Visionary Duke Energy CEO Inspired Solutions To Global Warming, Nature Conservancy, And Lighting The World
Duke Energy's former Chairman and CEO Jim Rogers died unexpectedly of sepsis in Louisville, Kentucky on Monday, December 17th, one day after he was rushed to the hospital. He was 71 years old.
Jim's story is larger than the frame of his accolades and accomplishments, of which there were many. He was always somewhat amazed with where he was and what he had become, and he was blessed with the ability to not take himself too seriously. He was ever informed but never defined by the positions he held. The aspirational zeal with which he led his life was captivating, contagious, and illuminating to people, businesses, and communities around the world.
Born on September 20, 1947 in Birmingham Alabama, Jim was the son of James Eugene and Margaret Whatley Rogers. His parents moved to Danville, Kentucky, where Jim grew up. He started college at Emory University. However, Jim would later quip that his crowning glory there was becoming "All-Pro", the dubious distinction of achieving both academic and social probation. His parents, of course, were not amused.
The self-enlightenment from this experience ignited Jim's grit and tenacity. Resolved to complete college, he talked his way into transferring to the University of Kentucky. There, to pay his tuition and make ends meet, he worked numerous jobs including the night shift at a funeral home where he also lived. He later worked as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader for the remainder of his undergraduate years. Jim was 19 when he married his first wife Robyn, with whom he would have three children - Chrissi, Kara, and Ben. Graduating in 1970, he was accepted at Kentucky's College of Law where he was at the top of his class his first year. But with a wife, two children, and a third on the way, he no longer could afford to stay in school. He found work as a veterinary products sales representative where his nascent persuasive gifts were awakened. Evidencing Jim's phenomenal drive and energy, his return to law school was made possible by Robyn teaching school and Jim working 20-hour weeks at each of two jobs. He was elected to Kentucky's Law Review, graduated in 1974 and still found time to play Rugby.
Jim began his career in public service as Assistant Attorney General for Kentucky, where he worked as a consumer advocate to challenge the rate increases of utility companies. He moved to Washington, D.C. to join the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where he eventually became Deputy General Counsel for Litigation and Enforcement and gained the respect of utility companies as a tough but fair-minded negotiator on compliance issues. He later joined Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld as a partner specializing in energy issues. While there, he was instrumental in the formation of the Natural Gas Clearinghouse, one of the first natural gas trading companies.
Subsequently, Jim served as Executive Vice President of Interstate Pipelines for the Enron Gas Pipeline Group, and in 1988 he was recruited to become the President, Chairman and CEO of PSI Energy. Over the next 25 years, through merging PSI with Cincinnati Gas and Electric to become Cinergy in 1995 and Cinergy with Duke Energy in 2006, Jim built and remained President, CEO and Chairman of what became the largest utility company in the United States while delivering its shareholders a 12% annual return over 25 years. Significantly, he was the first CEO in the electric utility industry to speak about the changes needed in the face of climate change and led the industry in the effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and develop renewable power sources. Convinced that the utility industry could become a leader in the transition toward a cleaner, low-carbon future, Jim said that he wanted people to understand his passion for confronting the climate change issue and getting it right. In 2008, his leadership and influence resulted in Newsweek naming him one of the "50 Most Powerful People in the World."
After moving to Charlotte in 2006, Jim and his wife M.A. embraced the city, and became important civic leaders and philanthropists. Jim co-chaired a campaign in 2006 that raised $83 million to create a cluster of new museums in uptown Charlotte, including the Mint Museum, the Bechtler Museum and the Harvey B. Gantt Center. In 2011, Jim and M.A. were lead donors in a $10 million campaign to build the Rogers Health and Science building at Queens University of Charlotte. He was instrumental in bringing the Democratic National Convention to Charlotte in 2012. He worked hard to make the city an important energy hub and was actively involved in establishing energy startups and recruiting businesses to move to Charlotte. "I think it's just in his DNA to get in the middle of things and make something happen," said Hugh McColl Jr., former CEO of Bank of America Corp. Jim was named Business Person of the Year in Charlotte in 2007 and in 2011 and elected to the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 2014.
