Universal executives' pay takes a roller coaster ride
Orlando Sentinel
April 03, 2006
p 3, CFB, COMMENTARY

Susan Strother Clarke, Sentinel Columnist

Universal Orlando earnings increased last year, but several key execs saw their pay shrink.

Keep in mind I said shrink, not disappear.

Bob Gault, the resort's president, earned $694,192 in salary and bonus, according to a statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.

That's substantially below the $3 million-plus he earned in 2004. The windfall that year was due to the company's long-term incentive plan, which gave him $2.1 million.

That incentive plan also enriched Michael Short, chief financial officer, and Gretchen Hofmann, senior vice president of sales and marketing, in 2004. According to the SEC document, the plan will not pay out again until 2008 -- though it could be sooner if there is change in control at the company.

Short earned $442,526 in compensation last year compared with $1.9 million the year before. Hofmann received $430,304 compared with more than $1.6 million in 2004.

The SEC document confirmed what observers had anticipated: Universal Orlando, which opened no new blockbuster rides and was hit with big competition by Disney in '05, saw attendance drop -- officially, by 11 percent.

Income increased to $35.3 million due, in part, to cost cutting, higher ticket prices and more spending inside the parks.

Analysts have said that General Electric, Universal Orlando's parent, is trying to sell the resort. If that's the case, you have to wonder how dropping attendance will affect the willingness of buyers to come around and kick the tires.

It's unusual to get a glimpse of the salaries at individual theme parks. Disney, for instance, does not break out the earnings of Al Weiss or other local execs.

ON THE CALENDAR. The World & Regional Airline Training Conference is coming to Orlando this week.

The three-day event will be held at the Rosen Centre. As far as shows go, this one isn't huge, with 700 to 800 folks expected.

But it's significant because the event is yet another simulation conference for Orlando. The more training conferences that come to town, the more the region gets exposed to national and international audiences -- and the more likely that businesses will consider Central Florida for an outpost.

The conference starts Tuesday and focuses on the airline industry. Exhibitors will be selling equipment and materials to train commercial pilots. A larger simulation show last year focused on military training.

Show organizer Andy Smith, who is based in Orlando, said he moved the airline show to Florida this year because the state has one of the largest concentrations of simulators in the country.

BOTTOM LINE. Disney chief Bob Iger will be in town this week for the official opening of Expedition Everest at the Animal Kingdom. I'm told he's ridden the fancy coaster, but no word on how many times. Michael Eisner, his predecessor, was a big fan of thrill rides and rode Mission: Space at Epcot 20 times when it was still in development. We'll see if Iger takes another Everest spin during this visit. Seems like he'd want to try out the merchandise: Disney spent a reported $100 million to get the Everest ride opened. . . . Also in town for the Everest grand opening this week: Famed primatologist Jane Goodall; actress Isabella Rossellini and British comedian John Cleese. (Can't say whether the Monty Python funnyman will silly-walk his way through the Animal Kingdom.) The three will be honored for their commitment to wildlife conservation.
Thought it was interesting.