Cedar Fair legal chief leaving after pay cut

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

Cedar Fair LP is parting ways with its longtime legal chief Duffield “Duff” Milkie. He resigned immediately as executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary, but will remain an employee of Cedar Fair until Sept. 30, the Sandusky, Ohio-based company disclosed in a securities filing Wednesday. Milkie, who didn’t respond to a request for comment about his post-Cedar Fair plans, is heading for the exit after his pay package dropped by more than 58% in 2020. Cedar Fair revealed in an annual proxy statement filed in April that Milkie was paid nearly $730,000 last year, down from the more than $1.7 million in total compensation he received from the company in 2019.

Read more from Bloomberg Law.

Maybe he figured he would make more money by taking a job with the park where he can earn $20/hour.

How the other half live.

Seems like a "we dare you to stay" type situation.

ok, the article is a tad misleading. All of the senior execs took that same pay cut, but I thought it was said that that would revert once things changed (i.e. 2021).

One does not resign IMMEDIATELY yet stay on in any capacity until 9/30/2021 unless this was a forced exit. At these levels (Chief Counsel of a multi-billion dollar publicly traded corporation), things don't happen "immediately" without something else going on behind the scenes. The keeping on the payroll until 9/30/ is even more confusing as that's the end of the fiscal quarter, roughly an additional 80 days from now.

There is another shoe here

Last edited by CreditWh0re,

Transition and Release Agreement that he signed says that he "agreed to resign." Typically you don't agree to resign; you just resign. Unless you were asked to resign which often stems from being told if you don't resign, you will be fired.

Agreement says he will be working from home through September 30, 2022 (regular compensation). Had to waive claims against company when he signed it and again on September 30th (which will allow him to receive severance payments per his employment agreement). Company admits no wrongdoing with respect to him (expressly denying any).

Last edited by GoBucks89,
Jeff's avatar

I've been in that situation before. It ain't voluntary.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

Jeff's avatar

Sandusky officials seem a little freaked out by the departure of Milkie. Sounds like he was part of the good ol' boys club. They seem bothered by corporate positions setting up in Charlotte, which, if you look at it objectively, is the only way that you're going to attract executive talent and keep them at the corporate level. I mean, even when Ouimet was in charge, he lived on the west side of Cleveland, close to the airport. You aren't going to talk the best people into living in Sandusky, Ohio.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

Makes total sense the City wants CP execs to live in the City. But they have no leverage. Meet with us and tell us you plan to stay here or else. Else what?

Could do an admissions tax increase which is almost exclusively targeted at CP.

I am not sure you could convince me to live in Charlotte either - but I work for an organization where our executive team is spread across about 10 different offices - not sure the necessity to have everyone physically sitting together at all times. I read the former Cedar Point GM is moving to Charlotte even though he is now overseeing multiple parks in the Northern region which seems backwards to me.

The general drain of legacy Cedar Fair talent, and even legacy Ouimet era talent, is odd. This is becoming Paramount Parks 2.0 and they aren't even trying to hide it.

I'm going to assume there is more to this story...and like the Falfas v Kinzel drama we may never know the details.

I just drove through Charlotte twice in the last two weeks. The traffic alone is enough to make me think I'd choose Sandusky over Charlotte. I suspect home prices are better in northern Ohio and the income tax rate is more favorable (4.79% in Ohio vs 5.25% in NC). If they were really interested in drawing talent they would set up headquarters in Texas (no state income tax) though I'm not sure how desirable New Branufels would be to the typical CEO.

I don't know anything about Zimmerman but I do know that Ouimet was visionary and had a lot of great leadership attributes. Good people want to be inspired by great leadership so I do wonder what the dynamics are at play in the company today.

Jeff's avatar

The talent that came up through old Cedar Fair didn't have a lot of A players, since the culture bred conformists who would defer to Dick and Jack. We saw some of them shine when they had the chance, and a lot of them have since retired. Ouimet was a unicorn, and there just aren't many people who operate at his level.

