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Nick Varney

Chief Executive Officer

Nick has nearly 30 years’ experience in the visitor attractions industry and was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Merlin Entertainments in 1999. He was appointed a Director of the Company on 20 October 2013.

Nick started his career in FMCG marketing, first with Rowntree and then with Reckitt Colman. He went on to hold senior positions within The Tussauds Group (Pearson PLC), including Marketing Director of Alton Towers and Head of Group Marketing, before becoming Managing Director of Vardon Attractions and a main board director of Vardon plc. In 1999 Nick led the management buyout of Vardon Attractions to form Merlin Entertainments and, in 2005, initiated the process which led to its acquisition by Blackstone.

Nick is Chairman of UKHospitality, the trade body representing the UK’s hospitality and tourism industry with a membership of over 45,000 companies.

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Anne-Francoise Nesmes

Chief Financial Officer

Anne-Francoise was appointed Chief Financial Officer in August 2016. With over 25 years’ experience in finance across international organisations, Anne-Francoise brings a strong focus on strategy execution, M&A, process improvement and governance.

Anne-Francoise started her career in the UK as a Finance Graduate Trainee at John Crane, before moving to Tetra Pak, then ADP and later Caterpillar UK. In 1997, she joined GlaxoSmithKline and held a variety of increasingly senior roles across the organisation in the UK and overseas, including Senior Vice President of Finance for Vaccines. In April 2013, Anne-Francoise joined Dechra Pharmaceuticals PLC as Chief Financial Officer, where she was instrumental in transforming Dechra into a successful pharmaceutical company specialising in animal health. She led the expansion of its international footprint through acquisitions and delivered significant efficiencies through modernising Finance and R&D processes.

Anne-Francoise is a Non-executive Director of Compass Group PLC.

Mark Allsop

Chief Digital Marketing and Information Officer

Mark is the Chief Digital Marketing and Information Officer for Merlin Entertainments. Working with the Executive Team, Mark provides technology leadership, vision, and experience. He is responsible for all software development, data management, infrastructure and information systems within the organisation.

Mark started his career as a Graduate Manager with Volkswagen Group. Following a move into e-Commerce consultancy in South Africa, Mark has since spent the last 15 years in the media industry, working for NBC Universal and Sony Pictures.

As Vice President and CIO – EMEA at Sony, Mark was responsible for setting the strategic direction of the IT function whilst ensuring that IT enabled and delivered the strategic and commercial goals in a fast growing and highly acquisitive Film and TV business integrating some 30+ companies. At NBC Universal Mark led the implementation of a large systems-based change programme across Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific – with foreign secondments in Paris, Hamburg, Tokyo and Sydney.

Natalie Bickford

Group Human Resources Director

Natalie has more than 20 years of HR experience, having started her career as a graduate manager with Barclays Plc.  She has since held senior positions with Kingfisher Plc, AstraZeneca Plc, and Sodexo, leading highly commercial HR functions in the UK, for Europe, and most recently globally. Natalie is passionate about linking quality of life for employees with positive experiences for consumers, and improved business results.

Natalie is a thought leader in diversity and inclusion. She has won awards for her contribution to gender diversity in the UK, and is chair of the Women 1st campaign. Natalie is also deputy chairman of People 1st and is a member of the Prince's Trust Women's Leadership Group.

Ian Crabbe

Ian Crabbe

Managing Director, Resort Theme Parks

Ian Crabbe was appointed Manager Director, Resort Theme Parks in 2019.  He was previously Divisional Director, Alton Towers Resort for 10 years.  Ian guided the Staffordshire theme park through a challenging decade, focussing on providing outstanding guest experiences and product innovation.  Ian’s tenure saw the Resort introduce world-beating rollercoasters including The Smiler and Wicker Man, and the opening in 2019 of the Alton Towers Dungeon.  Ian has also driven the expansion of accommodation at the Resort, including the launch of the UK’s only CBeebies Land Hotel which opened in 2017. Ian has also overseen the management of Thorpe Park Resort during 2018.

Ian joined Merlin in 1995, spending 14 years in leadership roles within the SEA LIFE and Dungeon attractions before moving to Alton Towers.  Prior to that, Ian had spent more than 20 years in in motorway service station operations.

Fiona Eastwood

Managing Director, Midway Attractions

Fiona Eastwood was appointed Managing Director, Midway Attractions in 2019. She was previously Managing Director, Resort Theme Parks, a role to which Fiona was appointed in 2018. Before Fiona was Global Marketing Director, Midway Attractions since 2015, responsible for driving all aspects of brand strategy and marketing as well as having commercial oversight across a global portfolio of Midway brands, including Madame Tussauds, SEA LIFE and Legoland Discovery Centres.

