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Avista Advantage picks CEO

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Stiles (The Spokesman-Review)

After almost a year of searching from the east coast to the west, Avista Advantage found a new chief executive officer in its Spokane office campus.

Stu Stiles, general manager of XO Communications in Spokane, will become chief executive officer of the Avista Corp. subsidiary on Feb. 7. Avista Advantage and XO Communications both are tenants of the Rock Pointe office complex, just north of downtown Spokane.

“Stu was here, very able and very capable,” said Avista Corp. CEO Gary Ely. “He has an innovative spirit and certainly is collaborative in his approach to leadership. It appeared to us to be a very good fit.”

Avista Advantage handles energy management, analysis and billing for major companies nationwide. The 300-person company has been searching for a new CEO since April 2004, when Harry Stephens left. Since then, Ely and Avista Utilities President Scott Morris have led the subsidiary on a temporary basis.

Ely said Avista has decided to retain ownership of the subsidiary, rather than bringing it up to speed then selling it. Avista Advantage marked the milestone of its first positive earnings report in the third quarter of 2004, with earnings of a penny per share. Ely expects that to grow to a nickel per share by next year. The company added 60,000 customer sites last year, through new business in the retail electronics and food service sectors, among others.

Now that costs have been cut at Avista Advantage, the goal is to add customers and Stiles’ strength is building relationships, Ely said.

“I like being part of a team,” said Stiles, 43. “I really enjoy working with others — capable, qualified people — to really move a company forward. I see exactly that happening at Avista Advantage.”

Stiles has worked at XO Communications since 1999, when it was called Nextlink. He has also held management positions with Teknon Corp. and Gallo Winery. His current responsibilities include oversight of XO’s Seattle, Portland and Spokane markets. XO Communications operates a $40 million network here and is in more than 60 markets nationwide. In July 2003, XO announced that 50 jobs would be moved from the Spokane service center to Denver due to a need for consolidation.

Stiles said that change did not occur in his division of the company and was not a factor in his decision to change jobs. He was drawn to the Avista Advantage position because he said he has “tremendous admiration and respect” for Avista Corp.

“It was a chance to be a part of that Avista family,” Stiles said.

Ely stressed Stiles’ integrity, honesty and ability to fit in with Avista Advantage’s management team as factors that put him above other applicants for the position.

Avista Advantage’s previous CEO, Harry Stephens, took over in January 2002 from Gary Crooks, who had led the company since its founding in 1996. Stephens left in April 2004, and the payout required by his employment agreement was cited as the primary reason for Avista Advantage’s loss of a penny per share in the second quarter of 2004.

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