CEO of AMC Theatres is stepping down to lead hotel chain Extended Stay America

In December 2013, when AMC Theaters went public, president and CEO Gerry Lopez (center) was at the New York Stock Exchange with his chief content and programming officer, Elizabeth Frank, and CFO Craig Ramsey (right), who now will be interim CEO.
In December 2013, when AMC Theaters went public, president and CEO Gerry Lopez (center) was at the New York Stock Exchange with his chief content and programming officer, Elizabeth Frank, and CFO Craig Ramsey (right), who now will be interim CEO. The Associated Press

Gerry Lopez will step down as president and chief executive officer of AMC Theatres on Aug. 6 to become chief executive of the hotel chain Extended Stay America.

Leawood-based AMC announced Lopez’s pending departure early in the day, and Extended Stay, based in Charlotte, N.C., announced his new job after financial markets had closed.

“Strategically transforming companies and brands is what I love to do,” Lopez said in the Extended Stay announcement. “There are a lot of parallels between my prior position and the one at Extended Stay America and I am thrilled to lead an organization with so much potential.”

Craig Ramsey, AMC’s chief financial officer, will take over as interim president and chief executive on Aug. 7. The company’s board of directors has formed a search committee to find Lopez’s replacement.

Lopez, 56, joined the nation’s second-largest movie theater company as its chief executive about six years ago. He also will leave AMC’s board of directors.

During Lopez’s tenure, AMC revamped the moviegoing experience, installing leather reclining seats, opening on-site restaurants and bars, and serving meals at patrons’ seats. The company’s annual revenue rose from less than $2.3 billion in 2009, when Lopez took over, to nearly $2.7 billion last year.

“I came to AMC over six years ago to strategically transform the company by developing, testing and implementing a … growth strategy,” Lopez said in the announcement. “As a team, we have very successfully done exactly that. Shareholder value has grown dramatically, and guest satisfaction scores are at their highest level in five years.”

Lopez also led the search for a new home for AMC’s headquarters, considering both sides of the state line before moving from Kansas City to its Leawood location in the Park Place development in 2013.

A writer for Forbes commented in a post Tuesday that Lopez’s departure comes shortly after the theater chain agreed to a “game-changing” deal with Paramount on two movies. Ellen Killoran, a contributor to the magazine, wrote that the deal makes the new releases available for home purchase after only 17 days in theaters, rather than 90 days. It also grants AMC a share of the digital release revenues, she wrote.

Lopez recently spoke to a Kansas City Star reporter about his arrival in Kansas City after a series of roughly five-year stints in Seattle, Michigan and northern New Jersey. Lopez had been president of global consumer products with Starbucks before joining AMC.

Within weeks of moving here, Lopez had been welcomed personally by many of his corporate peers in town, including Sprint’s then-chief Dan Hesse, Terry Dunn of JE Dunn Construction Group, Greg Graves of Burns & McDonnell, Don Hall of Hallmark Cards, Terry Bassham of Great Plains Energy, Jonathan Thomas of American Century Investments, and Cliff Illig and Neal Patterson of Cerner.

“I can distinctly remember landing in town and not knowing anybody. And within a matter of weeks each one reached out — coffee, lunch, dinner, drinks, whatever worked,” Lopez said. “It’s part of what makes Kansas City special. That had not happened to me in other cities.”

Lopez gave no indication during this recent interview about his plans to leave AMC.

At Extended Stay America, Lopez will succeed James Donald, who had been chief executive of Starbucks for part of the time that Lopez worked at the coffeehouse chain.

The move to Extended Stay America means a pay raise for Lopez.

Extended Stay will pay Lopez a $1 million base salary and at least a $400,000 bonus this year as well as stock awards that he will earn over time, based partly on the company’s performance, and that are worth nearly $28 million at Tuesday’s closing price.

He earned a $930,222 salary at AMC last year. A bonus of $800,000, stock awards, incentive pay and other compensation boosted Lopez’s earnings from AMC to nearly $5 million for 2014.

AMC shares fell 3 percent Tuesday, or $1.01, and closed at $31.89. Extended Stay shares fell 35 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $18.50.

Ramsey, 63, has been with AMC for 20 years and has held the chief financial officer position since 2002. He led the company’s public stock offering in December 2013.

“The two words that come to mind first and foremost are ‘orderly transition,’” Ramsey said in an interview.

For Ramsey, that means holding the management team together, continuing to execute the business plan and furthering AMC’s focus on the “guest experience.”

Ramsey was mum on whether he is being considered for the CEO position. Instead, he said he is keeping his eye on managing the company.

AMC has 347 locations and nearly 5,000 screens. Last week the company announced a $172 million acquisition of privately owned Starplex Cinemas, adding 33 theaters and more than 300 screens.

The company will continue to be on the lookout for other possible acquisition opportunities, Ramsey said, as long as the potential deals benefit shareholders and enable AMC to expand its guest experience initiative.

China-based Dalian Wanda Group bought AMC in 2012, and its ownership stake fell to about 80 percent after the company went public.

AMC has 22,000 employees, including about 450 at its headquarters and 600 at its five area movie theaters.

The company will release its second-quarter financial results on July 29, and AMC said both Lopez and Ramsey were scheduled to discuss the quarterly numbers with analysts.

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AMC under Lopez

▪ Boosted revenue substantially after adding leather reclining seats and restaurant and bar service.

▪ Moved to new headquarters in Leawood’s Park Place development.

▪ Went public again in 2013.