Call it the unofficial Bill Johnson Fan Club.
Current and former employees of Progress Energy and Duke Energy are posting their testimonials about the deposed utility chief executive on a web site created by a former Progress PR handler who considers Johnson a personal friend and mentor.
The site -- http://mybilljohnsonstory.com/ -- is reminiscent of a virtual memorial wall funeral homes create for the deceased, suggesting the sorrow Johnson's firing from Duke Energy has engendered among his admirers.
Aaron Perlut, the architect behind the site, wanted to provide legions of Johnson admirers an outlet for their emotions.
Johnson was ousted from Charlotte-based Duke Energy on July 2, mere hours after the company finalized its merger with Raleigh-based Progress Energy. Johnson, 58, had been CEO at Progress since 2007 and was slated to run the combined company.
The N.C. Utilities Commission and the N.C. Attorney General are investigating the ouster. Duke CEO Jim Rogers testified before the commission last week, saying Duke's board lost confidence in Johnson for his "autocratic" bearing. Johnson is set to testify on Thursday.
"The tipping point for me was the use of the word 'autocratic' in Jim Rogers' testimony, because nothing could be farther from the truth," Perlut said by phone. "[Johnson] is really the most democratic leader I have ever dealt with."
Perlut worked for Progress in Florida from 2000 to 2005, and said he still talks to Johnson about twice a year. "He always returned my calls," Perlut said.
Their chats ranged from cultivating tomatoes, to wrestling, to the Grateful Dead, to business management concepts like "emotional intelligence," one of Johnson's guiding principles.
Perlut was shouting Johnson's hallelujahs long before the July 2 boardroom coup. In April Perlut sang Johnson's praises in an online piece for Forbes about executive leadership.
Perlut created his Bill Johnson memorial site Thursday, less than a week ago, and has generated more than a dozen comments.
The comments even include a post from an anonymous Duke employee who alleges there was a plan afoot in uptown Charlotte to jettison Johnson, though the nameless poster uses a term more visceral than "jettison" to describe the machinations.
Most of the comments gush effusively about Johnson's down-to-earth mannerisms and lack of pretense.
"He never gave me a hard time, never had that 'executive' attitude and was always courteous and friendly," writes Jennifer Smith, former Progress Energy Travel Center Manager.
"He lives in the same house; tends to his garden and yard; reads voraciously; works on his bread recipes; and engages his people," writes Caroline Choi, Southern California Edison vice president of regulatory and environmental policy, a former Progress Energy employee, who calls herself a proud FOB (Friend of Bill).
"His people grew to encompass the entire company, and Bill never failed to show his respect for the employees and his appreciation for their role in the company’s success," Choi says.