A creative, tireless visionary, Jim was always willing to explore the edge of possibility, and his influence was achieved not through power, but through his ability to learn, listen and communicate. "At the end of the day, how you explain things matters -- your credibility comes from how you communicate," he said. His skill at finding common ground and his innate ability to identify with people on all sides of an issue enabled him to bring divergent views together and create real change.
As Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria said, "I am hard-pressed to think of anyone in any industry, not just energy, with a similar record. I have probably learned more from Jim Rogers about being a leader than I have learned from anybody in my life."
Jim derived great joy in befriending, teaching and mentoring both the young and those more experienced. He relished invitations to speak at universities and graduate schools across the country. In the courses he taught at Duke University, he worked hard to know each of his students personally. He often extolled the importance of "being the immigrant" - getting there earlier, working harder, staying later, and always striving to make himself and others better. The Grandchildren's Test -- "Will my grandchildren be proud of what I did?" - was a test he measured himself by and encouraged others to apply.
Jim was a long-standing board member of CIGNA Corporation and served on numerous boards, including Duke University's Nicholas Institute, Aspen Institute, Brookings Institution, and the United Nations Advisory Committee for Sustainable Energy for All. Upon his retirement from Duke Energy in 2013, Jim continued to develop his many interests. As Global Vice Chair of The Nature Conservancy, he raised over five billion dollars and served as an inspirational leader and champion for issues ranging from water conservation to land protection to preserving the planet's natural resources for future generations. Energy access for all was a great passion. He published a book, "Lighting the World", worked with the Global Bright Light Foundation which he had earlier co-founded, and loved to work with and advise other energy access groups. In 2013, Duke University recruited Jim for a Rubenstein Fellowship, providing him with a home to explore the challenge of bringing electricity to the more than one billion people around the world still lacking access. In typical Jim Rogers fashion, he parlayed the Fellowship into a launching pad for the Energy Access Project, one of the first pan-university initiatives charged with promoting access to electricity through renewable and low-carbon emitting sources. The spark that Jim provided with his teaching, mentoring, and investment at Duke has fueled a blaze of energy problem-solving on the campus and around the world.
Although driven and accomplished in his career, Jim relished every moment spent with his family. He was extremely proud of the individual paths that each of his three children - Chrissi, Kara, and Ben -have taken. He would engage anyone who would listen with stories of his eight grandchildren and one great grandchild. Despite the fact that the family was spread coast-to-coast, he and M.A. loved to be with them for family events including vacations, birthdays, graduations, water polo, lacrosse, school plays, and more. Every grandchild looked forward to turning age ten and traveling out of the country with Granddaddy and Grandmommy. "Granddaddy's World-Famous" waffles were legendary, and he loved to dance and could out-gator anyone half his age on the dance floor. He loved family time in Colorado, Motown music, and was famous for saying, "If we don't have a picture, it didn't happen." His love of the outdoors, hiking, and the majesty of the mountains instilled a like appreciation in his children. However, it was M.A., his beloved wife and best friend of 41 years who was the glue and the rock in Jim's life. She shared his aspirations, love of adventure, and enthusiasm for life that made their time together so rich and fulfilling. She, his children, grandchildren, and the rest of his family hope to continue Jim's exceptional legacy.
Jim is survived by his wife Mary Anne Boldrick Rogers; daughters Chrissi Morgan (Michael) and Kara Black (Richard), and son Benjamin Rogers (Megan); grandchildren Emma, Will, and Kate Morgan, Alex Swithers (Ann Marie), and Sara, Teddy, Liza, and Maggie Rogers; and great-grandson Raymond Swithers; and numerous nieces and nephews. Jim's surviving siblings include his brother Michael Rogers (Debi) and sisters Cheri Unger (Rob) and Candace Fox (Brian).
A memorial service for Jim will be held at 11:00 AM on Friday, January 4, 2019 at Myers Park Baptist Church followed immediately by a reception at Burwell Hall on the Queens University campus. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in Jim's name may be made to the Jim Rogers Memorial Fund at The Nature Conservancy (www.nature.org/jimrogersmemorialfund
), or to Queens University of Charlotte.
Arrangements are in the care of Kenneth Poe Funeral & Cremation Service, 1321 Berkeley Ave., Charlotte, NC 28204; (704) 641-7606. Online condolences can be shared at www.kennethpoeservices.com