Friday, July 6, 2012

CEO for 20 minutes

How would you like to be CEO for 20 minutes ? No this is not one of those employee motivation exercises, nor is it a joke. This is all too real.  That's precisely what happened to Bill Johnson the CEO designate of Duke Energy.

All this arose from a merger between Duke and Progress, two giant utility companies in the US. It is now the largest electric utility in the US. As is typical in such merger of giants, the CEO of Duke was to become the Chairman of the combined entity and the CEO of Progress, Bill Johnson, was to become the CEO of the combined entity. Regulatory and shareholder permissions were sought , and received. All very good. On 27th June, Bill Johnson signed his new employment contract and  that was that.

The merger was consummated at 4.00 PM on Monday 2nd July. Immediately thereafter the new Board met and sacked Bill Johnson. At 4.20 PM Johnson resigned - he resigned rather than refusing to do so, as he was getting a $10m settlement that way. CEO for 20 minutes.

This is not a tin pot company, nor is the Board a bunch of jokers (although you have to rethink that now). Both the companies are giants in their own right and the combined entity is a behemoth. And yet, did they seriously believe that they would get away with this sort of behaviour? Did they expect the regulators and the shareholders to keep quiet. Even a moron can see that this is probably the worst move that you can make.

Mergers and acquisitions are notoriously difficult to implement. More go wrong than right. But if you start off like this, what chance do you have of any success ?

The future is all too predictable. The Board will defend for 3 days that all was right. Public and regulatory outcry will build up. Then the Chairman will resign. As will a few more Board members, if not all. A new CEO will be appointed. More turmoil. And the acquisition will steadily go downhill. Two years from now, Progress will be divested at one tenth the acquisition value.

It boggles the mind how corporations can monkey around like this. They seem to be their own worst enemies.

PS. Since all this drama is happening in Gils's current hometown,  perhaps, the esteemed blogger might pen a first hand account in the comments section :)