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Jim Rogers remembered as 'visionary leader' who enjoyed spotlight, people

Shortly after Duke Energy Corp. and Cinergy Corp. completed their merger in April 2006, Jim Rogers and the new management team traveled to New York to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. He invited his long-time personal driver Frank up to the podium to take part in the festivities.

"There [Frank] was in the front row ... he was clapping away with a big grin on his face and just had a big time. ... That's pretty atypical," Tom Williams, a former Duke Energy spokesman and colleague of Rogers, recalled in a Dec. 20 interview. "The point of that is [Jim] treated people with respect. That just was the kind of guy he was."

Rogers, former Duke Energy chairman and CEO, died Dec. 17 in Louisville, Ky. He was 71.

"On a personal level, he was just a lovely guy," said Williams, who worked alongside Rogers for several years. "He was a great listener. He always asked about the person he was talking to or with. He could just bring out the best in people."

Rogers joined Charlotte, N.C.-headquartered Duke Energy following the acquisition of Cincinnati-headquartered utility Cinergy Corp. in April 2006, at the time creating the largest utility in the U.S. Rogers had been Cinergy's chairman and CEO for 11 years, Duke Energy said in a Dec. 18 news release.

"Our industry has lost one of its most influential and extraordinary leaders," Duke Energy Chairman, President and CEO Lynn Good said. "I was fortunate to work alongside Jim and see his dynamic leadership skill up close. He was not afraid to tackle the hard questions with a personable style that brought people together for positive solutions."

Rogers remained at the helm of Duke Energy following its contentious blockbuster merger with Progress Energy Inc. in July 2012 and the sudden resignation of Bill Johnson, who was expected to become president and CEO of the newly combined company. Rogers retired from Duke Energy a year later. Johnson recently announced his retirement from the Tennessee Valley Authority after serving as CEO since 2013.

Prior to his tenure at Duke Energy and Cinergy, Rogers also served as chairman, president and CEO of PSI Energy from 1988 until 1994. PSI Energy merged with Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co. to form Cinergy in 1994.

"He obviously was not afraid to take risks," Williams said. "His shareholder return over the 25-year period, dividends included and premiums included, was 12% annually. He was very proud of that."

Nitin Nohria, dean of the Harvard Business School, credited Rogers with engineering three major industry mergers that practically doubled the size of the company he was leading each time.

"I am hard-pressed to think of anyone in any industry, not just energy, with a similar record," Nohria said in an email. "I have probably learned more from Jim Rogers about being a leader than I have learned from anybody in my life."

Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn called Rogers a "visionary leader for the electric power industry."

"I always admired Jim for his passion and enthusiasm for our industry and its future, and am grateful for his service as past chairman of EEI," Kuhn said in a statement.

Rogers is remembered as a bellwether for "transitioning the electricity sector toward a lower carbon future."

"He saw the potential for clean electricity sources like renewables earlier than many of his peers," Jason Bordoff, a professor with the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy, said in a statement.

Rogers also was adamant about being involved in policy discussions about climate change or any other issue that impacted his company, the industry or customers.

"He was going to be at the table. He said, 'If I'm not at the table, I'm going to be on the menu,'" Williams said, recalling that Rogers agreed to appear on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" in June 2009 as an "alternative" way to spread his message. "It was really a wonderful recruiting tool."

Rogers defended his stance on the show as "the environmentalist energy company CEO."

"Isn't that an oxymoron?" Like clean coal," Colbert asked. "Can you have environmentalist and CEO of an energy company? ... I would love to call myself a vegetarian because I'm having broccoli with my veal. Is that the same deal?"

Rogers gave a fairly straightforward answer and described the power industry as "in transition." "We're the Saudi Arabia of coal," Rogers said. "In our company, 70% of our electricity comes from coal and as a consequence of that we have a very large carbon footprint. Our challenge is how do we transition to a low-carbon world and make that transition ... and still keep our power affordable and reliable as we clean it up going forward."

"I think the answer is we have to have an aspiration to decarbonize our generation fleet," Rogers added.

The former news reporter and lawyer, born in Danville, Ky., served on several advisory boards for the energy industry and worked as a trial attorney and deputy general counsel for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In addition, Rogers was the founding chairman of the Institute for Electric Efficiency, former co-chairman of the Alliance to Save Energy and past co-chairman of the National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency.

"I'd like to foment a grand collaborative effort to ensure that everyone on earth who lacks power gets access to clean, sustainable electricity," Rogers wrote on his professional website.