www.DukeEmployees.com - Duke Energy Employee Advocate
Open Forum - Page 6
- John H. Mullin III, former Progress director, on the Duke/Progress merger.
Open Forum - February 2016Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com - February 29, 2016
At the Feb. 18 Open Forum, CEO Lynn Good said she wanted forward-looking employees "anxious to change."
It has wrongly been said that employees are resistant to change. Employees welcome change for the better, but usually get change for the worse. Would you object to a change of doubling your salary? Duke may try to spin the next benefit reduction as a good change, but no one will be fooled. Money goes in one direction, and it is never in the direction of employees.
Ms. Good said employees will be involved in future decisions and those who did not buy into the final decision would be thanked for their service. She again mentioned passive-aggressive employees.
Duke created many passive-aggressive employees when it destroyed the retirement plan that had been in place for decades. Those who did not overtly challenge the retirement conversion could still make Duke pay. The method of retribution varies from employee to employee. When humans have few options, they tend to create their own.
Being "thanked for their service" is not the worst thing that can happen to an employee, and it can be the very best thing to happen. Employees who were accepted for the voluntary layoff are having no second thoughts about departing Duke. They are leaving JOYOUSLY. Gloom is experienced only by those who wanted the layoff, but were not accepted. Some of them may have to be put on suicide watch!
Ms. Good said the company is moving to regulated energy.
Duke has really come full circle on regulated vs non-regulated energy.
We once had a CEO who found producing electricity to be an embarrassment. That is why the name was changed from Duke Power to Duke Energy. He really did not want to produce anything. He thought a killing could be made by only trading energy - like Enron. He did not want to be encumbered by regulated markets; he wanted the sky to be the limit on profits. As originally implemented, energy trading was a sound, conservative approach; it smoothed out price fluctuations. But when trading becomes the main objective, one has entered into the realm of speculation.
This CEO was not astute enough to realize that an unregulated market is a two edged sword. Profits are unlimited, but so are losses! To ensure his failure, he replaced many top executives with people from banking! He was ecstatic when Enron imploded. He regarded Enron's demise as an opportunity for Duke to become the new Enron. Not long thereafter, this CEO imploded, racking up huge losses for Duke. He may or may not have learned that a gambler's money has no home.
Ms. Good has said that money losing foreign power operations will be sold. Duke's attempt to dominate the world in power production came shortly after the Retirement Cash Balance Plan conversion in 1997. Duke suddenly had hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced liabilities to play fast and loose with. This was under the same CEO who wanted to be like Enron. The foreign companies were sold at a loss when his grand scheme crashed.
It could be argued that Duke's downward trajectory began with the Cash Balance Plan conversion. The feeble attempts by Duke to explain away the raid on employee's retirement benefits were laughable. One might think that after such a devastating hit, Duke would never attack employee's benefits again. Wrong! Only two years later, paid retiree health insurance evaporated. These benefits were specifically detailed in writing and reinforced with annual statements. These benefits were not "free." It took 30-years of service to earn them. Many employees lost these benefits shortly before their 30-year anniversary. The problem is Duke collected on decades of service without delivering on its end of the deal. Is it any wonder that employees are skeptical of Duke's integrity? Nothing Duke can ever do will make this go away. Some retirees will curse Duke Energy until their dying day. Hiring more Twitter spin doctors will never paper over this act of corporate greed. Even though all or most of the Cash Balance Plan perpetrators have been flushed out of the company, the stench still remains.
Historically, employees tend to ignore surveys. Surveys have been used as an opportunity for Duke to spin the results, and get a good laugh from the comments. But Ms. Good said 80 percent of employees completed the 2015 survey and 56 thousand comments were written in. She wants Duke to respond to the comments. She apparently is the first one to realize that it is foolish to conduct surveys and ignore the results. Everyone knows what happens when problems are ignored. Ms. Good said we have work to do in improving two-way communication on company direction and strategy, boosting employee involvement and removing barriers to productivity.
The survey participation is evidence that employees trust Ms. Good more than previous management. Duke's poor integrity reputation does not diminish Ms. Good's reputation in the least. Unfortunately for Duke, hiring a CEO with integrity does automatically erase all of Duke's past breaches of trust.
Removing barriers to productivity is a fertile subject. Presently, Duke continually generates new programs to "boost productivity." The programs invariably are little more than a ball and chain. Those with vested interests in the programs will keep the spin going about how great they are. Once employees are burden with a program, it seldom goes away. It will be frequently changed to keep everyone off balance. Programs tent to be so convoluted that numerous interpretations are required after the fact. These interpretations are often conveyed by email. So, programs have effectively changed in as little as 20-minutes! If a document actually makes it to the field, here come the observers to second guess and offer their interpretation. Considering the dozens and dozens of convoluted, clunky programs being continually changed, it is a wonder any work is ever performed. To make things more interesting, all Duke programs and processes are being converted to match Progress. Each time Duke buys a company, employees always wonder who bought whom.
It was asked if Ms. Good had considered running for president. She said "I have no aspirations for political office."
Even having the question asked was a tribute to her ability, but she gave a wise answer. A presidential election is when dozens of people beat their brains out for months, when there can be only one winner. But hundreds of millions of dollars are spent trying to get a job that pays $400 thousand dollars. If she wanted a job where she had to endure the blowback from the mistakes of predecessors, she already has that! Plus, the pay is better where she is.
If you ever wondered how Cash Balance Plans saw the light of day, read the Wall Street Journal article linked below:
Open Forum - November 2015Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com - November 10, 2015
At the Nov. 5 Open Forum, CEO Lynn Good emphasized new "Customer Experience" programs. That's fine. But it comes across like after being in business for a century, Duke suddenly realizes that it has customers. Have customers been just ignored for the last 100-years?
