Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver retiring as Western Alliance executive chairman amid NBA investigation

Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver will be retiring as executive chairman from Western Alliance Bancorporation in June, ending a two-decade tenure with the nearly $56 billion asset company.

The company's recent announcement of Sarver's impending departure comes amid the NBA's investigation into the Suns and Sarver, which the league launched in early November 2021 after ESPN published a story detailing allegations of racism and misogyny in a sometimes hostile and toxic workplace during Sarver's 17-year tenure as majority owner. Sarver has denied allegations in ESPN's story.

Sarver has held the title of executive chairman at Western Alliance Bancorporation since 2018 and has held a seat on the company's board, which he will also vacate in June, since 2002.

"It has been an honor to serve as executive chairman of Western Alliance Bancorporation," Sarver, who also served as the company's CEO from 2002 to 2018, said in a statement. "I want to offer my sincere appreciation to our employees, whose hard work and dedication have allowed us to achieve so much during my 20 years at the company. With the company well positioned for continued success and growth, the time is right for me to begin a new chapter. I will always cherish and be grateful for the experiences I have had and the relationships I have made during my time at Western Alliance. I have the utmost confidence in the executive team and the oversight of our highly experienced and capable board moving forward."

Western Alliance Bancorporation CEO and President Kenneth Vecchione said in a statement, in part, "Robert's vision and leadership made the remarkable success of Western Alliance possible. Robert was honest, transparent, and led the company with integrity throughout his time as a colleague and as a friend to many of us."

In January, as the trade publication American Banker first reported, Vecchione told investors on an earnings call that independent directors on the company's board had hired an independent outside law firm, Munger, Toller & Olsen, to help conduct their own investigation "to evaluate Robert's continued leadership role at the company," Vecchione said on the call.

"The investigation is being directed and overseen by the independent directors and to be clear, is not the result of any allegations related to the company discovered by the Board or the NBA," Vecchione continued on the call. "In addition, Western Alliance has and will continue to assist the NBA in an ongoing investigation as requested."

On the January call, Ebrahim Poonawala, a Bank of America Securities analyst, asked Vecchione about the timeline to conclude the investigation.

"This is being handled by the independent directors and their counsel," Vecchione replied. "And I'm not really in a position to comment on the scope or duration of the investigation. Sorry."

Western Alliance Bancorporation did not address the NBA's investigation in its announcement, nor did it give a reason for Sarver's retirement.

A spokesperson for Western Alliance Bancorporation declined to comment beyond the statement about the reasons or timing of the announcement.

The Suns declined to comment.

In the announcement, Western Alliance Bancorporation added that Steve Hilton, most recently the director of its board of directors, would also be stepping down from his position in June.

Hilton is a minority Suns owner and, like Sarver, has been part of Western Alliance Bancorporation since 2002.

The company's announcement regarding Sarver came last week, one day after the NBA's board of governors meetings concluded in New York City, which league sources say that Sarver attended.

When asked about the state of the NBA's investigation following the board of governor meetings, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told reporters that it remains ongoing.

"I mean, these types of investigations do take a lot of time," Silver said. "You want to ensure that you gather all the facts, and you also want to ensure that you protect the rights of the accused. And so we want to err on the side of being very complete. So, we're certainly closer to the end than the beginning. But it's hard to put a precise timeline on it right now."

The NBA's investigation has been led by the New York-based Wachtell Lipton law firm.

The top-seeded Suns, who finished the regular season with a franchise-record and NBA-best 64-18 mark, are slated to begin their postseason run this Sunday in Phoenix against either the New Orleans Pelicans or the LA Clippers.