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Business

Charlotte CEOs reflect on adapting to COVID-19, how work is changing

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David Boraks
/
WFAE
Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good (center) joined CEOs Marvin Ellison of Lowe's (left) and Brian Moynihan of Bank of America on a panel moderated by Chris William Wednesday at the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance annual outlook in uptown Charlotte.

For the first time since before the pandemic, Charlotte's business leaders gathered in person Wednesday for their annual business outlook. For three top local CEOs, it was less about the economy and more about how their companies are adapting.

This wasn't yet another video meeting, but a panel discussion before a live audience uptown, hosted by the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. CEOs from Bank of America, Lowe's and Duke Energy talked about keeping workers safe, boosting their pay and what their workplaces might look like as the pandemic recedes.

As COVID-19 spread last year, Mooresville-based Lowe's gave bonuses to the 95% of its employees still working in stores and distribution centers - worth nearly $1 billion. Despite concerns about COVID-19, stores remained open - as an essential business. But company leaders worked remotely. So CEO Marvin Ellison said he required corporate executives to visit front-line workers weekly, to listen and support them.

"If you're out here in the stores, then we're going to be out there with you as much as we can, to make sure we're listening, learning, and trying to help you manage and maneuver through this really challenging environment," he explained.

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David Boraks
/
WFAE
Lowe's CEO Marvin Ellison talked to reporters after Wednesday's Charlotte Regional Business Alliance meeting.

Lowe's has said it expects to bring office workers back in early 2022. Ellison said they're looking at three back-to-work models: "Full-time back in the office, when we get back full time; hybrid, where you work at home two days and (the) office three; and full remote. And we've tried to scope out the positions based on those three classifications.

"We're still working through that and making adjustments as we go. And when we get everyone back in the office with those three classifications, we'll still make modifications," he said.

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David Boraks
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WFAE
Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan talks with moderator Chris William.

Bank of America struggled to keep its business going during the pandemic. But loan demand picked up and the company wrote a half-million loans over six months. That despite suddenly sending 160,000 employees to work at home, CEO Brian Moynihan said.

"So we had to get a hold of 100,000 computers and put them in people's homes and get their wi-fi strengthened. … It really forever changed the way you thought about resiliency and about recovery, etcetera," he said.

The challenge now is to figure out what the workplace looks like as the pandemic recedes, he said. Like Lowe's, BofA also will give workers a choice. But Moynihan said he favors more in-person work, especially for younger workers who he fears are missing out.

"What (if) the first three years of your career, you never met your boss face to face? Do you think you'd have been as successful as you've been today? And you know, would you have been mentored the same way? Would you have had the hallway conversation? Would you have asked been able to ask a stupid question?" Moynihan asked.

Recruiting employees is another challenge. Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good said it's more important than ever to promote the company's mission, of transforming the energy business and "changing the world."

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David Boraks
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WFAE
Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good, at the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance annual outlook.

"Selling the purpose of the company has been really important," Good said. "And I would also say expanding our reach, so we're looking for people in more places than we would have five years ago. This is not only driven by objectives around diversity and inclusion but frankly, looking for a broader range of talent."

Ellison said companies need to change the way they think about recruiting.

"You have to give prospective employees a reason to join you, you have to give your current employees reason to stay. And I think that's going to be more about the culture you create within the company than just a few more dollars, you added to the paycheck," he said.

Duke Energy's back-to-work plans also will be a mix of in-person and remote. Good noted that about half of Duke's employees have continued to work at energy plants and other places in the field. The company has cut jobs over the past year and also expects some workers will not return to the office full time. In April, it announced plans to sell or end leases at several offices in uptown Charlotte, and consolidate operations in the new headquarters it's building on South Tryon Street.

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David Boraks
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WFAE
Janet LaBar, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.

There was some talk of economics at Wednesday's panel. All three CEOs said the current low-interest-rate environment is good for growth.

Meanwhile, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance CEO Janet LaBar was optimistic about 2022. So far this year, she said, the Charlotte region has added 29,000 net new jobs and attracted nearly $2.9 billion in investment in factories and facilities. That included announcements from USAA, Apple, Arrival and Credit Karma.

And LaBar said 82 additional projects are in the pipeline.

"Even amid a pandemic, we have experienced extraordinary record breaking growth, and our work to elevate the region as an investment location has reached decision makers and influencers all around the world," LaBar said.

"Together, we have united and committed to racial equity, social justice, economic opportunity and upward mobility. … It's my greatest hope that even brighter days are ahead for us in 2022," she said.