Merlin Entertainments CEO Nick Varney to retire

Nick Varney, Merlin Entertainments

Merlin Entertainments chief executive officer Nick Varney has announced that he will retire in 12 months.

The 59-year-old has occupied the position since founding Merlin in 1999, having worked in theme park marketing since the early 1990s.

He has overseen Merlin’s rapid expansion, acquiring the former Tussauds Group in 2007 before becoming a public company in 2013.

The company returned to private ownership six years later, but Varney has remained the company’s chief executive throughout.

He said that his decision to retire was taken after “much consideration and with a very heavy heart”.

Follow Merlin veteran Mark Fisher will also retire as chief development officer within 12 months.

‘My life’

In a press release issued on Friday, Varney said that the company had been his “life” for most of his career.

“I love the people, the attractions, the visitors and the industry and I am proud to have played my part as we built Merlin into an incredible business,” he said.

“I know that with our amazing attractions, as well as our committed and capable people, Merlin will go from strength to strength over the coming years.”

Occasionally outspoken, he once said UK government policy does his “head in”, and described Brexit as being good for his company.

In 2011, he criticised free admission to museums and art galleries, saying it was “largely exploited by foreign tourists and middle class people who can afford it”.

The Smiler, Alton Towers
Five people were seriously injured in 2013’s Smiler accident

But it was in the aftermath of 2013’s Smiler accident at Alton Towers that he both entered the limelight and received widespread praise for the first time.

His public appearances and statements in the aftermath of the incident have since formed parts of case studies in leadership and business management courses.

Other notable moments in Varney’s career include claiming that the public “don’t get” wooden rollercoasters, before the Wicker Man ride was launched at Alton Towers several years later.

In 2015, he said that retrofitting rear-facing seats onto rollercoasters was a “mark of desperation” despite overseeing such changes to Thorpe Park’s Swarm ride two years earlier.

The marketing of the Nemesis rollercoaster in 1994 was one of Varney’s first major projects, and he has said that he cannot imagine the ride ever being removed from Alton Towers.

With the ride’s imminent re-tracking likely to be one of his final major capital investment sign-offs, he has ultimately proven true to his word.