* Former advisor to junior bondholders now interim CEO
* Shapiro no longer with the company, Six Flags says (Rewrites first paragraph to include description of interim CEO; adds analyst comment, detail on MidOcean interest)
NEW YORK, May 12 (Reuters) - Six Flags, which emerged from bankruptcy protection this month, abruptly replaced its chief executive on Wednesday, turning to a 40-year industry veteran who has served as an advisor to the company’s current owners.
New York-based Six Flags, which operates 19 parks, named Alexander Weber as its interim president and CEO. During the bankruptcy proceedings, Weber was an advisor, first to Six Flags’ senior bondholders and later to junior bondholders led by Stark Investments.
Weber replaces former CEO Mark Shapiro who is no longer with the company. Six Flags did not offer a reason for Shapiro’s departure.
Shapiro’s surprising exit comes a little more than a week after the company exited bankruptcy protection and wound up in the hands of its junior bondholders.
A former ESPN executive, Shapiro took the top job at Six Flags in 2006. He shifted the company’s strategy toward attractive more families to its amusement parks.
“Mark had a very strong vision for that company and taking it forward,” said theme park consultant Dennis Speigel. “I have to believe that he wouldn’t leave unless he came to a disagreement with the board.”
Six Flags has wiped out more than a billion dollars in debt after filing for Chapter 11 last June. The company emerged from bankruptcy on May 3, just before the start of the lucrative summer season. [ID:nN03197397]
Weber is the former CEO of Paramount Parks, a theme park company that was bought by Cedar Fair (FUN.N) in 2006. He most recently was a management affiliate for private equity firm MidOcean Partners.
In testimony earlier this year, Six Flags’ Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Speed said MidOcean, among other companies, approached Six Flags about doing a deal.
Last June, analysts had expected the management team would survive a restructuring. But Shapiro is the second high- profile executive to leave the company this month.
The company’s emergence from bankruptcy also ended the reign of Washington Redskins football team owner Daniel Snyder, who led a heated proxy fight for the company in 2005 and installed himself as chairman.
Six Flags said it has retained an executive search firm and will consider both internal and external job candidates for the CEO post. (Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)