CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority: Who Is Bill Johnson?
Bill Johnson has been president and chief executive officer of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) since November 2012. Founded in 1933 as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal to bring electricity to the impoverished Tennessee Valley region, TVA is the nation’s largest public utility. Considered a radical intervention by the government into the energy industry at the time, TVA has since earned such strong popularity that President Obama's recently announced plan to privatize it provoked sharp criticism from southern Republicans, who are usually eager supporters of privatization.
Born January 9, 1954, William Dean Johnson attended Pennsylvania State University, where he played football as an offensive lineman, but did not earn a degree. After relocating to Durham, North Carolina, with his wife, who was serving her medical residency at Duke University Hospital, he earned a B.A. in History at Duke University and taught school for a year-and-a-half in Durham before realizing the career was not a match. Almost on a whim, Johnson decided to attend law school, earning a J.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1982.
After law school. Johnson served as a law clerk to Judge J. Dickson Phillips, Jr. of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Entering private practice, Johnson rose to partner at the Raleigh office of Hunton & Williams, where he specialized in representing utility companies. He joined Carolina Power & Light, which was later renamed Progress Energy, in 1992, starting in the legal department and eventually working as group president for Energy Delivery, president and chief executive officer for subsidiary Progress Energy Service Company, and general counsel for Progress Energy Inc.
Johnson became president in 2005, and worked as chairman and CEO from 2007 to 2012, when the company was bought by Duke Energy. Although the Duke-Progress Energy merger agreement named Johnson CEO of the new combined company, the new corporate board, dominated by Duke Energy members, fired him less than an hour after the merger closed, allowing him to walk away with a $44 million severance payment for one hour's work. He had been paid $9.5 million by Progress in 2011.
Neither consistently a Democrat or a Republican, Johnson has made political contributions to both sides over the years, including donations of $4,000 to Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) in 2009, $1,250 to Sen. Kay Hagan (D-North Carolina) in 2008, $2,750 to Rep. Brad Miller (D-North Carolina) between 2001 and 2006, and $1,000 to President George W. Bush in 2003. By far his largest donations, however, have been to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a lobbying group for utilities that own nuclear plants, to which he has donated $23,500 over the years.
To Learn More:
New CEO Bill Johnson Takes Rocky Path to TVA Job (by Josh Flory, Knoxville Biz)
Bill Johnson: Leading an Energy Powerhouse (by John Downey, Charlotte Business Journal)
Republican Socialists Fight Obama Plan to Privatize TVA (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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