Starkey Hearing CEO Promotes Stepson to President
Bill Austin, the chief executive of Starkey Hearing Technologies, promoted his stepson Brandon Sawalich to president of the Eden Prairie-based company.
Sawalich fills a void in leadership created nearly two years ago when Austin dismissed Jerry Ruzicka, Starkey’s former president, and many other executives under claims they had been siphoning money from the company.
Federal suits against Ruzicka and Starkey’s former human resources officer and CFO are set to start later this year. Each denied the accusations against them, which include: forging Austin’s signature to authorize an asset transfer, transferring $15 million of restricted Starkey stock to a sham company, profiting off the transfer and then using Starkey funds to cover up the purported scheme from the IRS.
In a separate suit, Ruzicka claimed Austin had let him and other Starkey executives go after they snubbed his request to promote Sawalich. According to the lawsuit, Austin retaliated by creating “a hostile and vindictive work environment.”
According to a memo sent by Austin to Starkey staffers and shared with the Star Tribune, the decision to promote Sawalich was a no-brainer.
“Because he stepped up when needed, it was an easy decision and a pleasure to make the announcement of Brandon’s promotion,” Austin wrote. “After 23 years with Starkey, Brandon has proved to me that he is a trusted leader who Starkey can be proud of, and who shares my passion and commitment to better hearing our employees, the industry and the people we serve.”
In a statement, Sawalich said he was “humbled by the extraordinary honor” to lead Starkey. For more than a dozen years, Sawalich had been the senior vice president of Starkey, while Austin most recently had acted as CEO and interim president. Austin will remain as CEO of the company.
Based on revenue, Starkey is the largest hearing aid manufacturer in the United States. Despite its legal woes, the company posted a record $800 million in annual revenue in 2015, the same year as its C-suite shake-up.