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Ambassadors will lease space in the building it just sold, then move out

Earlier today readers found a story about Northwest Farm Credit Services paying $9 million for the big Ambassadors Group building on Flint Road near the airport.

We noted we couldn't get comments from either company about how this affects them.

Today, we did get a reply from the buyer.

Here's their statement:  “Northwest FCS is planning to move all of its headquarters staff to the Ambassador building.  The date of the move has not been determined yet.  We will be leasing the entire building back to Ambassador for an interim period of time.”

Their note also noted that it's up to Ambassadors to announce where its next location will be, following the interim period.

The rest of today's story was this:

Northwest Farm Credit Services, a financial services company serving regional farmers, bought the Ambassadors Group building near Spokane’s airport for $9 million.

The 133,000- square-foot building was constructed in 2006 by Ambassadors, a travel company that promotes cultural trips under the People to People banner. The building, along with 11 acres of land at 2001 S. Flint Road, has been for sale for two years. It was first listed for $13 million.

Ambassadors executives announced at the time that they wanted a smaller office space as a way to “right-size” the company during a period of declining revenue. At the time, officials said they intended to lease back office space from the buyer, but a recent federal filing about the sale gave no indication what Ambassadors intends to do. Spokane’s Northwest Farm Credit Services office is at 1700 S. Assembly St. near the Sunset Hill.


Ambassadors execs Jeff, Peg Thomas resign; board will start search for new CEO

Spokane's Ambassadors Group’s President and CEO Jeff Thomas, and his wife, Margaret Thomas, the company’s executive vice president, announced they are leaving the company.

Jeff Thomas has been head of the publicly traded company since 1996. Ambassadors runs the student-focused travel program People to People. Last year the company arranged education tours for 21,200 travelers, compared with nearly 24,000 in 2011.

The resignations are effective immediately, the company said in a release.

Anthony Dombrowik, senior vice president and chief financial officer, is interim chief executive offficer. The board of directors has said it will start a search for a new CEO.

The company has offices near the Spokane Airport.

According to the company’s 2012 proxy statement, the most recent available, Jeff Thomas’s total compensation in 2011 was $775,031. Margaret Thomas’s total compensation during that period was $455,031.

Ambassadors Group sets quarterly dividend of 6 cents per share

Later today we'll visit the Itron earnings report. For now, let's feature Ambassadors Group (traded as EPAX) on Nasdaq.

The publicly traded Spokane-based travel provider announced it's issuing a quarterly dividend of 6 cents per share, which will be paid on March 13 to common shareholders of record on Feb. 27, 2013.

I guess that means: If you need a dividend, you can buy the stock before Feb. 27. It's trading at $4.63 as of Wednesday afternoon.

James Kalustian chosen as new chairman of Ambassadors’ board

Spokane's Ambassadors Group Inc. has named James Kalustian as its board chair, filling the spot held by John Ueberroth.

 Kalustian, 51, has been a board director for the company since 2006.

Ueberroth did not stand for re-election at the company's recent annual meeting.

Ueberroth, who's 67, was also one of the founders of Ambassadors Group. Ueberroth is the younger brother of former Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

Kalustian's career covers work in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, industrial, retail and consumer products industries.

He's co-founder of Vertex Partners, a customer-focused strategic consulting firm. He is also co-founder and senior vice president of HRInet, Inc., a healthcare technology and services company.

Ambassadors lists headquarters for sale

Ambassadors Group is putting up for sale its Spokane headquarters, a 133,000-square-foot building and surrounding property near the Spokane International Airport.

The building and 11 acres of land are listed for $13.3 million.

Ambassadors, which promotes cultural-immersion trips for students, said today it would move into a smaller, leased location in Spokane.

The headquarters, at 2001 South Flint Road, will be marketed by real estate broker Goodale and Barbieri Company.

President and CEO Jeff Thomas said in a news release today that the sale “is consistent with actions we have taken to right size our business and would enable us to monetize an underutilized asset and strengthen the Company’s financial condition. We will continue to maintain our strong presence in Spokane and remain an active member of the community.”

A sale, the company said, would reduce facility and maintenance costs for the publicly traded company.

“Our current building is a beautiful facility, and the campus made sense for us when we began construction in 2006,” Thomas said.

