world at that point. I got off that ride saying ‘We got a winner’ because … I had ridden all the coasters and there was nothing like Magnum XL-200 when that was put in. Needless to say, after that day, we run [coasters] for months before we’ll let anyone on one,” he added.
Another coaster, Cedar Point’s Disaster Transport, a lightly regarded ride by coaster enthusiasts, gave Mr. Kinzel his worst moment over the decades.
Built as an outdoor “bobsled” coaster, the family-friendly attraction was later converted to an indoor space-themed ride by Mr. Kinzel. “The story I always tell about it is we had a dog ride and we took a dog ride and put a cover on it,” he said.
“We had a board meeting on opening day and I had the board out there and some guy came right up to me with his little kid and said, ‘You named that right. That’s a disaster.’ And he just walked away,” Mr. Kinzel said. “What can you say?”
Over his 25 years as CEO, Mr. Kinzel has been involved in several major Cedar Fair acquisitions. But during his years with the company, Mr. Kinzel said, Cedar Fair itself often was an acquisition target, more so than is known.
“We’ve been courted — while I’ve been at Cedar Point — many times. By Taft Broadcasting, right after they built Kings Island, Marriott tried to buy us twice, and Anheuser-Busch wanted us. Up until we went public [in 1987] there were a lot of people courting us,” Mr. Kinzel said.
“Marriott was going to build three parks with us, and they ultimately built two of them. They didn’t buy us, but they hired a lot of our people. Thirty-two people from Cedar Point went to the Chicago [Great America] park alone,” Mr. Kinzel said.
“That’s when [former CEO Robert] Munger decided to promote from within and not go outside to rebuild his team. That’s what gave me my big break. Well, actually, Marriott gave me my big break I guess,” he said.
As he heads into retirement, Mr. Kinzel said he plans to see what people who don’t work throughout a summer do. For starters, he bought golf clubs and plans to try the game.
“I’ve always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon, and I hope I can go there in September. I’m going on a cruise in February, and I’m just going to do stuff where I don’t have a calendar,” he said.
“I’ve never had a Labor Day or a Fourth of July or a Memorial Day off in my life, or at least in the last 40 years,” he said. “I’ve never had a summer vacation … but that’s just part of our policy. You have to be here.”
But now that his successor, former Disney Co. executive Matt Ouimet, will be the person walking the midway, Mr. Kinzel said he feels good about the future.
“I’ve been asked to be on a couple of projects from a civic standpoint but I’ve been telling everybody I just want to take six months to a year just to not do anything. I’ve been wound up tighter than a $2 clock and I just want to unwind a little bit for six months to a year,” he said.
Cedar Point Press Release
SANDUSKY, Ohio – For the 14th consecutive year, Cedar Point amusement park/resort in Sandusky, Ohio, was named as the “Best Amusement Park in the World” in the prestigious Golden Ticket Awards presented annually by Amusement Today newspaper.
Cedar Point also received another very special award as Dick Kinzel, CEO of Cedar Fair Entertainment Company that owns operates Cedar Point and 10 other amusement parks, was selected to become a member of the Legends Series as the 2011 Publisher’s Pick that recognizes the top examples of dedication, leadership and achievement in the amusement industry.
These announcements were made late Saturday afternoon, Sept. 17, during a special ceremony held at Holiday World amusement park in Santa Claus, Ind.
The Golden Ticket Awards are given to the highest-rated parks in approximately two dozen categories as determined by a panel of experienced amusement park fans from around the world. Headquartered in Arlington, Texas, Amusement Today is an international publication that covers amusement and waterpark news and trends.
“Dick Kinzel has been instrumental in the growth and success of the Cedar Fair family of parks,” said Gary Slade, publisher and editor-in-chief of Amusement Today. “Because of his leadership, Cedar Fair maintained stability during a very tumultuous period for the amusement park industry. He started, he continued and he won the Coaster Wars. His vision for family entertainment has made him a legend in the industry.”
In addition to winning the highly coveted award for the world’s best amusement park, Cedar Point’s Millennium Force roller coaster was also named as the “Best Steel Roller Coaster” for the second consecutive year and the sixth time since its introduction in 2000.
“This is a very special day for us,” said John Hildebrandt, vice president and general manager of Cedar Point. “Not only is our park and our roller coaster named as the best in the world, but Dick Kinzel, who has been a mentor and trusted friend to many of us in the industry, has been recognized for his many achievements. It is a very proud moment.”
Millennium Force had lots of company in the “Best Steel Roller Coaster” category, with two other Cedar Point coasters rated in the Top Ten and another pair ranked in the Top 25. The Top Thrill Dragster (9th) that stands 42-stories tall and perennial favorite Magnum Xl-200 (10th) were the park’s two other Top Ten finalists while the Raptor inverted roller coaster was ranked 18th and the twisting Maverick captured the 21st spot.
Located on the shores of Lake Erie, Cedar Point is one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the country. With 75 rides, including 17 roller coasters, the park has more rides than any park in the world. Built in 1870, Cedar Point is the second oldest amusement park in North America.
Cedar Point is now open for HalloWeekends 15, a family fall festival of fun and frights, Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays, Sept. 16-18 through Oct. 28-30.
For more information, please visit the park’s website at cedarpoint.com or call Cedar Point’s General Information Line at 419.627.2350.
From the Sandusky Register…
A trademark Cedar Point attraction set sail on its final voyage Monday night.
