Finance Finance News Ardent Leisure boss Deborah Thomas to exit with a $731,000 payout

Ardent Leisure boss Deborah Thomas to exit with a $731,000 payout

DEborah Thomas Ardent Leisure boss gets $731,000 payout
Ardent Leisure chief executive Deborah Thomas arriving at the shareholders' meeting in October. Photo: AAP
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Dreamworld boss Deborah Thomas will walk away with a $731,000 golden handshake, after news she will leave the company sooner than planned.

Ms Thomas, the chief executive of Dreamworld owner Ardent Leisure, was at the helm during the 2016 tragedy at the Gold Coast theme park when a ride malfunctioned, killing four people.

Ardent Leisure in April announced the appointment of new chief executive Simon Kelly and that Ms Thomas would move to the roles of chief customer officer and chief operating officer for Australasia from July.

But an advisory to the stock market late on the Friday before the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, reported that Ms Thomas would leave the company entirely on July 1.

Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozi Araghi and Cindy Low died when the popular and family-favourite Thunder River Rapids ride malfunctioned on October 25.

The deaths of the four unleashed a huge outpouring of sorrow – and from some quarters, anger – nationwide.

The anger was born out of what many people saw as the poor handling of the disaster by the company.

This included Dreamworld initially deciding to reopen the theme park before a full and independent safety inspection was undertaken.

The company was also blasted for deciding to proceed with its annual shareholder meeting only two days after the accident, at which the company unveiled Ms Thomas’s $167,500 performance bonus.

Ms Thomas ultimately yielded to public pressure and donated the bonus to a charity benefiting the bereaved families, but not before the incident was framed as a public relations disaster.

Ardent’s advisory to the ASX on Friday explained Ms Thomas’s payout was in line with her contract.

“In accordance with her existing employment agreement, Ms Thomas will be paid a termination benefit of $731,291 (equal to 12 months average bare remuneration,” the statement said.

She will also be paid $3000 a day to attend an inquest into the deaths of four people on a ride at Dreamworld, the advice to the ASX added.

Ardent Leisure said Ms Thomas would provide consultancy advice and support to the new chief executive, senior management and its board ahead of the inquiry.

“Ms Thomas will be paid a consultancy fee of $3000 per day, for each day reasonably expended in relation to the coronial inquest,” it said in a statement.

The company said it based the $3000 figure on “external professional advice and market benchmarking”.

A timeframe for the inquest has not been set and it could be a year or more before it proceeds.

Ardent Leisure chairman George Vendaros heaped praise on Ms Thomas, who joined the company in 2013 as a non-executive director before taking over as CEO and managing director in 2015.

When Ardent Leisure announced the changes in April, chairman George Venardos praised Ms Thomas’s three years in the job, saying the company had “experienced an unprecedented level of reorientation and change and has positioned itself strongly for solid future growth” under her reign.

Ardent reported a loss of $95.2 million in the half year to December 2016, citing the impact of the tragedy which resulted in Dreamworld closing for 45 days and suffering reduced patronage after that.

Mr Kelly, a former chief financial officer with the Nine Network, most recently worked as a project director with Virgin Australia, and also has board experience with Sky News and streaming service Stan.

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