After two short years in one of Australia’s top leisure providers, Deborah Thomas steps off as Ardent CEO.

The dramatic manoeuvre comes in the wake of a fateful accident in one of the company’s top assets, Dreamworld.

Tragedy hit Australia’s biggest theme park in 2016, on its Thunder River Rapids ride.

Popular for being family-family, the ride features circular rafts hosting up to six passengers.

In October of last year the course malfunctioned, resulting in the deaths of four adults.

Consequently, and immediately after the horrific event, of which two children survived, Ardent Leisure’s shares fell by 7.8%.

Deborah Thomas steps off as Ardent CEO: Tragedy to transition

Thomas’s unexpected relinquishing of her role sums up her eventful two year stint as Ardent’s CEO.

Upon claiming the mantle, she replaced previous high-ranking manager Greg Shaw.

However, this appointment sparked controversy.

The Sydney Morning Herald

Her nomination led to a 28% plummet in share prices. Consequently, this result triggered harsh criticism from former Ardent chairman, Neil Balnaves.

Attacking shareholder for contesting Thomas’s qualifications in 2015, Balnaves critiqued that:

“There needs to be more respect for what a board does, rather than this suggestion it was a crazy decision made after a long lunch.

“Has the corporate investment culture got more illogical in the new world than it was a decade ago? Everything is an overreaction and there are very few considered, well thought-out reactions to an issue.”

Gearing to the main event

Additionally, Thomas was at the helm of the decision to resign as CEO.

She will now perform as COO and CCO for less-prioritised Australian operations, such as Dreamworlds.

As such, Ardent is focusing on building on the success of its US bowling asset, Main Event.

Simon Kelly, former executive of Nine Entertainment, will assume the role of CEO to oversee this strategy.

Thus, Kelly will be in charge of a multinational expansion plan that will see the leisure company change its name to Main Event Entertainment group.

Current chairman George Venardos commented positively in regards to Thomas’s time as Ardent CEO:

“During Deborah’s leadership our company has experienced an unprecedented level of reorientation and change and has positioned itself strongly for solid future growth [.]”

However, he also supports Kelly’s entry into a new chapter of the company’s future:

“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 [.]”

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