Ousted Duke Energy CEO Says He Had No Idea He’d Only Have The Job For 20 Minutes

Earlier this month, Bill Johnson enjoyed one of the shortest — and most lucrative, in dollars/hour — terms as CEO in U.S. history, as he was ousted from his new position at Duke Energy after only a few minutes on the job. Earlier today, Johnson explained to regulators that his brief time on the job was just as surprising to him as it was to the rest of the world.

Only a few weeks ago, Johnson has been the CEO of Progress Energy. Then that company merged with the larger Duke — becoming the nation’s largest electric utility provider — and Johnson was named CEO of the combined businesses… but only for about 20 minutes, at which point the board called for him to leave (with the help of a payout worth around $44 million).

In the days since, Duke has said the board had questions about Johnson’s leadership ability and concerns about a Progress nuclear power facility in Florida that had been idled.

“It seems odd to me that if these issues were burning issues, I never heard about them from anybody,” Johnson testified this morning before the North Carolina Utilities Commission. “You don’t get to be a CEO by not paying attention to signals from board members.”

And yet, Johnson then goes on to detail all the reasons he should have suspected there was a problem — like the fact that he didn’t meet with the Duke board at all in the six months leading up to the closing of the merger on July 2. Or the fact that he sensed that Duke was trying to back out of the deal, and that company execs were telling analysts the merger might not go through.

I don’t have an MBA, but those sound like “signals” that things might be amiss.

Following Johnson’s ouster, the board re-installed Jim Rogers, who had been the Duke CEO but was supposed to have taken the position of executive chairman after the merger was complete.

The board says that the decision to remove Johnson was done without Rogers knowledge.

Two former Progress board members, who are now on the Duke board and who were present at the vote to remove Johnson, are slated to testify before the commission next week.

Ousted Duke CEO Says Board Never Raised Leadership Issues [WSJ.com]