Ms. Good said that coal will be around for a long time. There is little doubt of that. Coal is like quick sand. It is much easier to get into than to get out of, and it's just as deadly.
A good pitch was made for the proposed Piedmont Natural Gas acquisition. Duke is a $50 billion dollar company, so spending $5 billion on an acquisition is not unreasonable.
It is almost guaranteed that merging with Piedmont Natural Gas will not produce the blowback of the Progress merger. That merger was the disaster that keeps on giving.
250 Piedmont employees met with Ms. Good in an auditorium. She assured them that layoffs would be unlikely.
No such assurance was given to Duke employees. In fact, in October, Ms. Good painted a picture of "identifying ways to take costs out of the business." Employees know from long experience where the low-hanging cost reduction fruit is: the employees.
The Open Forum gave some clarification: No big voluntary layoffs and modest involuntary layoffs.
Ms. Good mentioned receiving between 9 and 10 thousand customer communications regarding the proposed Western Carolina transmission line; most opposed it. Duke wisely backed off the idea. This is real growth for the company. There was a time the transmission line would have been pushed through, customers be dammed!
Someone asked about Duke's reputation after the coal ash spill. The response touted running more ads.
Running ads is great - if one is selling something on the open market. When one feels the necessity to continually run ads to "rebuild" its reputation, something is sorely wrong.
Dhiaa Jamil, Executive Vice President and President - Regulated Generation and Transmission, said that any cutbacks will not impact nuclear safety.
Don't get the idea that the Employee Advocate is berating Lynn Good for doing a poor job. No one could have done a better job than she has. She did not get her position through any backdoor methods. She is where she is through study, diligent effort, experience and ability.
Ms. Good will not drop the financial ball, and Mr. Jamil will not drop the nuclear ball.
Open Forum - August 2015Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com - August 31, 2015
At the Aug. 6 Open Forum, CEO Lynn Good was asked if she had heard of the unlimited maternity and paternity leave policy at Netflix. She said that she had, but nothing was on her desk about similar benefits at Duke. She added that Netflix "thanks" average performers with a generous severance package.
If that was an implied threat, it will produce mixed results. The thought of a severance package will strike terror in the heats of some, but bring great joy to others.
Ms. Good also mentioned passive-aggressive employees at Duke Energy. Where do all these passive-aggressive employees come from? Duke Energy creates them! Duke's efforts to shape, mold, and control all employees do not always turn out as planned. Even some that Duke thinks are completely under its control are just playing a game. So, who is conning whom?
Ms. Good mentioned the transmission line controversy. She said that this is the "new normal." Everyone is empowered to say what they think, unfettered and unrestricted. Duke wants out of the news and wants to write the news.
For a long time, the "old normal" was Duke restricting all information except the spin doctored, happy talk. As much as Duke would like, it no longer has total control of all company news. Duke still tries to spin the news as much as possible, even using paid trolls to counter negative comments on social media. Duke has tried to write the news in the past by buying full-page ads. These attempts to rewrite history always fall flat.
Ms. Good knows that Duke cannot do business as in the past. Coal use will decrease over time. 900 coal ash contaminates test wells have been drilled.
It took the coal ash spill, lawsuits, fines and intense media coverage to get Duke's attention. The citizens were way ahead of Duke on coal. Duke clung to coal because it seemed cheap. When the damage to everyone's health and the damage to the environment are included, coal is very expensive. Coal destroys everything it touches, from the lives of coal miners to everyone's well being.
One employee wanted more new nuclear. Ms. Good explained the price tag today is about $10 billion and it's an inflexible, long-term investment.
Duke wants to build new nuclear plants only if the customers take all the risk. A corporation without skin in the game will always spend money like the proverbial drunken sailor.
Ms. Good wants more customer focus.
It is never good business to ignore the customer. Duke's modus operandi has been to use customers, employees, and everyone else on earth as profit centers. Of course customers by definition are profit centers. But there is a difference in charging in a straightforward way and continually manipulating due dates, fees, and extra deposits to gouge customers to the max. The blowback had to come, and Duke is now reaping what it has sown. These various programs just get recycled. Years ago, Duke was predicting "100% customer satisfaction." That one was as foolish as the "zero injuries" proclamation. It was once predicted that there would be zero injuries, deaths, and sickness at Duke Energy. But people keep getting hurt and killed. Some fall dead walking into the plant. With the retirement plan and health care destroyed, expect more aging employees to fall dead on the job.
Open Forum - May 2015Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com - August 4, 2015
CEO Lynn Good has performed remarkably during the coal ash crisis. She broke out of Duke's old pattern of deny, deny, deny. She reported to CNN that all coal plant pipes have been video inspected and repaired as needed.
But in one area, she has fallen back into an old Duke pattern. Duke has always dispersed commandments as if they came from heaven and were totally infallible. When Duke's decrees failed, as they often did, Duke came to the employees to save it. Duke does not mind spending millions on silly, ineffective PR champagnes. When the champagnes fall flat, Duke wants the employee to rescue it - and for free.
Duke's spin has long been that it just cannot comprehend why it gets so much bad press. The answer is simple, the truth is finally coming out. The truth can only be suppressed for so long. When Duke's paid talking heads cannot whitewash the news, it's time to roll out the employees. True, some employees can be manipulated into doing almost anything, but not all.
