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FERC Chairman: "I think everybody needs to move on."

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The nation's top utilities regulator, who oversaw the approval of the merger between Progress Energy and Duke Energy last month, staunchly defended the right of a corporate board to fire the CEO and replace him at will.

The comments by Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, suggest that even if such a CEO switch is unpopular with other board members, employees and state regulators, "everybody needs to move on."

Wellinghoff made his comments Tuesday at an industry conference in Washington. His remarks were reported by Bloomberg News.

Wellinghoff's remarks came in response to reporters' questions about Charlotte-based Duke's firing of CEO Bill Johnson, 58, just hours after the merger was completed July 2. Wellinghoff noted that he's not specifically discussing Duke or Johnson because the FERC docket on the matter remains open and he can't comment on it, Bloomberg reported.

"I believe that a board of directors of a utility has the right to decide whoever they want to run the utility," Wellinghoff said at a Platts Energy Podium. "Once the board of directors does that, regardless of their timing, I think everybody needs to move on."

Johnson's firing unleashed a firestorm of protest. The N.C. Utilities Commission and the state Attorney General have both launched investigations into the matter.

The utilities commission approved the $32 billion merger just days before Johnson was fired. The commission issued its approval on the expectation that Johnson, who had been CEO of Raleigh-based Progress since 2007, would be CEO of the combined company, and is now investigating whether it was deliberately misled.

Those who have spoken out against Johnson's dismissal include former Progress board members and Duke board members who came from Progress and voted against Johnson's ouster.

In testimony before the utilities commission, a pair of Duke board members and Duke CEO Jim Rogers said that Johnson was let go because his leadership style is incompatible with Duke's corporate culture. Rogers called Johnson "autocratic" while board members Ann Gray and Michael Browning said they had doubts about him for many months and their doubts were confirmed during months of observation.

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FERC Chairman

Wellinghoff is an Obama appointee.  Jim Rogers is a big supporter of Obama.  You do the math.

Legal and ethical are two different things

Even if the Duke Energy bait-and-switch were legal, which remains to be seen, it certainly didn't live up to Duke's own purported "commitment to ethics."

The coup was the antithesis of transparency, and served only to undermine trust and confidence in the company, contrary to Duke's ostensible values.

Our Commitment to Ethics

Acting with honesty and integrity is a core value of Duke Energy. It applies to the behavior of everyone in the organization as well as the board of directors. And it applies to our relationships with everyone, including customers, suppliers and public officials.

We recognize the essential nature of our service and our special accountability to conduct our business at high standards of performance and transparency. In the long run, our company’s business success depends on our ability to earn trust and confidence daily with our many stakeholders.

Jim Rogers
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer 

What an insensitive...

remark by the FERC Chairman. Did he really think about what he said? The FERC Chairman owes the public an apology. Maybe his boss has more sense than he does and will instruct him to issue an apology immediately.

No corporate entity has the right to lie to the public

If the FERC chair thinks corporate entities should be able freely plot to undermine regulations without consequence, then the FERC chair should resign and move on.

mind your own business, Mr. Chairman

what he failed to mention is that one a utility lies, under oath, to a State commission, then its not just a simply 'move on' situation.   this isn't about the ability to hire or fire a CEO.  its about statements made, under oath that directly influenced decisions to approve a merger.

so my suggestion to the FERC chairman is to "Mind your own business"!

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About the blogger

John Murawski has been a full-time newspaper reporter since 1991, with stints at Legal Times and The Chronicle of Philanthropy (both in Washington, DC), The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Palm Beach Post (in South Florida) before arriving at the N&O in December 2004. At the N&O he covers energy (nuclear, coal, renewable, efficiency), hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), public utilities and health care. His beat includes PSNC Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Duke Energy Progress, PowerSecure International, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Biogen Idec and others. He has also contributed more than 30 book reviews on topics spanning botany, history, science and religion. You can reach him at 919-829-8932 or e-mail him.
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