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Six Flags has revealed that CEO Mark Shapiro has left the company, to be replaced on an interim basis by Al Weber Jr., the former head of Paramount Parks.

The news follows the theme park chain's recent exit from bankruptcy, which saw a new board of directors take over the firm. The board has now started the hunt for a permanent CEO, and has hired a search firm to identify candidates.

Shapiro had been widely credited with taking Six Flags in a new direction, attempting to make its parks more family-friendly after years of focusing on the teen market. He recently pledged that the company would invest in developing distinct themed areas in every park, and has championed a focus on cleanliness over the last few years.

The new board has yet to reveal the reasons behind Shapiro's exit, although the Washington Post quotes a source as claiming that it disagreed with his strategy for the company. This could point to a renewed focus on major thrill rides, although this may not become clear for some time.

Former Six Flags chairman Dan Snyder, who appointed Shapiro the role, said of his departure: "Mark Shapiro bravely led Six Flags through an incredibly difficult period. He has been an energetic, optimistic leader and problem solver. Most of all I admire his tenacious dedication to protect the interests of the 28,000 Six Flags associates during this period of transition."

Shapiro's temporary replacement, Weber, was in charge at Paramount Parks between 2002 and 2006 - just prior to Cedar Fair's acquisition of the chain. He has over 40 years of experience in the theme park business, and was general manager of Kings Island (from 1992-97) and Paramount's Great America (from 1984-92) prior to entering the chain's central management.

Six Flags filed for bankruptcy protection in June last year, having struggled to service a $2.4 billion debt mountain built up by previous owner Premier Parks. In April, the company reached an agreement to reduce those debts to $1.15 billion and issued $725 million of new stock to a group of investors. No single company owns Six Flags following the deal.

Six Flags runs 12 theme parks across North America and Mexico, along with a number of associated water parks. It has struggled for years with interest payments on its massive debts, which were built up when the previous owners invested hundreds of millions in expanding the chain.


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