The proxy battle: Ambassadors sends out a note to its workers

It's not a bad idea to brush up on your knowledge of proxy statements, especially if you have any stock in Spokane-based Ambassadors Group (symbol: EPAX).

Two shareholders, Bandera Partners and Lane Five Capital Management, have each filed preliminary proxy statements, indicating they may or may not be sending out invitations to other shareholders to vote with them on the election of new board directors.

That effort is tied to concerns by those investors, who between them own about 20 percent of the company's shares. They generally regard efforts by Ambassadors board and management as ineffective in reversing a five-year stock decline.

A story on the contest was posted Monday afternoon on Spokesman.com.

Ambassadors is the publicly traded cultural-immersion travel-arranger with offices near the Spokane Airport.

Its CEO Jeff Thomas earlier today released a letter to the company's employees. In it, he said:

“Our board and management team are committed to acting in the best interests of shareowners and are focused on delivering value.”

Financial graph from Thomson Reuters.

Ambassadors Group announces quarterly dividend

Ambassadors Group, Inc., which has its Spokane headquarters near the Spokane Airport, said it will pay a quarterly dividend of six cents per share on Dec. 7.

The company arranges tours and professional travel service for student groups and for professionals.

The dividend will go to all common shareholders of record as of Nov. 23. 

Ambassadors adds GPS phones to its summer travel groups

Spokane's Ambassadors Group will introduce a safety feature that gives its teachers, while on tour, emergency-enabled international global positioning system cell phones.

Providing a GPS phone to tour groups is a first among companies offering student travel, said Meredith Banka, vice president of marketing for Ambassadors Group. The company promotes student education tours with accompanying adults and teachers. 
“Student travel safety is our No. 1 priority,” Banka said in an email. “Annually we spend more than $3 million on our safety practices and procedures,” she said.
That announcement came after a Minnesota couple launched two nonprofit groups to encourage and advocate for safer student travel and exchange programs. Those sites are ClearCauseCoalition.org and ClearCauseFoundation.org.
The two sites launched on the anniversary of the birthday of their son, Tyler Hill, who was 16 when he died of a health problem while on a student ambassador trip to Japan in 2007. The company settled with the family after they filed a wrongful death suit but admitted no wrongdoing.
“We believe the impact of international student travel is valuable for all students, even those with pre-existing medical conditions,” Bank added in the message.
“We take extensive precautions to ensure that all pre-existing conditions are disclosed prior to travel, and that proper physician approval is obtained,” she said, adding travelers and student families bear the chief obligation to follow proper medical protocols. 

Ambassadors settles securities fraud suit for $7.5 million, denies wrongdoing

Spokane-based Ambassadors Group will pay a group of investors roughly $7.5 million to settle a class-action suit claiming the company engaged in securities fraud.

The suit was originally filed in 2009 in Spokane’s federal district court, with a New Jersey electrical workers pension fund as the lead plaintiff. A year later the suit was amended, with the national Plumbers Union Local No. 12 pension fund becoming the lead plaintiff in a class action suit.

After going through federal mediation, the parties signed the settlement last week, said Ambassadors Group CEO and President Jeff Thomas.

The suit alleged that some Ambassadors executives intentionally misled investors about the company’s weak finances during 2007, when the stock price fell by 40 percent. Company executives also sold stock worth more than $7 million during that period, the suit alleged.

In announcing the settlement Ambassadors made no admission of wrongdoing.

The money for the settlement will be paid by Ambassador Group’s insurance companies, said Tony Dombrowik, the company’s CFO.

Ambassadors reports drop in travelers, profits

Spokane-based educational travel company Ambassadors Group Inc. posted lower earnings in the second quarter as it arranged  travel for fewer people.

The company today reported earning $15.2 million in April, May and June, or 78 cents per share. That’s down from $19.2 million, or 99 cents per share, int he second quater of 2009.

Ambassadors arranged travel for 13,396 delegates in the quarter, a 16 percent decrease from 15,995 delegates in the same quarter a year ago.

Gross receipts in the quarter were $83.1 million, compared to $99.3 million a year ago. Gross margin for the quarter decreased 14 percent year over year, the company reported.