It seems completely unnecessary for anyone not required to be on the ground, at a park, to live near an office. It's not even a post-Covid thing, I've been in and out of 100% remote situations for years.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

Theme parks is an industry when you don't want to be far away from your product, or your customers for that matter. I can see an argument for the group sales workforce to be mobile. They really have been for years anyway. But, I think there is value in having most other administrative and executive folks not too far from the action. Kinzel walking the midways regularly had value. He heard directly from his customers while they were consuming his product.

In my world we talked about not bringing folks back...but the reality is that we are in the "people" business and I think we are still in an era where being "with" the people...or at least accessible to them...still has a purpose.

That being said, I'm fully aware that this is evolving quickly. My building department has gone virtual and has hardly missed a beat. They are even conducting virtual inspections...though some things really still demand attention on the ground. I guess now that we have all these great tools we just need to get used to using the right tool in the right circumstance.

wahoo skipper said:

Kinzel walking the midways regularly had value. He heard directly from his customers while they were consuming his product.

It had value for the feel good stories in the Sandusky Register or for the family who happened to see him on the midway and recognized him. He may have been visible and "listened" to guests, but did he actually take into account to what guests wanted? After all, people gotta eat.

I can't say I ever saw Matt Ouimet on the Cedar Point midway, but I also had significantly more confidence in his ability to run the company.

Jeff's avatar

Agreed, 100%. Kinzel was a micromanager of the worst kind. He wasn't adding value for guests, he was asserting control. Sure, a GM should be in the park, obviously, but I see little value in a CFO or CTO being in the parks every day.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

In the hospitality, theme park (really any people business), having an operational executive regularly close and "on the ground" to their customers, their people/employees and their product - is incredibly important. Not necessary for all industries - but this industry - yes. Also from a CFO or CIO perspective - not necessary everyday - but we are talking about operational executives not "back of the house"

So yes, there was value in Kinzel walking the midways - it's also how Bill Marriott built and successfully operated one of the largest hospitality businesses in the world. He was managing it from the ground as the CEO of a $15 billion company.

The thing about Ouimet was he was a visionary, who could build trust and inspire. But he did it with almost all legacy Cedar Fair people. He brought in a few former Disney people but it was largely legacy Cedar Fair talent, which indicates Cedar Fair had the A level talent but needed someone like Ouimet to unleash and inspire that talent. There was even a media profile of Ouimet I think 1 or 2 years into his tenure in which he said a lot of the ideas he had were already within the company - he just needed to give their people the opportunity and inspiration and permission.

It’s the drain of some/a lot of that Ouimet era talent over the last couple years which has been interesting to see, especially since Zimmerman wasn't an external hire. It really is becoming Paramount Parks 2.0.

Last edited by Chicago07,
TheMillenniumRider's avatar

People don’t quit jobs, people quit managers.

Who all has left in recent years? I admittedly don't know.

No question Kinzel was a micromanager. I was micromanaged by him so I'm not going to argue that. And no, I don't think the CFO or CTO need to be in the parks daily but I'd say they should be in them fairly regularly. I want my CFO and CTO to have a good understanding of the operations, the challenges, etc. After all, the CFO is going to have a lot of say in budgeting. Technology in park operations couldn't be more important than it is right now so they better be out there identifying ways to help us improve.

I recall a meeting I had when I was a Department Head. I was trying to explain to the CEO and the CFO why we needed to spend money on our restroom renovations. They fought me on it, insisting that I was requesting too much. I asked them when the last time was that they had been inside the bathrooms. I'm certain the CEO hadn't been in years (heck, he had a private bathroom in his office). They said I should spend some money on paint and that would be fine. I finally said, "listen...you can put lipstick on a pig...but will anyone want to kiss it?" That grabbed their attention and I finally got them to visit. Wouldn't you know: we found the money for what needed to be done.

If you want execs on the ground (and I agree it makes sense --with frequency decreasing as you move up the org chart), Charlotte likely makes more sense than Sandusky in terms of availability of flights (Cedar Point isn't the only park in the chain to visit).

Location for execs is more than just taxes. And tech at this point has shown much of physical presence isn't as significant as it once was viewed to be for many jobs.

Could do an admissions tax increase which is almost exclusively targeted at CP.

Sandusky can only levy admissions taxes at Cedar Point. But if your goal is to retain executive presence in Sandusky, threats are not likely to help your cause.

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