Ms. Good said that employees should tell of the Duke Energy that they know and let everyone know that Duke is not reckless. Sometime when one gets what they ask for, they find out that it is not what they wanted at all. Many employees and retirees will attest that Duke is extremely reckless, and not only with coal ash. When hundreds of millions of dollars in pension benefits vanish overnight - that's reckless. Being reckless can and has been lucrative for Duke Energy. The more money at stake, the more reckless Duke becomes. Duke Energy's major attacks on employees came long before Mr. Good came to the company, but they will never be forgotten.
Employees did not cause the coal ash problems; senior management did. Recommendations from engineers and pleas from employees to inspect the pipe that broke were totally ignored. When problems develop because of reckless decisions, don't whine for employees to save Duke's bacon.
Open Forum - February 2015Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com - February 19, 2015
CEO Lynn Good conducted the Feb. 18 Open Forum in Charlotte, NC.
To no one's surprise, the first question was about the prospect of any future retirement buyout plans. A lot of employees do want out; but do not want to go empty handed.
The answer was that there is no truth to any buyout rumors; there is nothing in the works. Ms. Good said that if any offers are to made, employees will be informed by email, and not to believe the rumor mill.
The retirement buyout rumor mill does seem to have a life of it own. Every month, a new rumor appears from somewhere.
Ms. Good said that her interview on "60 Minutes" did not help the coal ash situation, but did not hurt it either. She is being modest. Her interview could not have gone any better. There was really no downside to giving the interview. All the damaging facts were already public. The only way Ms. Good could have lost was to have melted down on camera, but she is much too professional for that.
Speaking of meltdowns, one employee questioned how Ms. Good was able to avoid assaulting Lesley Stahl during the interview. That is the very reason Ms. Good had to do the interview, rather than sending in just any Yayhoo.
Both Lesley Stahl and Lynn Good were perfect for their respective roles. There were no losers in the coal ash interview.
Of course, there was the obligatory question about stock price. Ms. Good is as qualified as anyone to provide the financial analysis. But that is never what the employee really wants to hear. They always want hear "I can guarantee the price of Duke stock will double tomorrow." They will never get the desired answer, but they keep asking and hoping. The best answer to the eternal question of what the price of stock will do is attributed to J. P. Morgan: "It will fluctuate."
Ms. Good added that the best way to boost the price of Duke stock is to stay out of the headlines!
Staying out of the headlines is easier said than done. The seeds of today's negative headlines were sowed decades ago, and could potentially continue for many years. The general cause of the headlines is maximizing profits by any means necessary. Duke has enjoyed the profits, and now must "enjoy" the fallout. The fact that Ms. Good did not create the situation will not slow the headlines down.
But Duke does have a nifty plan to turn things around - drum roll, please - The New Brand and Reputation Plan. How could this possibly fail? True, programs to indoctrinate the public have always failed in the past, but maybe it will work this time. At the very least, it will guarantee full employment for the spin doctors. If the target market is three-year-olds, it might succeed. Everyone else will resent being force fed Duke's alternate version of reality. Who are you going to believe, Duke Energy or your lying eyes?
An employee said that he had grown numb to the continual warnings that Duke's Internet browser is obsolete. But now it is coming to the point that his ability to order repair parts is being jeopardized. The answer was that the obsolete software will be replaced midyear.
Open Forum - November 2014Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com - December 1, 2014
CEO Lynn Good conducted the Nov. 5 Open Forum and spoke of being interviewed by "60 Minutes" about the coal ash spill.
There was once a list of ways to know that you are going to have a bad day. One of the ways was finding the "60 Minutes" van parked in front of your office on Monday morning. The closest thing Duke has encountered to "60 Minutes" is an industrial wood chipper.
Ms. Good did exactly the right thing in accepting the interview. She knew full well that the interview would be sliced and diced with only the least flattering portion left in. If she had not accepted, she would have appeared evasive, with something to hide. With all the coal ash spill publicity already out there, "60 Minutes" cannot possibility do anything to making the situation worse. Plus, there is always the camp that feels that all publicity is good publicity.
Ms. Good said "I felt like I did everything I knew to do. I answered every question to the best of my ability, and my conscience was clear." Excellent! Ms. Good is getting CEO experience that money cannot buy.
There was never an evil plot to pollute the country with coal ash. Fifty-years ago, dumping coal ash in a hole the ground seemed like a good idea. But over the years, evidence of coal ash dangers kept accumulating. Engineers hired by Duke issued warnings of the potential danger. These multiple warnings were ignored.
In a way, Duke is a victim of its own success. Duke was so successful in controlling the political and legal process that it could not foresee anything going wrong. The coal ash spill proved that some things are so cataclysmic that they just cannot be manipulated and spin doctored away.
It may come to be realized that the coal ash spill was the best thing that could have possibly happened. How so? Without the spill, Duke would have had no incentive to spend the money for an effective fix. Band-Aid after Band-Aid would have been applied to the ash ponds. It is better to spend the money now for a lasting fix than to dribble out money for years on flaky fixes.
Dhiaa Jamil, executive vice president and president of Regulated Generation, spoke of safety near misses. Mr. Jamil is noted for bringing up issues that others want to keep hidden or sugar coated. While others at Duke were trying to ignore any possibility of nuclear accidents, Mr. Jamil encouraged people to learn safety lessons from the Chernobyl meltdown. His comments were well before the Fukushima meltdowns.
Past executives have proclaimed that there will be zero injuries, sicknesses, or deaths at Duke Energy. Rather than parroting such preposterous claims, Mr. Jamil pointed out the safety near misses that many would rater keep hidden. He wants plant managers to uncover potential safety risks. This is an example of being proactive vs resting on one's laurels. Bill Lee was know to say "If you think you are getting good, remember that laurels wilt fastest when sat upon." Or, as one nuclear station manager often asked "Are you good or are you lucky?"
