Business & Economy
9:00 am
Fri July 20, 2012

Ousted Duke Energy CEO Bill Johnson Speaks

The North Carolina Utilities Commission spent hours yesterday questioning ousted Duke Energy CEO Bill Johnson.  The former Progress Energy leader says he was stunned by the controversial turn of events that transpired once the two companies merged.

Edward Finley:  There were no issues with respect to who would be the president and who would be the CEO.

Bill Johnson:  No, there were a lot of interesting questions and issues in the hearings, but that was not one of them.

Leoneda Inge:  That’s Edward Finley, chairman of the Utilities Commission and Bill Johnson, the Duke Energy CEO who was abruptly fired.  Johnson got his chance to explain to the commission why he thinks the new Duke board swiped him of his post, soon after Progress and Duke Energy officially completed their 32-billion-dollar merger. Edward Finley.

Finley:  Our reaction here has nothing to do with who was fired but what this commission was told and was it was not told.

At one point Johnson was referred to as the 20-minute CEO.   Commissioners wanted to know what would make Duke Energy fall out of love with Johnson so fast and in such dramatic style.   Jim Rogers, who is Duke’s CEO again, told commissioners last week, it was Johnson’s leadership style.  Rogers says Johnson didn’t mesh with the Board of Directors. And Rogers said board members questioned how Johnson handled Progress’ Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida which remains off line.  But Johnson told commissioners, Duke Energy officials appeared to be getting a sort of buyer’s remorse.  He says an article in the Charlotte Business Journal in December cut like a knife.  That’s when a reporter quoted current Duke Energy leader Jim Rogers as saying Johnson sold Progress Energy cheap so he could be the C-E-O of what is now the largest energy company in the country.

Johnson:  But this was quite disrespectful. And my board was furious, I was furious. For the next month after that, everywhere I went in the company, employees would say to me, with a very jaundiced eye, did you do that?

Johnson was a stoic lawyer during his multiple hour drill session. But at one point he could no longer hold back the tears.

Johnson:  And if you would indulge me a personal moment. I exited quickly and didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to a lot of people.  So I’ll take the opportunity here, thanks.

One question the utilities commission kept pressing was if Johnson was a good leader and if his style of leadership could work well with legacy Duke Energy board directors and top staff.  A former Progress board member who now sits on the Duke Energy board says Johnson was smart, transparent and confident at Progress Energy. Commissioner Bryan Beatty questioned E. Marie McKee.

Bryan Beatty:  Prior to the closing of the merger on July second of this year, did you have any concerns regarding Mr. Johnson’s ability to lead the combined company?

E. Marie McKee: I had absolutely no concerns about him leading the combined company.  I hope at some point you’ll let me talk about Bill Johnson and what the board thought about Bill Johnson because he was an outstanding leader at Progress.

Bryan Beatty:  I will in just a moment.

E. Marie McKee: Thank you.

McKee and James Hyler testified yesterday after Johnson.  Both are former Progress board members who currently sit on the new Duke Energy board.  McKee and Hyler and Johnson say they still support the merger and say it’s good for customers and shareholders.  Will McKee and Hyler remain on the Duke Energy board after all that has gone down? They won’t say just yet.   Today, Duke Energy will get another chance to explain Johnson’s ouster.  One of the people expected to go before the utilities commission is Duke Board member Ann Gray.  She is the one who personally served Johnson his walking papers.