One of Australia’s greatest showmen, Graham Burke is retiring as the CEO of Village Roadshow Ltd (VRL) after 63 years with the company founded by Roc Kirby.
The board said Burke will remain in the role until the end of this year to ensure a smooth transition.
The company said it will conduct a wide-ranging, global and domestic executive search using a firm of head hunters.
Clark Kirby, the son of executive chairman Robert Kirby, who is chairman and CEO of VRL’s theme parks division, will be a candidate for the position.
Deputy chairman John Kirby — Robert’s older brother — has been agitating for Burke’s removal as CEO, the appointment of an independent chairman and a sell-off of VRL’s film production arm and other assets including its US cinemas after a lacklustre financial performance.
Last year VRL wrote down to zero its investment in Village Roadshow Pictures, despite hits such as Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, The Lego Movie, the Ocean’s Eleven franchise and Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. VRP is now controlled by US private equity firms Vine Alternative Investments and Falcon Investment Advisors.
Burke tells IF today he is “happy and joyous” and looks forward to the next chapter of his life with his wife Robyn.
The highly respected executive, who started at Village Cinemas in Ararat, Victoria, as a ticket seller and floor sweeper at the age of 14, said he had intended to step down two years ago.
He decided to postpone that move due to the “triple hit” of the Dreamworld fatalities which badly impacted attendances at VRL’s theme parks, the encroachment of Netflix and online piracy. He now believes he has turned around the company.
Asked about John Kirby’s sustained criticism of his position, he said: “I don’t listen to it. The bottom line is I’m not distracted.” He will remain on the board after a new CEO is appointed.
In 1968, Burke and the Kirby family founded Roadshow Film Distributors, which rapidly became the country’s biggest independent distributor.
He was the inaugural CEO when VRL listed on the ASX in 1988. He led the company into theme parks – its biggest division – and was the driving force behind Roadshow Films and Roadshow Entertainment.
More recently he has been at the forefront of the campaign to tackle content piracy, persuading the government to introduce site-blocking legislation.
Robert Kirby said: “Graham is a giant of our industry and 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.
“We thank him for his enduring commitment and the leadership he has shown. Graham leaves an extraordinary legacy as CEO and we look forward to his continued involvement on the board.”
In a prepared statement Burke said: “It is an honour to lead Village Roadshow. I am exceptionally proud of everything that has been achieved. I am incredibly optimistic about the future of the company and look forward to serving on the board in support of the new CEO.
“I want to thank the thousands of my colleagues who come to work each day with passion and dedication to creating great entertainment experiences for our customers.
“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.”