Two employees recently made comments on-line that caught Mr. Jamil's attention:
Duke would have normally responded in one of 3 ways:
Mr. Jamil responded by affirming the value of employee feedback.
In the August Open Forum, Ms. Good said that the employee survey is going to be reviewed for ideas that can be implemented. Ms. Good and Mr. Jamil clearly recognize that, in their areas of expertise, employees are the most knowledgeable of all. Those too arrogant to accept this, do so at their peril. Of course, the wheat must always be separated from the chaff.
Mr. Jamil has always sought the truth rather than trying to paint a rosy picture. He seeks the truth even when it is uncomfortable. He understands that only listening to sycophants is a sure path to destruction. Apparently, Ms. Good and Mr. Jamil are on the same wavelength.
Mr. Jamil will lead the coal ash spill recovery. He has assembled engineers to review the options. Having an engineering background, he is not likely to ignore their advice, as has been done in the past. The coal ash issue will be resolved, but not quickly.
Open Forum - August 2014Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com - August 11, 2014
CEO Lynn Good conducted the 8/7/14 Open Forum. At the last shareholder meeting, Donna Lisenby, former river keeper, invited Ms. Good to accompany her on canoe trip to inspect the rivers. Ms. Good accepted, but opted to take a boat rather than a canoe. The river trip may or may not help relations with the river keepers, but it cannot possibility hurt.
Ms. Good understands that the coal ash media coverage will be around for a long while. She is experiencing trial by fire. Will she be up to the task? No one is better suited. She has been with Duke long enough to know the ropes, but not long enough to be blamed for past blunders.
No CEO would welcome dealing with the coal ash issue, but it will only make Ms. Good stronger and more successful. Success has a way of not materializing exactly as one expects.
The most remarkable thing Ms. Good said was that the employee survey is going to be reviewed for ideas that can be implemented. Wow! That's a first. Normally survey results are massaged every way possible to promote the illusion that everything is just peachy keen.
Open Forum - May 2014Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com - May 12, 2014
CEO Lynn Good conducted the May 7, 2014 Open Forum. She addressed the wild Retirement Cash Balance Plan rumors spreading around.
She was asked point-blank if Duke is going to eliminate the Retirement Cash Balance Plan in 2015. She was asked if Duke was going to only pay out 65-cents on the dollar of the value.
Ms. Good said there is no plan to eliminate the Retirement Cash Balance Plan; it's only a rumor. She noted that as part of the post merger "harmonization," new hires will not be eligible to participate in the Retirement Cash Balance Plan.
That was one of the most loopy rumors ever, but some employees were in a tizzy over it. One rumor version was that if one retires by a certain date, the full cash balance amount would be received. If one did not retire, the cash balance amount would be reduced to 65% of its value.
Employers are prohibited from reducing your accrued retirement benefits. If you look at you cash balance amount on the Duke Portal, you will see that your cash balance amount is "fully vested." This episode proves that a rumor does not even have to make sense for it to get legs at Duke Energy!
Duke Power employees have been burned on the Retirement Cash Balance Plan before. This was in 1997, when the retirement plan was converted to the Retirement Cash Balance Plan. The retirement plan value was cut exactly in half for some employees when it was transferred. Employees also lost their early retirement subsidy with the conversion. Not only that, but they also had to endure years of "wear away," during which the plan value did not grow. Employees had to work 10-years longer to get about the same benefits as the old retirement plan.
It is blatantly obvious that cash balance plans were only designed to take retirement money from employees. In 2006, Congress outlawed the most diabolical provisions of cash balance plans: wear away and early retirement subsidy elimination. For the most part, corporations that converted to cash balance plans prior to the new law made out like bandits.
Ms. Good was not thrilled about the Wall Street Journal's article about her and the coal ash debacle. Ms. Good could probably never be convinced, but the coal ash spill actually works in her favor. How so? Anyone can be gracious when everything is going smoothly. The coal ash spill presented Ms. Good an opportunity to showcase her graciousness when the chips are down. It's understood that the spill was not anything that Ms. Good or anyone else wanted, but it is what it is. And, it is providing an incentive for Duke to correct problems ignored for far too long.
Ms. Good has done everything right regarding the spill. Giving dozens of coal ash interviews would have been pointless. She has already said everything there is to say. Reporters would only ask the same questions over and over and Ms. Good could only repeat herself again and again. All the while, the coal ash issue would be more indelibly etched in people's minds.
Ms. Good was not at Duke in the 1950's designing unlined coal ash basins. She just gets the opportunity to clean up the mess. In the February Open Forum, Ms. Good said that Duke will not win the coal ash battle in the media. She was right. But the relentless media coverage wore her down, and ads were placed, apologizing for the spill. Trying to calm the issue with ads is like trying to douse fire with gasoline; the fire will only rage hotter. Some citizens, who were probably not even thinking about the spill, read the first ad and sent letters to editor. Instead of quelling the fire, the ad only perpetuated it.
The ad situation is getting even worse. Now Duke is running even more ads trying to make the coal ash issue go away. No matter what the ads say, citizens will hear "Duke Energy spilled coal ash." Some will wonder if the continual rate increases are needed to fund feel-good ads. Duke has tried to rewrite history through ads before, and it has never worked. The ads are not trying to rewrite history this time, but they are still a continual reminder of the coal ash problem.
Open Forum - February 2014Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com - February 28, 2014
CEO Lynn Good conducted the February 2014 Open Forum. Again, her delivery was crisp and fast paced. She did not try to downplay the coal ash spill or wait for employees to pick the details out of her. She addressed the spill in her opening comments: "We have taken responsibility for this incident, and we will do the right thing around this ash basin and around the Dan River and around the way we approach ash basins going forward."
