One month after his abrupt ouster as CEO of Duke Energy, an unemployed Bill Johnson made a cameo appearance as a blogger on a fan site set up by former colleagues.
Johnson’s maiden post on Wednesday makes it clear he’s deeply wounded by Duke’s stinging criticism of his leadership style. But he feels vindicated by the outpouring of support he has received: more than two dozen posts showing that Johnson’s admirers are not buying the Duke Energy assertion that Johnson made a mess of the merger between Charlotte-based Duke and Raleigh-based Progress Energy.
What also comes through unmistakably is that Johnson, 58, misses the 12th-floor executive suite in downtown Raleigh that he occupied for nearly five years.
“Let me just say I have been one of the most fortunate people on this planet because I had the opportunity to work with you and to serve as your CEO,” Johnson wrote on the site, called MyBillJohnsonStory. “I became CEO because of what you did, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity you provided me.”
Johnson came up with the idea to write the blog post, said his publicist, Joyce Fitzpatrick.
“He’s been running into former Progress employees who say that many colleagues wanted to hear from him directly,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was his idea, and they are his own words. And he posted it himself.”
The site is a repository for panegyrics by former colleagues, who title their posts about Johnson’s firing with such banners as: “Heartbroken,” “Total Shock,” “Just a Great Guy,” “Simply a Gentleman” and “A Genuine Leader.”
Johnson was forced to resign just hours after the $32 billion utility merger was completed July 2. The N.C. Utilities Commission and state Attorney General have opened investigations. The commission, which approved the merger in late June with the understanding that Johnson would run the combined company, held public hearings last month, taking testimony from Johnson, Duke CEO Jim Rogers and four Duke board members.
That’s when the world learned that Duke leaders had doubts about Johnson even before the merger was announced in January, 2011, and that those doubts were confirmed through months of observation. Rogers called Johnson “autocratic” and said Johnson and his deputies were trying to impose Progress’ culture on Duke. Johnson’s blog post doesn’t address that charge directly but instead heaps praise on Progress’s culture.
Johnson’s termination agreement bars him from publicly disparaging Duke, except in a legal proceeding. His blog dances around that issue by leaving unsaid what many understand to be his convictions about the way he was summarily discharged.
“You have heard and read some critical things about me,” he blogged. “I leave the judgment about the accuracy of these criticisms to you.”
Johnson extols the virtues of Progress employees and the corporate culture they have created. He uses the term “integrity” four times to describe Progress’ values.
“One of the hallmarks of a great organization is the integrity with which its members operate,” Johnson wrote. “Integrity matters, and it matters most of all.
“I know you’re with me on that.”