SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. Chairman David D’Alessandro failed to win re-election at the company’s annual meeting Wednesday amid a controversy over incentive payments.
The board will determine whether to keep D’Alessandro in the next 90 days, the company said in a statement. The other three SeaWorld directors up for re-election, including Chief Executive Officer Joel Manby, all got a majority of votes.
D’Alessandro, 66, had served as chairman since 2010. He was previously CEO of John Hancock Financial Services.
Blackstone Group LP sold its 21 percent stake in SeaWorld to China’s Zhonghong Zhuoye Group this year, a transaction that required the theme-park operator’s board to reassess its stock incentive plan. In the course of that review, directors decided to partially vest some shares. That may have raised eyebrows among investors because SeaWorld shares have lost over 40 percent of their value since the company’s 2013 initial public offering.
D’Alessandro, who led the compensation committee, recused himself from the decision to vest some shares, SeaWorld said in a filing earlier this week. The company said in the filing that inaccurate information had been disseminated about the company’s directors, without saying what it was referring to.
Proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis said in a note last week that SeaWorld shareholders “will likely have questions for board chair D’Alessandro and the directors that approved the vesting of these awards.” Another proxy advisory firm, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., recommended D’Alessandro’s re-election but advised voting against the company’s executive compensation and a new stock incentive plan.
The stock rose 6.75 percent Wednesday, the biggest gain in a month. Reuters reported the shareholder vote earlier.
SeaWorld, based in Orlando, Florida, has lost visitors due to pressure from animal-rights activists over the company’s housing of killer whales in its parks. Activists say the large animals are inhumanely treated by keeping them in small tanks, when they should be kept at sea pens.
The company has promised to stop breeding the orcas and changed the performances at its San Diego park this year to better reflect natural behaviors.
“Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson, representing People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, used the shareholder meeting to urge the board to move the orcas to a more natural habitat.