Early on, Ms. Good offered an apology for the ash spill to Danville Mayor Sherman Saunders. She has also said that ratepayers will not have to pay to clean up the Dan River ash spill. She has said the coal ash spill should have never happened. She said that she is staying calm and carrying on. She has done everything right regarding the spill. This is a huge turnaround from Duke's normal stonewalling tactics.
For decades, Duke has employed a two step response to almost every charge:
Ms. Good also acknowledged that Duke will not win the coal ash battle in the media.
Do not underestimate the importance of this realization. There have been previous Duke CEO's who could not grasp this concept. Some went so far as to buy full page newspaper ads to try to sell their altered version of reality!
Lynn Good is golden. As long as she trusts her own intuition on what is right, she will remain golden. But she will have to always be vigilant and resist the corporate equivalent of winged demons, perching on her shoulder and whispering in her ear.
An employee noted that "Harmonization" has brought pay cuts, bonus cuts, and increases in insurance cost. He wanted to know if he can expect more of the same next year?
Ms. Good gave a politically correct answer, saying, in part "I know we won't always agree person-to-person on how we make some of these decisions, but I'm confident that we've done so with the right eye toward market competitiveness and positioning the company for the future and trying to find the right balance on fairness to employees."
In "Welcome to 2014," the Employee Advocate wrote "Early on, Ms. Good stated that her priority would be to cut operations and maintenance (O&M;) costs, not just for 2013, but for all time. The easiest O&M; cost to cut is always employee compensation."
She cannot be accused of hiding the news. Compensation has been squeezed for decades and the end is not in sight.
On aging workforce, Ms. Good mentioned economic downturn as slowing down retirement.
Sure, that is part of it. But the reality is there is no more Duke Energy retirement. Now one does not retire, he just quits work. "Retirement" no longer fits. "Unemployed" is a better description than "retired" these days.
Duke once had a retirement plan that distributed monthly checks that could not be outlived. Retirement health coverage was also FULLY-PAID for life. And, employees could retire at age 55 and in some cases 51. Any talk of retirement now is only an attempt to hold on to an illusion. In years to come, employee retirement receptions may be replaced with employee unemployment receptions.
It was mentioned that 30 coal protestors are not going to run the company.
It will never be just 30 Protestors. Each one represents the sentiments of hundreds or thousands of citizens. And, the truth cannot be denied that the coal ash protestors have issued valid warnings for years. Ignore the watchdog groups at your own peril. The citizens have been way ahead of Duke on the coal issue.
Duke is now unloading deregulated assets. There was a time that Duke lusted for deregulated assets. Duke now likes regulation, as it is saving the nuke plants.
It was asked if there will be voluntary separation offers. The answer: not in the near future.
Open Forum - November 2013Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com - November 18, 2013
In the Nov. 6 Open Forum, Lynn Good was very articulate. She instantly answered questions or directed them to the right person. She was strictly business. No time was wasted with lame jokes or home spun stories, designed to run out the clock. Everything was fast paced.
Ms. Good said that change can be uncomfortable.
Senior management is forever trying to paint employees as being resistant to change. This is not true. Employees are only resistant to stupid change. Employees are naturally resistant to change that continually reduces their compensation. Change that only adds more layers of bureaucracy and zero benefits will always be resisted. If Hades should ever freeze over, and Duke actually increase compensation, management would find the change very well received! If useless bureaucracy were eliminated, employees would rejoice at the change.
Complaints were voiced about the coming tremendous health care hit. Ms. Good rolled out the standard responses of "benchmarking" and "competitiveness."
In the very distant past, Duke actually used benchmarking to increase compensation. For a very long time "benchmarking" has only been used as a code word for "compensation reduction." Never forget that compensation and benefits are synonymous. Employee benefits are either deferred compensation or potential compensation. Benefits help balance out for the reduced pay. When benefits are taken away, all that is left is the reduced pay. Many employees are less likely to notice the decrease if it is achieved through benefits reduction. The irony is that as employees become more experienced and proficient at performing their jobs, their compensation only continues to shrink.
Ms. Good talked about company culture. She mentioned "transparency" and "trust" more than once. "Transparency in communication" was specifically mentioned. "Doing what we say we're going to do" was also mentioned. She said that things are within our control.
She is right about things being within our control. But beneficial change will never occur without will. If the only will is to add to the fleet of corporate jets and cut employee compensation, that is not change at all. That is business as usual!
Ms. Good will never be blasted for company blunders that happened before she became CEO. But history cannot be rewritten, and the many, many blunders are there for all to see. Everything Ms. Good says she wants is the opposite of what Duke Energy is now.
"Transparency in communication" at Duke has been a running joke for decades. Double talk, legalese, hidden information and misrepresentation have repeatedly served to separate employees from their benefits. Do you remember the retirement benefit communications sent to employees' homes each year? As it turns out, they did not contain a shred of truth in them. Enough money given to lobbyists and politicians can make the most unethical behavior become suddenly legal, after the fact.
After all the talk of merger savings to be realized, one might think that money would be falling from the sky. But employees are finding where these "savings" are really coming from: compensation reductions! Employee compensation is always the low hanging fruit. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Ms. Good does realize that carbon capture technology is not ready for prime time.
The cost of future Nuclear Regulator Commission (NRC) mandated Fukushima modifications was mentioned.
