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Toppers exit at Oz exhibs Hoyts, GU

Johnson, Collier both ankle posts

Two of Australia’s three cinema chains bid farewell to their toppers this week, with Paul Johnson signing off after 23 years with Hoyts and Jim Collier ankling Greater Union after almost three years.

Johnson, the jovial, self-appointed godfather of the cinema biz, officially finished with Hoyts on Friday. However, he had scaled back his dutiesin the past few years, eventually working with the company in a limited consultancy role.

He’s unlikely to be replaced at Hoyts.

Collier, who was recruited from KFC, ankled GU amicably on Wednesday; he plans to return to the food industry.

Collier’s departure follows the exit a year ago of Darin Walters, who held a parallel position at Hoyts Cinemas as CEO, reporting to Johnson. Walters left within days of Hoyts’ sale by the Packer family’s private company, Consolidated Press, to a joint venture between West Australian Newspapers and Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd., the Packers’ public company.

Both Walters and Collier, who was GU’s managing director, were hired from outside the cinema industry, Walters from a successful stewardship of vitamin company Blackmores. Hire was in response to management ambitions to dismantle the industry’s entrenched boy’s club and explore growth opportunities for what had become a mature business.

Their departures indicate that experiment failed.

Though neither company makes public its revenues, aggressive B.O. discounting pushed the annual total in Oz down 10% in 2005, more than the U.S.’ 6% and global 8% average; 2006 is tracking up by about 14%.

Among Walters’ initiatives was the celebrated Melbourne Central cinema, customized to appeal to a hip urban clientele.

Collier oversaw new cinemas at Bondi Junction and Burwood incorporating stadium screens, Gold Class mini-theaters and independent food and beverage outlets.

In December, Delfin Fernandez was tapped CEO of Hoyts Cinemas, replacing Walters; he reports directly to the company’s board.

GU is expected to make an announcement in coming weeks of a new managing director, likely recruited from within the industry but not, despite industry speculation, Johnson, who inked a noncompete agreement for a period believed to be six months.

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