Village Roadshow CEO Graham Burke to Retire

Warner Bros./Photofest
'Mad Max: Fury Road' is one of Village Roadshow's recent successes

His retirement after 30 years in the CEO role and more than 60 years at the company could precede a breakup of the company, according to local reports.

Australian entertainment conglomerate Village Roadshow Ltd. said Friday that CEO Graham Burke would retire at the end of the year after more than 60 years with the company and over 30 as CEO.  

The company will conduct a global search for a replacement for Burke, but said Clark Kirby, who is chairman and CEO of VRL’s largest division, Village Roadshow Theme Parks, and the son of executive chairman Robert Kirby, will be an internal candidate for the role. Burke will remain on the board of the company as a non-executive director once a new CEO has been found. 

Burke’s announcement comes as the company reported an underlying profit for the first half of its fiscal year of AUS$12.8 million ($9.09 million), saying its results were evidence of a "turnaround" after a difficult 2018, in which the firm broke even. Village Roadshow has interests in theme parks, cinemas, Australian film distribution and production business Roadshow Films and financing entity Village Roadshow Entertainment Group.

Revenue rose 2.2 percent to $373 million, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization jumped 31 percent to $46 million, buoyed by improved theme park performance.

Local reports have also revealed a bitter dispute between brothers Robert and John Kirby who, together with Burke, are the firm’s largest shareholders. 

According to the Australian Financial Review newspaper, John Kirby has been working with veteran investment banker and founder of K Capital David Kingston on pushing for changes he believes are needed to improve the company's performance, including asset sales and a refocus on VRL’s core Australian operations of theme parks and cinemas.

Burke today told an analyst call that asset sales were a possibility, confirming that VRL would look to sell theme park Wet'n'Wild Las Vegas after the U.S. summer. He also flagged possible sales of Village Roadshow Entertainment Group, its stake in Nasdaq-listed U.S. cinema chain iPic and its London marketing services business, "at the right time," according to the paper. 

Burke said the company had strengthened its balance sheet with the recent sale of its joint venture cinemas in Singapore, its Sydney theme park Wet'n'Wild and a capital increase in 2018. 

Robert Kirby paid tribute to Burke, calling him a "giant of our industry." He added: "He has been an integral part of Village Roadshow. Together we have seen the evolution of this company into the incredible entertainment business it is today, Graham having been a part of it for 63 years." 

Burke started his career in the business working for Roc Kirby, Village Roadshow’s founder, at the age of 14 as a ticket collector and floor sweeper at Town Hall Pictures, Ararat in Victoria. At age 23, he became managing director of Village Drive-In Ltd.

In 1988, Village Roadshow listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, and Burke became its inaugural CEO. He led the company into its theme parks investments and was the driving force behind the establishment of production and distribution entity Roadshow Films, which Kirby said “was key to the production of more Australian films than the rest of the industry combined” and included recent successes Mad Max: Fury Road. More recently, Burke has been at the forefront of the campaign to tackle piracy both in Australia and globally. 

"It is an honor to lead Village Roadshow," Burke said. "From humble beginnings as a small cinema circuit, we’ve contributed hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy, provided employment and careers for thousands of Australians, become a mainstay in Australia’s tourism industry and been involved in the production of some of the most iconic films of all time. Having said all of that, I firmly believe the best is yet to come.”