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Ric Odegard Retired Seafirst Executive In High Demand As Business Consultant, Pinch Hitter

Grayden Jones Staff Writer

Since 1972, Ric Odegard has kept his resignation tucked inside his desk for an emergency. If the boss didn’t like his work, Odegard was ready to take full responsibility and quit if necessary.

But in 29 years at Seafirst Bank, no one ever showed Odegard the door.

Rather, the retired South Hill banker has had to shoo away business leaders and politicians who want to hire him to run their companies and sit on their boards.

“I’m not planning to make a career out of this,” says Odegard, who in April was named acting chief executive officer of Tidyman’s Inc. supermarket chain in the Valley.

Odegard was drafted to head the 11-store chain when company profits slipped and long-time president Jack Heuston resigned. The 56-year-old Odegard plans to hold the position until a permanent successor is hired this summer.

Tidyman’s, an employee-owned store that tops $200 million in annual sales, was not the first to tap Odegard’s talent. Since the Snohomish, Wash., native arrived in Spokane in 1978, Odegard has held dozens of positions that shaped the Inland Northwest economy, schools and neighborhoods.

He chaired committees that hired Bob Cooper, president of the Spokane Area Economic Development Council, and Rich Hadley, president of the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce. He was a founding member of Momentum, a powerful economic development group.

Odegard has served as president of the 2,000-member chamber and helped organize bond issues for affordable housing and the proposed Pacific Science Center at Riverfront Park, two issues rejected by voters. Twice he was campaign chairman for School District 81 bond levies.

As executive vice president for Seafirst in Eastern Washington, Odegard helped bring the Seafirst Bank Card Center to Spokane, employing 500 people. He also negotiated a controversial deal to rename the fairgrounds baseball park Seafirst Stadium.

“I’ve always looked up to Ric,” says Bobby Brett, the 43-year-old owner of the Spokane Indians, Chiefs and Shadow, minor league baseball, hockey and soccer clubs. “The guy’s a good thinker, a good listener and understands the big picture. He’s given me a lot of good advice.”

Odegard became known as financial tactician and risk-taker in 1988 when he shocked Seafirst executives by suggesting that his Eastern Washington division unload $100 million in troubled loans, or nearly one fourth of its $450 million portfolio. The bank reluctantly gave Odegard three years to attempt the gutsy restructuring. The division became the most profitable in the company, Odegard says.

When Odegard retired from Seafirst in August, he planned to spend more time at his Newman Lake cabin and build homes for Habitat for Humanity. He quit the board of Whitman College, his alma mater, sharpened up his three lawn mowers and teed up a few golf balls.

But a good executive apparently is hard to find. Farmers & Merchants Bank quickly hired Odegard as a consultant and Mayor Jack Geraghty named him to a task force to examine ways to redevelop southwest downtown, a mixed-use area that includes both the Davenport Hotel and West First Avenue.

Immediately following Heuston’s resignation, Tidyman’s board, which includes Telect founder Bill Williams and chamber chairwoman Chris Schnug, also turned to Odegard to run the company.

It was a dirty assignment. Finding that Tidyman’s had overextended itself, Odegard quickly laid off 83 of the company’s 1,200 employees and enacted a system to daily manage labor costs. This occurred just as Tidyman’s was preparing to open a new store at Argonne Road and Interstate 90.

Odegard admits he knows little about running a supermarket. An hour stocking shelves nearly killed him, he says, and managers often use terms that baffle him.

But to help inspire confidence among employees, Odegard and the board last week mailed a letter to each employee, outlining Tidyman’s goals for 1996. Among the goals, Tidyman’s wants to earn a seven-figure profit this year and boost returns in 1997.

In addition, the so-called “Qualchan” store will open in 1997 south of Spokane along Highway 195, and a new building likely will be built to replace the existing Cedar Road store in North Spokane, he says. That store must be replaced because of sinking floors built on a landfill.

All told, Odegard says, Tidyman’s may add one store per year through 2004, including a possible store south of Albertson’s on the South Hill.

“There’s a lot of rumors floating around,” Odegard says, “but the clear message is that Tidyman’s is just fine.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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