Fiona joined Merlin in 2015 from BBC Worldwide, where she was responsible for strategic planning, brand management, market research, delivering ancillary revenues and branded partnerships. During her tenure as Marketing Director, Global Markets, she led the successful launch of new branded services in the Nordics, CEMA, Asia and Latin America. Previously, she held roles as Managing Director, Consumer Products and Commercial Director for one of the BBC’s biggest international brands, Doctor Who.

Mark Fisher

Chief Development Officer

Mark ‘Fish’ Fisher manages Merlin Magic Making (MMM), the company’s business development, creative and brands organisation. MMM works alongside Merlin’s three Operating Groups and brings together, New Business Development, Creative, Intellectual Property, Production, Project Management, Group Engineering and Brand Development.

A graduate in Recreation Management, Fish joined the Tussauds Group in 1991 and Merlin in 1995. He has been a senior member of the management team since the inception of Merlin, playing a key role as part of the original management buyout  of Vardon, and in the ongoing organic development, which has been at the heart of the company’s success. Originally Group Marketing Director, he has also held the Managing Director roles in all of Merlin’s Operating Divisions.

Fish is also a non-executive director of Daniel Thwaites PLC.

John Jakobsen

Chief New Openings Officer

John heads up Merlin’s New Openings and is responsible for all new attraction openings and the integration of acquisitions. This dedicated team ensures maximum focus on delivering Merlin’s dynamic growth plans, which includes the accelerating roll out of Merlin’s Midway attractions and the development of new LEGOLAND parks.

After completing a Business Degree John joined the LEGO Group, taking on the challenge to expand the LEGOLAND franchise outside of its homeland in Denmark.  Having first worked on projects in the UK (LEGOLAND Windsor opened in 1996) he project managed the first US LEGOLAND Park, based in California; before moving into general park management first in Germany and then back in California.

John joined Merlin’s senior management team as part of the acquisition of LEGOLAND Parks in 2005, and as Managing Director LEGOLAND Parks oversaw both the continued development of the Group's existing LEGOLAND Parks into successful short break resorts for families with young children; and the identification and planning for new LEGOLAND parks around the world, including the opening of LEGOLAND resorts in Florida and Malaysia. In New Openings he is now using the skills learnt on these projects not just to the benefit of other LEGOLAND projects, but also to spearhead Merlin’s fast moving Midway roll out.

Matt Jowett

General Counsel and Company Secretary

Matt was appointed Group General Counsel and Company Secretary in February 2016. Leading the Group’s governance, compliance and legal matters, he is also responsible for Corporate Affairs, Property and Health and Safety on the Executive Committee.

Matt has a held a number of Executive Committee roles within publicly listed companies including General Counsel and Company Secretary at DS Smith PLC, Group General Counsel and Company Secretary of VT Group plc and Group General Counsel of RMC Group plc. He began his career at law firm Linklaters.

Hans Aksel Pedersen

Managing Director, LEGOLAND Parks

Hans Aksel started his career as an officer in the Army but decided that business was more to his liking, leaving to take a Masters degree in Marketing. He has more than 25 years of extensive experience in both FMCG and the entertainment industry across general management, global brand building, consumer & trade marketing and new product development.

Hans Aksel began working for LEGOLAND with the original LEGOLAND park in Billund in Denmark in 2000, moving to become Marketing Director in LEGOLAND Windsor.

In 2008, he moved into an operational role as Divisional Director managing LEGOLAND Deutschland. In 2014 he took a new role as Divisional Director LEGOLAND Parks USA, overseeing the continued resort development of both parks and hotels in LEGOLAND California and LEGOLAND Florida. In 2015, Hans expanded this role across eight of the current parks as Managing Director of the Operating Group.

Justin Platt

Chief Strategy Officer

Justin was appointed Chief Strategy Officer in 2018 after three years as Managing Director, Resort Theme Parks. Justin initially joined Merlin in 2011 as Marketing Director within Resort Theme Parks.

With over 25 years’ experience across a range of international organisations, Justin brings a robust approach to strategy development, business execution and the understanding and delivery of consumer needs. As Chief Strategy Officer, he is focused on maximizing the significant prospects available to Merlin by informing, shaping and driving the Company’s global strategy in the context of an ever-evolving market backdrop.

With a career spanning GlaxoSmithKline, Kellogg’s and AstraZeneca, Justin has held a number of senior roles leading the development and growth of a range of brands in the UK and on a global basis.