DULUTH (AP) -- The president, chief executive officer and chairman of the parent company of Minnesota Power surprised industry observers by resigning Tuesday.
Edwin Russell, 56, joined the firm in 1995 and became CEO in 1996. He oversaw the company's name change to Allete Inc. and its largest diversification, the 1995 acquisition of the Adesa auto auction business.
David Gartzke, a 26-year Allete veteran who most recently was chief financial officer, was named to succeed Russell as president of the Duluth-based firm.
Allete also also owns a wholesale auto-auction business, auto finance operations, water utilities in Florida and North Carolina and real estate in Florida.
The CEO title "will be addressed by the board at a future date," said spokesman Eric Olson.
Arend Sandbulte, Allete's former CEO and a director, will be chairman until the next board election in May.
In an interview, Russell said the company was moving in a new strategic direction, which made it the right time to leave.
"I was brought in to grow and develop the company and transform it into a multiservices company," he said. "We could continue in that direction if we chose, or look at other ways of maximizing shareholder value by repositioning assets. But the repositioning would (involve) assets that I built. If that's the strategy the company wants to deploy, I approve of it as a shareholder, but it would be very difficult to be involved in doing that, since I built it."
Russell emphasized that he will support Gartzke "in whatever way I can," but that he wanted to make "a clean and amicable break."
He said he plans to relax for a while.
"I've been working like crazy for a long period of time," he said. "I've got some other opportunities, and I'll take a look at them."
Allete paid Russell $512,754 in salary last year, and a bonus of $764,834, according to the company's proxy statement. Olson said the company wasn't disclosing whether Russell received a severance package.
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