Some Duke executives tried to sweep the news of the 2011 meltdowns under the rug. They attempted to portray the meltdowns as non-events that could never affect Duke Energy. But they found the disaster just a little too big to completely ignore. And the comedy of errors in Japan continues to this day. The NRC is ensuring that Duke does not ignore the disaster. To make matters worse, Fukushima reactors used plutonium containing mixed-oxide fuel (MOX). Duke has promoted using MOX fuel for over a decade. A MOX test fuel assembly was used in one Duke reactor. The test resulted in unexpected results.
As CEO, Ms. Good is naturally expected to put a happy face on the merger. But the only people the Employee Advocate has heard talk about how great the merger is have been executives. In fact, several Duke Energy employees have generated Problem Investigation Program (PIP) complaints about working side by side with Progress employees, who make more money. The merger pig clearly requires more lipstick.
Open Forum - August 2013Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com - August 13, 2013
Aug. 7, Lynn Good did excellent in her first Open Forum as new CEO. She was poised, articulate, and effortlessly gave knowledgeable answers to questions.
She said "I'd like us to be known as the place that everyone wants to work."
Once that was not such a far fetched statement. A few decades ago, it was true. That was before the hot-money boys seized control of the company and the bait-and-switch benefits games began.
Ms. Good said that she is not trying to please hedge fund operators, who would just as soon short Duke stock as buy it. She is more insightful than a previous CEO, who turned cartwheels for Wall Street day traders and wanted Duke stock to become a growth stock. He made outlandish promises each quarter. These unrealistic promises sowed the seeds of his inevitable demise.
On thing that will be frustrating for Ms. Good is the Duke media coverage. No matter how good her performance is, it will takes years for the past bungles to work themselves out.
Ms. Good wants "to find a way to be as efficient as we can."
She has fertile ground to work with there, since Duke is probable less than 50% efficient now.
Lynn Good said "I'm encouraged that we have a group of employees who are prepared to take the company into the future. That's the exciting part for me, and I hope for all of you because we've put something together that's not only the biggest from a money and megawatts standpoint, but that I think has the potential to be the industry leader on so many fronts. And I'd like all of you to be a part of that."
Duke has always had a competent workforce. Their enthusiasm has only been stymied by a very few in positions of power. A former nuclear site VP once spoke about the time he was hired by Bill Lee. Mr. Lee told him that he would be pleasantly surprised by the outstanding people at Duke Power. The VP concurred with Mr. Lee's assessment. The Employee Advocate concurs with Mr. Lee's assessment. When the anchors are cut free, the ship will sail.
Ms. Good wants engaged employees. That is a worthwhile goal, but she has her work cut out for her. Employees are more disengaged now than ever. They have grown weary of playing a game that they can only lose. Even younger employees talk of permanently disengaging from the company.
Is Ms. Good capable of developing engaged employees? Is she capable of making Duke Energy "the place that everyone wants to work"?
Yes, she has the capability, but it will not be easy. And, the ever-present dark forces will press her to maintain the status quo to protect their empires.
Ms. Good has entered her new position with maximum credibility and support from all sides. She is in a position to make bold moves. Only bold moves can erase the past errors. This is no time for her to play small.
Open Forum - May 2013Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com - May 30, 2013
Jim Rogers cut his prepared statement short to allow time to answer more questions at the May 3 Open Forum. Apparently he did not want a repeat of the shareholder meeting the day before. Some shareholders were irate because he closed the meeting without allowing all of them to ask their questions. Some shareholders travel great distances each year to attend these meetings and ask questions. Their anger was very understandable.
Mr. Rogers offered advice to the incoming CEO:
"Listen to the people of the company because they're on the ground, they understand. Let your actions be guided by the advice that you get from the people within the company...A really smart CEO who comes in will know this company has been through change, and they'll also know they're stepping into a job where the company has been remarkably successful ... What they need to understand is where we've been and who we are and build off that. They need to build on our strengths and listen to the people."
Listening to employees is what got Paul Anderson off to a great start as Duke CEO:
Paul Anderson received information straight from employees by thwarting the interlopers who would have been delighted to water down and skew the content:
There was talk of balancing the concerns all stakeholders. But Duke was never incorporated to balance the concerns all stakeholders. The prime objective is to make money, not that this is necessarily evil. But for Duke to win big, everyone else must lose big.
As one would expect, Mr. Rogers tried to put a happy face on the merger. But the friendly merger has generated major hostilities that will take years to resolve. Positive affirmations don't cut it. The merger effectively ended the Duke careers of both Bill Johnson and Jim Rogers. Yes, Bill Johnson had a career with Duke, as brief as it may have been.
The biggest point of contention for Duke people is the pay disparity. Duke intends to drag out any pay adjustments. Why did Progress people get benefit concessions early on? Some attribute a strong union presence at Progress. Duke has fought unions for over a century. But with each new merger, more unionized employees come into Duke.
Mr. Rogers said "I'm going to try to start an enterprise that helps bring electricity to the 1.3 billion people in the world who have no access. I know a lot of people, I'm going to raise a lot of money, and I'm going to change the lives of people in a fundamental way so they can read at night and get educated, so they can plug in their computers and understand what's in the world. I want to transform their lives."
That would be a worthwhile endeavor for Mr. Rogers to utilize his talent and experience. The Employee Advocate wishes him great success. Perhaps his efforts in raising money will be more successful than those in getting donations to cover Duke's $10 million loan guarantee to the DNC. The loan guarantee turned into a donation by Duke, which the shareholders had to eat.
Open Forum - February 2013Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com - February 25, 2013
CEO Jim Rogers held the February 13 Open Forum in Charlotte, NC. It was billed as one of his final Open Forum appearances. He gave employees the credit for a successful 2012. He is wise enough to know that all the executive flag-waving in the world will amount to nothing without the employees.
