|By Christian Giggenbach, The
Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 18, 2008 - WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS -- Paul Ratchford, the former president of The Greenbrier who recently filed a $50 million lawsuit against CSX Corp. and others, is speaking publicly for the first time since his September 2007 departure from the famed resort.
Ratchford was hired by Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX -- the parent company of The Greenbrier and CSX Hotels Inc. -- in September 2006. But just one year later, on Sept. 18, 2007, Greenbrier officials announced Ratchford had "made the decision" to abruptly resign and "left to pursue other interests."
However, court documents filed by CSX lawyers on May 5 confirmed Ratchford's lawsuit claims that CSX CEO Michael Ward did, in fact, terminate Ratchford's employment with the hotel last Sept. 18. CSX spokesman Gary Sease declined comment for this article because of "pending litigation."
In an exclusive interview with The Register-Herald, Ratchford talked candidly about his short tenure as president, why he believes he was fired and the friends and relationships he garnered during his 12 months in the Greenbrier Valley.
"First of all, we would like the employees of The Greenbrier and the entire local community to know how much we fell in love with West Virginia," Ratchford said, speaking for his wife, Kris. "It broke our hearts to leave The Greenbrier. We developed many friendships with employees and others outside of the resort. We want everyone to know that I did not resign to pursue other interests and did not voluntarily leave The Greenbrier."
Ratchford said he and Kris are living in Oakhurst, Calif., but still own, but have up for sale, a multimillion-dollar home they purchased at The Greenbrier Sporting Club. At age 53, he said, this is the first time in his life he has been unemployed.
Ratchford also spoke about changes he implemented at the resort, which he claims were ultimately what got him fired. CSX has denied through court documents the majority of those claims.
Ratchford also named Ward, Greenbrier employee Bruce Rosenberger and contractor Howard Shapiro of Georgia as co-defendants. Ratchford is being represented by Lewisburg lawyer Barry Bruce.
"Due to the changes needed to improve employees' trust toward management and alter the culture of executive entitlement and privilege, the process of performance-based accountability for key leadership positions needed to be implemented. This, of course, made several senior leaders uncomfortable, since their performance had never been challenged in the past," Ratchford said.
"Historically, The Greenbrier had denied employees access to the discounts and benefits accorded management. Instead, employees witnessed extravagant and flagrant business practices by key leaders that were both unethical and unprofessional.
"Over the years, mistrust and resentment built up and eventually deteriorated the necessary alignment of values required to service customers at Five-Star and Five-Diamond levels. I said this publicly many times while speaking to neighborhood groups."
One of Ratchford's first decisions as president was reopening the resort to the public. Greenbrier officials closed the resort to all but Sporting Club homeowners and hotel guests in 2004, citing safety concerns brought on by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Ratchford said the true reason for closing the gates was to increase property values at The Sporting Club.
"The Greenbrier's biggest challenge was restoring the trust with customers," he said. "This included the employees and the local community, who had been closed out when the gates were restricted for only homeowners and resort guests to increase lot prices with The Sporting Club development."
He cited that as a major reason in his decision to reopen the resort to those who were not guests or Sporting Club residents.
Ratchford called that his easiest decision.
He said his implementation of the same discounts for all employees, regardless of their position, plus eliminating perks such as employee parking on the resort's grounds, proved too much for some.
"It became evident very early in my employment that the senior leadership of The Greenbrier was not willing to support the initiatives of building trust by reducing perks and privileges. The discipline required ... was too much an effort and sacrifice for a few highly paid senior leaders to accept," he said. "Clearly, it created some vertical issues for CSX and me.
"It was not my desire to file the lawsuit; however, it is my belief that my family and I have been personally injured by CSX Corp. I want to assure you that I did nothing to deserve such treatment, and, as a CSX shareholder, I am devastated by the callous and unprofessional management which is evidenced by their (CSX) failure to follow their own code of ethics."
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Copyright (c) 2008, The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va.
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