Red Lion Hotels Corp. named four new board members on Thursday.
The Spokane company’s announcement means Red Lion will not have a Barbieri family member on the board, as it has for more than a decade.
Don Barbieri, the 67-year-old local businessman who launched the company in 1999 as West Coast Hotels, leaves his post as chairman on Dec. 31.
Barbieri’s older brother Richard Barbieri left the board earlier this year, as did Washington Trust Bank President and CEO Pete Stanton.
While reviewing its options, Red Lion increased its board from eight to nine members.
Three appointees have prior ties to Spokane hospitality companies: James P. Evans, David J. Johnson, and Michael Vernon. Evans was an executive with DoubleTree Hotel Corp. Johnson was CEO of Red Lion Hotels Inc. from 1991 to 1996 before it was acquired by West Coast Hotels in 2001. Vernon served as CFO at Red Lion from 1995 to 1997.
The fourth new appointee is Robert G. Wolfe, who is connected to Spokane as a former partner in Northwest Venture Associates, a regional venture capital fund.
Don Barbieri has been a key figure in the evolution of Red Lion. He helped start Goodale & Barbieri, a Spokane development firm that eventually became Cavanaugh’s.
Cavanaugh’s later formed West Coast Hotels, which in turn acquired Red Lion Hotels from the Hilton hotels network.
Red Lion CEO Jon Eliassen said Barbieri’s departure has nothing to do with pointed criticism directed at him by Ross Taylor, portfolio manager of New York-based Somerset Capital Advisers.
Somerset has sent letters to the board indicating displeasure with the way Red Lion has operated over the past two years. Taylor’s company owns less than 3 percent of Red Lion’s stock, but it’s allied with Seattle-based Columbia Pacific, which is the largest investor with almost 30 percent.
Both investor groups have criticized Red Lion’s board.Eliassen has said the hotel company has met the major goals of selling off lesser hotel properties and expanding its branded footprint through franchising.
Red Lion has 47 hotels across the Western United States; it owns 29 and franchises 18.
In an email Thursday, Taylor took aim at Barbieri, calling the chairman’s departure a welcome development.“We have long felt that removing him, and select others from the board and replacing them with a collection of qualified and sophisticated new directors would be a major positive step for the company’s shareholders,” Taylor said.
Barbieri said he’s now convinced it’s the best time to pull back from Red Lion and leave others to guide its next phase.
“I’ve been with the operation for more than 40 years,” Barbieri said. “There’s a good time for everything. And this is a great time for me to realize there are others who will come onto the board and do a great job for our associates and shareholders,” said Barbieri.
He also dismissed Taylor’s criticism. “I’m not at all offended by what he says,” he said. “I probably still own more shares in the company than he does.”
Barbieri said he is more focused on philanthropic efforts in the community, including projects to spur affordable housing. He is also co-founder of the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, a charitable foundation providing support for preservation and other efforts.
“The best thing I could have done was run for Congress in 2004,” Barbieri said. The 18 months he spent away from Red Lion let him review his goals and refocus his life, Barbieri said.
“I’m totally happy. Every day is a gift.”
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