Wealth is no be-all, Chamber is told

Staff WriterMarch 3, 2011 

Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers, an oft-quoted advocate of energy conservation and corporate sustainability, delivered a message to North Carolina's business community: You have a broader obligation to society that goes far beyond quarterly earnings.

The Fortune 500 executive warned business leaders Wednesday that the public's confidence in capitalism and business ethics has plummeted since the recession.

Rogers, a former journalist and regulator, was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the N.C. Chamber, the state's business lobby.

Speaking before hundreds of chamber members at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center in Durham, Rogers said American business has lost its sense of purpose, a reference to the predatory practices that led to the nation's real-estate collapse. He urged his audience to embrace a more humanitarian approach to capitalism that seeks to serve a broader constituency: customers, employees and local communities.

"Wealth for wealth's sake is meaningless," Rogers said. "Business has a role to play in society beyond simply driving shareholder returns."

Other speakers included Gov. Bev Perdue and economic futurist Jeff Thredgold.

Cynthia Marshall, AT&T's president for North Carolina and the chamber's outgoing leader, appeared on video recording. She began medical leave in January.

Other highlights:

On the economy: "I feel certain that we're in the second quarter of a very fragile recovery," Perdue said. "There is no job fair in heaven that sprinkles gold dust on us."

On government incentives: "I am one who, like many of you, hates incentives," she said. "But I will go to the death knell fighting for these incentives if the other 49 states do it."

On the jobs market: "The recession ended statistically, if not emotionally, 20 months ago," Thredgold said. "It could be four to five years until we get back to full employment."

On politicians: "Members of the Senate ought to be required to take a year off to run a business on limited funds to see what it's like to deal with the rules they've created," he said.

On the best careers: Thredgold said the seven critical growth industries in this economy are technology, transportation, telecommunications, financial services, energy, entertainment and biomedicine.

john.murawski@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8932

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