Mr. Rogers and other executives have called retiring Crystal River a difficult decision. What was difficult? Retiring Crystal River was a no-brainer. Other utilities are retiring nuclear plants that do not have the problems of Crystal River. Spending more money on Crystal River would have been inviting disaster.
Mr. Rogers said that he was surprised that the 2012 employee survey indicated that Progress employees are more positive about the merger than Duke employees. The Employee Advocate is equally surprised. Progress employees have every reason to despise the merger. Progress's Bill Johnson became Duke CEO just long enough to get bushwhacked. Some Progress directors and executives resigned in protest. Progress employees were left twisting in the wind.
It is not necessary to play the legacy this, legacy that game. Duke and Progress are separate entities, with separate pay and benefit structures. It is technically correct to refer to employees as either Duke or Progress.
Open Forum - November 2012Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com - November 18, 2012
CEO Jim Rogers held the November 8 Open Forum in Charlotte, NC.
At the beginning of the meeting, their was much boasting of zero injuries by a certain department. Then there was the obligatory refrain that this proves that it can be done. It turns out that the department was one that does little or no hands-on work. So, it was not such a great achievement after all. It proved nothing. Anyone can cherry pick a segment of time by an isolated group having zero injuries. That's a far cry from Duke's mighty boast that it would have zero deaths, injuries and sickness on the job. It is even easier if the unscathed group is never in the line of fire.
When asked about the election, Mr. Rogers said that nothing has changed. But he is happy that Pat McCrory has been elected governor.
He should be happy; his man is now in the governor's mansion. And, his man is back in the White House. Pat McCrory is NC's first Republican governor since Governor Jim Martin. Apparently, Duke found Jim Martin to be an accommodating governor. He moved from governor to the Duke Energy board room. When Pat McCrory was Charlotte mayor, and on Duke's payroll, his views were always in lockstep with Duke's. Mr. McCrory may prove to be an accommodation governor for Duke Energy. If so, he may have a chair in the Duke Energy board room with his name on it.
President Obama has already been generous in handing taxpayer's money to Duke Energy. After Mr. Rogers' help with the DNC convention and millions in loan guarantees, The sky should now be the limit for government handouts.
In a rare move for any Duke Energy executive, Jim Rogers admitted that he made a mistake. He said that building the Edwardsport plant was a mistake. As a lesson learned, he said that he will not build another coal gasification plant.
Although rare, a few executives have admitted making mistakes from time to time. But, it is so rare that it is always a shock.
For those just joining the company, his advice was to push out the old people. He said that he was joking, but many truths are said in jest. When Bill Johnson was anticipating becoming Duke CEO, he said the merger would be an opportunity to "skew younger."
What if you heard of a company where the CEO advocated "pushing out old people." What if you heard that the incoming CEO wanted to "skew younger." What if the company stated the cash balance plan pension conversion was to benefit the "young mobile employee." Might you not conclude that the company is not only comfortable with age discrimination, but actually flaunts it?
On building the proposed Lee Nuclear Station, Jim Rogers said that it is not whether, but when.
That is a bold statement. There are a number of major issues that could stop the Lee plant dead in its tracks. But the issue of accidents on the job is truly a case of "not whether, but when."
Mr. Rogers mentioned Duke's "Mission, Values and Priorities" document.
Duke is big on spouting out positive affirmations, but not so great at living up to them. It is always better to say nothing than to over promise and under deliver.
Open Forum – July 2012Employee Advocate - www.DukeEmployees.com – July 23, 2012
The July 11, 2012 Open Forum was held with Progress employees in Raleigh. Jim Rogers attempted to strike a conciliatory note after Bill Johnson had been give the ax twenty minutes into his new CEO position and three Progress executives had left the company in protest. The Open Forum was originally scheduled for July 10, but was postponed because Jim Rogers was summoned to a utilities commission hearing to explain it all.
Only part of the Open Forum was made available to employees. The first hour was apparently tightly scripted. The second hour may not have been so well controlled; it was buried. This is Duke’s version of “openness.”
The gist of Jim Rogers’ comments are:
Jim Rogers may not be interested in creating followers, but many of his underlings are obsessed with it. Apparently the old Duke directors demanded that Bill Johnson be a completely subservient follower. They were aghast to discover that Mr. Johnson had a mind of his on and resisted having marionette strings attached to him.
Evidently lead director Ann Gray had been gunning for Bill Johnson since 2010. She testified that Mr. Johnson said he was “an individual who likes to learn but not be taught,” during a dinner meeting with the Duke board. This did not set well with Ms. Gray at all. Bill Johnson turned out not to be a follower and the Duke board was traumatized.
Hearing testimony revealed that Mr. Johnson was excluded from Duke board meetings, even though he asked to attend. Mr. Johnson testified that Jim Rogers even discouraged him from attending board meetings saying “Everything's fine. There's no need to come to the board.”
So much for openness. Even the incoming CEO was kept in the dark.
Jim Rogers often says that if you are not at the table, you are on the menu. Bill Johnson was on the board’s menu!
The Employee Advocate is an advocate for every employee in the company. Jim Rogers is an advocate for the board of directors. He is also, by design, forced to be a shareholder advocate since he is paid in Duke stock. Everyone else is on the menu.
Jim Rogers may not be a micromanger, but he has plenty of them working for him. A truly experienced and knowledgeable micromanger may be tolerated. But some are neither. Yet they do not let their inexperience and ignorance deter them from constantly meddling in things that they do not understand.
The greatest management philosophy is: Hire good people and get out of their way.
