Peter Brown out as AMC Entertainment chief

Starbucks vet Gerry Lopez takes post in surprise move

Nineteen-year AMC Entertainment veteran Peter Brown was replaced Tuesday as head of the nation's second-biggest theater chain by a consumer-savvy Starbucks exec in a surprise move stirring speculation about the company's future.

Owned by J.P. Morgan Partners and Apollo Management following a 2004 takeover of the then-public company, AMC announced a $789 million initial public offering in 2006 only to cancel the plans the following year over poor market conditions. The failed IPO might have caused Brown to lose favor with the company's current owners, who still need an exit strategy on their pricey investment.

The changing of the guard at AMC -- where retail veteran Gerry Lopez replaces Brown as CEO and gets a board seat -- also spurred rumors that the company might move out of Kansas City, Mo., its corporate roost since being founded in 1920 by the local Durwood family.

"The only reason they are still there is because of Peter Brown, who has his family there," a top distribution exec said.

Lopez most recently served as an exec vp at Starbucks, where he was also president of its global consumer products, foodservice and Seattle's Best Coffee divisions. Lopez assumes his AMC responsibilities effective March 2.

"Peter Brown has been an integral part of AMC's extraordinary growth and innovation," said Aaron Stone, an AMC director now elevated to board chairman.

Said Brown: "Having helped the company grow from $400 million in revenue when I joined it to the $2.3 billion world-class company it has become, the time is right for me to turn to the next phase of my life and to the opportunities that exist. I leave the company confident that it is in the hands of a leader whose deep marketing and consumer background will take it to new heights."

Brown joined AMC in 1990 and was appointed chairman and CEO in 1999. He was just the third chairman in AMC's 89-year history.

Stone said Lopez's retail background will be well applied at AMC.

"At Starbucks, he was a key driver of their consumer products growth strategy," the new AMC chairman said. "He is an outstanding leader with a proven history of creating dynamic strategic partnerships and intensely focusing on the customer experience."

Lopez was a division president at Handleman Co. in 2001-04 and previously held management positions with Frito-Lay, Pepsi-Cola and Procter & Gamble.

Second in U.S. market share only to Regal Entertainment, AMC operates more than 4,628 screens in 309 theaters in five countries. Brown's mentor Stan Durwood -- who ran the circuit for more than three decades -- was renowned for innovation in the exhibition business, such as introducing stadium-seat theaters in the 1980s and megaplex construction in the '90s.