Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers, a widely-quoted advocate of conservation and sustainability, urged the state's business community to look beyond quarterly earnings and fulfill a broader commitment to society.
The Fortune 500 executive warned business leaders Wednesday that the public's confidence in capitalism and business ethics took a major hit during the recession. To fill the credibility gap, state and federal governments have muscled in -- and amassed unsustainable debt levels -- to provide services better suited for the private sector.
Rogers, a former journalist and regulator, was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the N.C. Chamber, the state's business lobby. Other speakers included Gov. Bev Perdue, who stressed the importance of public funding for education, and economic futurist Jeff Thredgold, who discounted predictions of America's demise and said this nation has a bright economic future.
After Rogers spoke, several in attendance thanked him for his comments, which ranged over such issues as the need for nuclear energy and Charlotte-based Duke's merger with Raleigh-based Progress Energy. The merger, which will create the nation's largest utility company, is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
Speaking before hundreds of chamber members at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center in Durham, Rogers said business has lost its sense of purpose and urged those in attendance to embrace the concept of purpose-driven capitalism.
"Wealth for wealth's sake is meaningless," he said. "Business has a role to play in society beyond simply driving shareholder returns."
Rogers said profit is a limited measure of success and noted that businesses have a broader constituency that includes not only shareholders but customers, employees and local communities.
He didn't offer specifics on how capitalism can become more humanitarian, but said business is a driving force in the creation of jobs and raising general living standards.
The notion of socially-conscious capitalism has been in vogue for at least a decade among a minority of executives and academics, but almost never embraced publicly by executives of Fortune 500 corporations.