Jim Rogers may believe in trusting people, giving them a mission, and turning them loose. But in practice, an inverse philosophy is often used: Hire good people, then second guess, micromanage, stymie, insult, and condescend in every way possible until they are completely demoralized and just really do not care what happens.
If Duke does not trust its new CEO, how much do you think employees are trusted?
But rest assured, the feeling is mutual. Any trust in senior management was destroyed when a cash balance plan was forced on employees. There was no “openness.” There was no “transparency.” There was no “sharing of information.” Plan detail were hidden, distorted, and misrepresented. It took over 14 years and a class action lawsuit to find out the hidden facts.
Two years later, Duke took away retirement health coverage for those with 30 years of service. The problem is that both of these benefits were part of the long-term compensation package. Employees should have been entitled to at least a prorated portion of the benefits for their decades of service. But employees were left with nothing but the feeling of being gypped.
It was the same deal with the merger. Duke intended to give out zero information about Bill Johnson’s termination, or even that he was terminated. The “mutual agreement” line was a ruse. Bill Johnson resigned with a gun to his head. The old Duke board had made up its mind that Mr. Johnson was going to be eliminated from the merged company. If he had not resigned, he would have still been eliminated.
The only reason we have some of the facts is because John H. Mullin III, the former lead director of Progress Energy, blew the whistle in letters to the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. Mr. Johnson called him when he was given the news. Mr. Mullin’s assessment was “This is the most blatant example of corporate deceit that I have witnessed during a long career on Wall Street.” The press has had a field day with the merger every since.
Previous hearings by the NC and SC Utility Commissions resulted in two settlements by Duke for underreporting profits:
Duke’s board likes to scurry in dark, damp, obscure regions. Compared to Duke’s board, a vampire is a sun worshiper. The NC Utilities Commission decided to turn over the rock protecting the board from sunlight. So far, the explanations do not pass the smell test. Duke allowed Mr. Johnson to be CEO to get the Progress stock for a low premium. No one suspected that his tenure as CEO would only last twenty minuets. So, Duke bought the Progress assets cheaply and still retained the Duke CEO.
The hearing revelations make the Duke board seem consumed with pettiness. The whole ordeal seems like a teenybopper drama: Mean Girls vs Bill Johnson. It played right into the war of jealousy between Charlotte and Raleigh that has raged on for years. Bill Johnson was kept in the dark. Progress board members were kept in the dark. They were ambushed on the day of the merger by the old Duke board members. Duke member voted to ax Bill Johnson; Progress members voted to keep him. All objections by former Progress directors fell on deaf ears; the fix was in before the meeting began.
Board members did everything that employees are admonished not to do. It was unquestionably an “us versus them” situation. It was a Charlotte versus Raleigh situation. There was no openness, no transparency. Information was hidden from Progress people until the coup was complete. It would have still be hidden if a former Progress board member had not exposed the rotten mess. It was not win/win; it was win for Duke, lose for Progress. Effective communication was near zero. Duke Energy has a lot of nerve calling anyone else autocratic and controlling. Duke wrote the book!
Bill Johnson and former Progress directors entered the Duke board room on July 2 as unsuspecting as Julius Caesar entering the Senate on the Ides of March. The old Duke directors were armed with daggers. The rest is history.
The Crystal River objections are a smoke screen. Crystal River does have problems of epic proportions, but these have been public for years. If Duke did not see the problems, it is because its eyes were blinded by dollar signs.
All the Open Forum questions asked can be consolidated into one: “What’s in it for me?”
The Employee advocate welcomes all Progress employees, and will tell what’s really in it for you. It is clearly understood that no one wants to be acquired by the Wal-Mart of the nuclear industry. When merged with a company with lower compensation, which way do you think yours will go?
There are two thing that you can count of from Duke Energy: Bait and switch and stonewalling. Duke has a history of promising one thing and delivering another, always less than what was promised. If you have any questions, you will be stonewalled with total silence or an insulting, non sequitur statement.
Duke is big on freezing wages. If an area is determined to be making too much compensation, raises will be frozen until they are working cheaply enough. Some employees have had their wages frozen for a decade. These employees did nothing wrong. Duke just decided to pay them less. This could have real implications for Progress employees. Will wages be equalized by raising Duke’s wages or by freezing Progress’ wages?
You can count on your intelligence being insulted on a daily basis. You can count on a full on indoctrination program. Duke idea of effective management is media saturation. The belief is that no matter how inane a program is, employees will accept it if it is beaten into their heads enough. 2012 has proven to be the worst year of all for petty programs. If Duke has a program to sell, you will be inundated with endless meetings, email, posters, electronic signs, jingles, contests, literature shoved into your face as soon as you walk into the door each day and even talking bomb detectors selling the program. The talking bomb detectors used to have the voice of a nerdy twelve-year-old girl giving “inspirational” messages. The voice has recently changed to a woman who sounds like she has had too much gin.
Jim Rogers has done what he said he would do concerning layoffs. Early on, he said that he preferred all layoff to be voluntary. So far, that has been the case. Some employees do want out, but they want out under their own terms.
Ms. Gray testified that Johnson "was not a good fit" as CEO.
At the January 2011 Open Forum, Bill Johnson said that he believes in "truth telling and trust," and that "openness builds credibility and trust."
He also said that one of his mottoes is to "Tell the truth as fast as I can."
At the time, the Employee Advocate commented “the motto will fly in the face of Duke's long standing policy of "Stonewall and Deny It To The Grave."
Maybe Bill Johnson is not really a good fit for Duke Energy.
Maybe Bill Johnson is just too honest for Duke Energy.