Frontier Bank president fired over vacation demand

EVERETT — Frontier Bank fired its president earlier this week after he refused to cancel vacation plans.

Even as the bank struggles to raise capital in the face of a possible forced sale, Frontier Financial Corp. President John Dickson planned to go ahead with a family vacation to Hawaii this month.

He was fired by Frontier Chief Executive Pat Fahey on Monday, then resigned from the parent corporation’s board of directors the next day.

“We made the plan months ago,” Dickson said Thursday. “I’d given notice to Pat Fahey plenty in advance that I’d planned this vacation. He came at me recently and informed me that I needed to cancel my vacation.”

Dickson said: “I came back to him and said, ‘Gee, my family and my marriage are very important to me. I really don’t want to cancel this vacation.”

In his resignation letter, filed Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Dickson was obviously upset and said it was “improper” that Fahey asked him to cancel.

“I cannot continue as a director in the face of this dismissal,” Dickson wrote. “My termination followed your improper demand that I refrain from exercising my employment right to earned vacation time for a family vacation during my children’s spring break starting on March 31, 2010. I had earlier given you timely notification of my vacation schedule.”

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. recently declared the bank critically undercapitalized and gave it an ultimatum to secure more assets through an investor or a buyer by April 15 or face the forced sale of the bank.

Dickson was planning on taking two weeks off, returning to work after eight business-days away. He said the majority of his work was already conducted on the phone or through e-mails, and that he could participate in meetings via conference calls.

Fahey said he has canceled his own vacation plans to intensify his search for an investor to rescue the bank, and felt it was a bad time for Dickson to take time off.

“I have a very strong philosophy that a leader doesn’t leave the battlefield and abandon troops when they’re under fire, when they’re under stress,” Fahey said Thursday.

The son of Frontier founder Bob Dickson, John Dickson started work at the bank in 1985. He served as chief executive for several years until 2008, when the bank’s directors brought Fahey out of retirement to help repair damage from one of the worst recessions in recent history.

Dickson stayed on as bank president, overseeing day-to-day operations. Fahey said many employees were loyal to Dickson.

“(That) loyalty should have been reciprocated,” he said.

Dickson agreed that his employees were loyal, but said that an outpouring of support this week has confirmed they would not have been disheartened by his vacation.

“My being gone for a week and a half would not cause undue stress for my employees,” he said.

Dickson said he ended last year with 176 hours of vacation time he didn’t take.

With the possibility of a forced sale on the horizon, Frontier officials are in talks with prospective investors. The bank would have been acquired by a group of investors last year, but the deal failed to pass muster with regulators before a deadline.

”I haven’t given up,” Fahey said. “Frankly, I could have used John’s continued help.”

He said he and Dickson worked well together, and that he regrets having to let him go.

“I did not feel — and I still don’t feel — that any of the top two leaders in a company can be basking in the sun while the troops are laboring hard in a high level of anxiety,” Fahey said.

Dickson said he was asked to resign but refused.

“I didn’t want this,” he said. “He asked me to resign and I said, ‘I will not resign. I will be back to support my employees.’ And he wouldn’t hear of it.”

Dickson’s resignation letter was made public in accordance with federal regulations relating to corporate directors, Fahey said.

Earlier this week, Fahey declined to talk about the reason for Dickson’s departure. He changed his mind after Dickson went public about the firing.

After 25 years with the bank, Dickson said he’s unsure of his next step.

“I’m confident I’ll land on my feet, and I‘m really going to enjoy this time with my family,” he said. “Maybe I’ll start thinking about (what’s next) on my long walks on the beach.”

Frontier’s shares rose 15 cents during trading Thursday to close at $2.10.

Read Amy Rolph’s small-business blog at www.heraldnet.com/TheStorefront. Contact her at 425-339-3029 or arolph@heraldnet.com.

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