Jon E. Eliassen, who has epitomized the phrase "entrepreneurial encore" since his first "retirement" a decade ago, actually may be moving closer to real retirement, at the age of 66, as he steps down from the role of president and CEO of Red Lion Hotels Corp.
In one respect, his retirement from the helm of the Spokane-based hotel company ends a dual role that made him the last of a vanishing CEO breed, those who chair the board of one publicly traded company while serving as CEO of another.
Thus, while Eliassen is leaving the top-executive post at Red Lion, which he has held since January 2010, he will remain as chairman of the board of Itron Inc., the $2.2 billion global energy-management and technology company based in Liberty Lake.
Eliassen's retirement took effect earlier this month, and he will leave the Red Lion board at the end of September. The move comes 10 years after his first retirement from Avista Corp., capping a 33-year career with the investor-owned utility.
At Red Lion, his focus on a strategy of converting it from a hotel company that owned buildings into one that relied on franchising properties largely has been successful. Half of the company's 52 hotels in 10 Western states and British Columbia are now franchises.
But the past year has been a difficult one for Eliassen and his board as efforts to find a suitor for the company proved unsuccessful and criticisms from two investor groups mounted.
Four new board members were added last year, including James P. Evans, former head of Best Western International, who will serve as interim president and CEO.
If the role at Red Lion brought its likely frustrations, Eliassen has experienced offsetting satisfactions as board chairman at Itron, which he helped birth as a startup subsidiary of the old Washington Water Power Co., now Avista, in the latter half of the 1980s.
In a column I did on Eliassen when he assumed his role at Red Lion, he made clear that he didn't want to be credited with being responsible for Itron's successful growth from its early days as a remote meter-reading business. Others, however, would say he clearly played a dramatic role in Itron's growth as the CFO at WWP-Avista for 16 years.
While deflecting credit, he conceded he's had fun watching what he referred to as "a great run" for Itron into its role as a world leader in providing utility metering devices.
Eliassen's board work extends beyond Itron, since he is a board member of ITLifeline, a privately held business continuity and disaster-recovery company in Liberty Lake, and he is the principal of Terrapin Capital Group LLC.
Because of what Spokane venture capitalist Tom Simpson has described as "an unselfish desire to fuel economic growth in Spokane," none would be surprised if Eliassen were to find a future summons too interesting to pass up.
As to the dual role in which he was the last of what I described as "a vanishing CEO breed," until a year ago he had shared that unique role with Bill Ayer, president and CEO of Alaska Air Group as well as being board chairman at Puget Sound Energy. But Ayer retired from Alaska in early 2012.
The reason he's likely the last of a breed is because of the growing aversion of boards to having their CEOs involved in a significant way with the business of another company, with those schooled in board activity noting that directors are increasingly saying, basically, "we want our CEO to be focused on our company."
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