The campy but nostalgic Paddlewheel Excursions is now officially extinct.
Space occupied by the 47-year-old ride will go toward building the park’s newest exhibit, Dinosaurs Alive!, in 2012.
But dedicated park enthusiasts received one last opportunity to ride the family attraction and say goodbye to a Cedar Point staple.
Almost 40 local residents and tourists contributed about $3,400 to be the last riders, said Ron Rude, the local chapter’s executive director.
Firelands Red Cross Press Release
SANDUSKY, Ohio – Shortly after 8 p.m. on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 5, guests of the Firelands Chapter of the American Red Cross will take the final public rides on the Paddlewheel Excursions, the scenic riverboat cruise at Cedar Point.
To determine the participants on the two last rides, the Red Cross will host The Last Ride Auction for the seats on the last two boats. Each boat will accommodate 25 riders. (Riders must be at least 46 inches tall or accompanied by a responsible person.)
The top 49 bidders will be officially certified as the Last Riders on the Paddlewheel Excursions. The highest 24 riders will earn a seat on the last public cruise. As a special treat, that last boat will be captained by Dick Kinzel, CEO of the Cedar Fair Entertainment Company. Bidders 25-49 will have a seat on the second last boat. Official bidding began Aug. 26 and will run through 8:30 a.m. on this Friday, Sept. 2.
In addition to a final ride on Paddlewheel Excursions, successful bidders will also receive complimentary admission to Cedar Point, admission to the Last Ride Auction Reception with complimentary hors d’oeuvres and refreshments that will begin at 7 p.m. at Charlie Brown’s Cookout in Camp Snoopy, a commemorative medallion from the Red Cross and certificates of recognition from the Red Cross and Cedar Point.
Winning participants will be able to enter the park anytime during the day and will also receive free parking. (Cedar Point will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 5.) They will also be able to purchase discounted tickets for family and friends for use on Labor Day.
A themed-riverboat cruise has been in operation at Cedar Point since the early Sixties. During that span, it has given more than 47 million rides.
All proceeds from the event will support the many programs provided by the Firelands Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Those interested in submitting a bid should visit:
For additional information about The Last Ride Auction, please visit www.firelandsredcross.org or call the Firelands Chapter of the American Red Cross at 419.626.1641 or 800.589.2286.
From the Sandusky Register…
Cedar Fair said Monday it has found a successor for Dick Kinzel, the longtime Cedar Fair CEO who made Cedar Point the roller coaster capital of the world.
The new leader is Matthew Ouimet, 53, a former executive for the Walt Disney Co. and Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
Ouimet began work Monday in Cedar Fair’s Sandusky office, in the back of the park, as the new president of Cedar Fair. When Kinzel, 70, retires on Jan. 3 as CEO, Ouimet will succeed him.
In an interview, Ouimet (pronounced “We MET”) said he plans to keep the company’s headquarters in Sandusky and will make sure Cedar Point remains the “crown jewel” of Cedar Fair’s family of amusement parks.
“I see no logic to moving out of Sandusky,” said Ouimet, who, along with his wife, will move to Ohio from Orange County, Calif.
Investors will get a look at Cedar Fair’s new leader when the company hosts its annual meeting at 9 a.m. July 7 at the Cedar Point Center at BGSU Firelands.
Ouimet spent 17 years with Disney, including handling the financial management of Disney’s parks and projects in California, Florida and France as the company’s senior vice president; running the Disney Vacation Club, and serving as president of the Disney Cruise Line and Disneyland Resort. More recently, he served as president of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, overseeing 900 properties in 90 countries, and was president and CEO of Corinthian Colleges. Ouimet is also on the board of Collective Brands, which owns the Payless ShoeSource chain.
Disney emphasizes qualities such as service and cleanliness and has a culture similar to Cedar Fair’s, Ouimet said.
“I grew up in a culture that was all about quality,” Ouimet said.
He said his visits to Cedar Fair parks such as Knotts Berry Farm and meetings with Cedar Fair officials showed Cedar Fair has a similar focus.
“It is clear to me this team has extremely high standards,” Ouimet said.
He said he shares Cedar Fair’s philosophy of keeping its parks clean.
“I can’t walk through a park and leave anything on the ground,” he said.
C. Thomas Harvie, Cedar Fair’s chairman of the board, said Ouimet was the right man to lead Cedar Fair into the future.
Harvie cited Ouimet’s track record of finding growth opportunities and his background in resort development, finance, marketing and operations.
The board met other candidates who were well-qualified, Harvie said.
“The board agreed that Matt stood out from the rest due to his strategic business mindset and his natural and engaging leadership style,” Harvie said.
“Matt is an impressive business and operational executive whose character and values will be a great complement to the strong Cedar Fair culture,” Kinzel said.
The Q Investments family of companies, controlled by Texas investment banker Geoffrey Raynor, has warned it might oppose a new Cedar Fair CEO if it didn’t approve of the board’s choice.
On Monday, Q released a statement reserving judgment on Ouimet, but pushing Q’s position that unitholders should be allowed to nominate members of Cedar Fair’s board.
“We have no current comment on the hiring of Mr. Ouimet. However, regardless of whether the company hires Matt Ouimet or Warren Buffett, it does not change the fact that unitholders should have the right to nominate their own directors. We will continue to take every step necessary to ensure unitholders ultimately receive this right, which 95 percent of voting unitholders demanded at the last special meeting,” the Q statement said.