Jim Rogers, Former Duke Energy CEO, Dies At 71

Dec 18, 2018

Jim Rogers, the former chairman and chief executive of Duke Energy, has died, according to the company. 

Rogers was 71. 

In a statement, Duke Energy's current chairman and chief executive Lynn Good said it was Rogers' mission to "light the world," an ode to his 2015 book about bringing clean, sustainable electricity to low-income people in rural communities.

"Our industry has lost one of its most influential and extraordinary leaders," Good said. "I was fortunate to work alongside Jim and see his dynamic leadership skill up close. He was not afraid to tackle the hard questions with a personable style that brought people together for positive solutions." 

Rogers, who died Monday in Louisville, Ky., became Duke Energy's CEO after the company merged with Cinergy in 2006. He had served as Cinergy's chairman and CEO for 11 years prior to that, and as CEO of PSI Energy prior to that. He retired from Duke Energy in 2013.

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WFAE's David Boraks spoke with host Mark Rumsey about Rogers for All Things Considered. 

Mark Rumsey: David, tell us a little bit about how Jim Rogers came to be the CEO at Duke.

David Boraks:  Rogers was born in Alabama and grew up in Kentucky, where he once worked as a newspaper reporter. He got his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Kentucky and eventually landed in the energy business.

Rogers was the CEO for 11 years at Cinergy, a big Midwest electric utility based in Cincinnati. In 2006, he helped engineer the company's merger with Duke Energy and became CEO after the deal closed.  

He immediately plunged into Charlotte and North Carolina affairs. One of his most memorable public roles was as co-chair of the host committee of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte with then-Mayor Anthony Foxx. 

He was active in national utility groups and won national and local business awards.

Rumsey: What stands out about his time as Duke's CEO?

Boraks: Rogers led the company at a time of big change in the electric business. As I said, he came to Duke through a merger and steered the company through other big deals. In 2012, he led Duke's purchase of North Carolina's other large electric utility, Progress Energy. That made Duke the largest electric utility in the nation. By the time he stepped down, Duke had grown from a company in the Carolinas to one with customers from Florida to Indiana.

Rogers led Duke during an era when concern about climate change was growing. He saw himself as a mediator between keeping Duke's business strong and addressing the need for cleaner energy.

During his tenure, he dared to suggest that utilities should pursue renewable energy, and led Duke to invest more in wind and solar power.

Rumsey: Rogers retired in 2013, and it came under something of a cloud, didn't it?

Boraks: That's right. It was part of a settlement with state regulators in the year after Duke bought Progress. Regulators were investigating the merger, and specifically a big change in the company's promise of who would lead the merged company. That was supposed to be Bill Johnson, the CEO of Progress. Instead, the board abruptly fired him and kept Rogers as CEO.  In the settlement, Rogers agreed to retire. That's when the board brought in Lynn Good, the current CEO.

After he retired, Rogers still turned up at big events in Charlotte. And he wrote and lectured on how people in poor countries could get access to sustainable energy. That included a 2015 book, “Lighting the World."

He and his wife, Mary Anne, also contributed to local causes, including a $4 million donation to a new science building at Queens University that bears their names.

Rumsey:  That's WFAE's David Boraks talking about the death of Jim Rogers, the former CEO of Duke Energy.