Bill Coley is
constantly electrified by his job running the Carolinas'
By Kevin Brafford
Bill Coley is engaging, delightful
and witty. Business acquaintances say he's smart and
boasts impeccable ethics. Employees say he's friendly and
compassionate. His son says Dad is his best friend.
All agree that the Duke Power group
president is a busy, busy man, one who possesses the
lasting power of the Energizer Bunny and the patience of
Job. Fitting it is that since parent company Duke Energy
was formed following a merger with PanEnergy Corp. in
1997, two of the three words most often associated with
him are power and energy.
amazed at the pace he maintains, says Patsy Baker,
who would know. She's worked at Duke Power for nearly 25
years, all but the first of those as Coley's
administrative assistant. I know how taxing it is
just trying to put together his schedule. I can't imagine
doing all those things and being in all those
Coley can, and he looks
you squarely in the eye when he tells you how much he
enjoys it. This is not an unexciting business that
has a lot of routine work, says Coley, who'll turn
58 on the 24th of this month. It's challenging and
fun, and has never been more so.
If you look at the
times our industry is in right now and you're not
excited, you'd better check your pulse.
His zest is one of the
traits that set Coley apart, according to Mike Coltrane,
the CEO of CT Communications in Charlotte. He's
very high energy, Coltran says, and it's
infectious. He's helpful and he always has suggestions,
but yet he offers them in a constructive way.
Coley never has strayed
far from his North Carolina roots. Born to Alice and the
late Lloyd Coley, he was raised in Belmont, years ago a
small community that today is squeezed from an
overstuffed Charlotte to the east and a hungry Gastonia
to the west.
He was a sandwich himself,
with an older brother (Terry) and a younger sister (Jane)
who were taught that hard work and education were the
keys to a successful life.
My father was in the
heating and air conditioning business, says Coley.
He had a lot of technical aptitude, and I think I
got a lot of that from him. Thinking back, I really can't
recall a time when I wasn't interested in engineering and
By the time the second
semester of his senior year at Belmont High School (now
South Point) rolled around, Coley had a couple of
specific interests: designing and building hi-fi systems,
and Jane Hall.
He had known Jane for
years and his family had known her family longer than
that. Jane's mom was an English teacher, he
says, and she taught me, my younger sister, my
older brother and my mother.
Think this man isn't on
top of things? We had our first date on Dec. 26,
1960, he says. We went to the Manor Theater
(in Charlotte) and saw `Swiss Family Robinson.'
The couple never parted.
She went to Salem College and majored in religion. He
enrolled in Georgia Tech's cooperative program, which
enabled him to go to school for half the year in Atlanta
and work the other half of the year in Charlotte.
That sure made it easier on Jane's and mine's
relationship, he says.
It happened that Coley's
co-op was with Duke Power. He viewed the opportunity as a
means to an end and the end was only a few years
down the road. At that time, I had no intention of
working in the electric power industry, he says.
When I was in high school and college, the space
program was really attractive and creating a lot of
As time passed, he found
excitement within Duke Power, through his peers and the
knowledge and skill that he gleaned each day. The
company had a great heritage, a great history, he
says. The people I worked with were wonderful. The
whole place just had a great feel.
Coley applied for
full-time employment at Duke Power early in his senior
year (he would graduate with a degree in electrical
engineering) and within weeks learned that a job was
waiting for him if he wanted it. While he interviewed
with other companies, including Burlington Industries and
Hewlett-Packard, Duke Power just felt right.
The year was 1966, and
William Alfred Coley had just signed on as a junior
engineer at Duke Power's Marshall Steam Station in
Charlotte. On that July 16th, he and Jane signed on as
husband and wife before about 250 witnesses at First
Presbyterian Church in Belmont.
Nearly 35 years have
passed, and Coley says both relationships feel as right
He knows what you're
thinking, that working for the same company during a
lengthy career surely has had its boring moments. He says
If you look at my
career path, I've actually changed jobs 20 times through
the years, Coley says. I've been in almost
every area of the company. I've been in nuclear fossil
production and helped start up an information systems
department. I've been in transmission operations,
distribution engineering, retail services, marketing
organization and I had the international and
unregulated businesses for a period of time.
I have had, without
a doubt, the best of both worlds. I've been able to
change jobs, yet stay with the same company.
He's also stayed the same
person, according to Baker. The one thing that I've
told people through the years is that I knew Bill when he
was nobody, she says, and that he hasn't
changed since he's become somebody. They say the true
secret to success is to be true to yourself, and he's
Coley spent his first 16
years at the Marshall Steam Station, holding down a
variety of tasks in the production department and serving
six of those years as manager of the engineering services
section. He was named manager of information system
planning in 1982, vice president of operations in '84 and
vice president of the central division in '86. In
February 1988 he was appointed vice president of
distribution and eight months later was promoted to
senior vice president of power delivery.
In July 1990, Coley was
elected to Duke Power's board of directors; one month
later, he was named senior vice president of customer
operations. In November of the following year, he was
promoted yet again, this time to executive vice
president, customer group. In 1994 he was named president
of the Associated Enterprises Group, a position he held
until being promoted to his current role following the
merger with PanEnergy in June 1997.
Getting that deal done, he
says, was the product of nearly a decade of strategic
planning. We started in 1988 in seriously looking
at the future of the industry, he says. We
felt that it would be deregulated at some point in time,
and that we needed to be in midstream gas not
exploration and production and not retail gas but
in the gas gathering and processing, transportation,
marketing and wholesale.
It wasn't as if Duke Power
was struggling, certainly since it was one of the
country's largest investor-owned electric utilities with
revenues of more than $4 billion and some two million
customers in North and South Carolina. But Duke's powers
that be envisioned an uncertain future and began looking
at midstream gas companies. Houston-based PanEnergy,
Coley says, topped the list. We met initially with
the thought of a joint venture, not a merger or
acquisition, he says. As we talked more and
more with them, we realized that we had the same vision
and very similar cultures. I'm amazed we were able to put
together two companies with such ease.
Coley says today's Duke
Energy is very much a growth company and not what people
look for in a typical utility. We have revenues of
just under $50 billion, he says. We're
involved in businesses all around the globe. We have
investments in Asia and South America.
I'm biased, but I do
not know of a company today in the energy sector that has
the aggregate of skills in the form of 22,000 employees,
the hard assets, the technical expertise. We are well
prepared to handle whatever comes our way.
William Hall Coley is
unquestionably cut from his father's mold. He answers the
phone in his suburban Denver, Colo., office as Bill
Coley, and the caller can't help but pause for a
This Bill Coley is 25 and
carving an impressive niche for himself at Agilent
Technologies, a spin-off of Hewlett-Packard. He was known
as Big Bill in the family growing up because
his daddy didn't like the sound of Little
The son remembers a fond
childhood for him and his sister, Mary Elizabeth, now 29
and an English and history teacher at Providence Day
School in Charlotte. They brought us up to a strong
sense of values, he says of his parents. We
were taught that there was a certain way to act and to
Big Bill remembers being
encouraged to explore the aspects of engineering and
technical work at an early age like father, like
son. We'd build these circuit boards together and
make AM radios, he says. We'd start playing
around and he'd say, `Let's go down to Radio Shack' and
off we'd go.
That was the early 1980s,
and his father's long hours at Duke Power were already
beginning to mount. I remember that he was always
busy at work, but yet he always took time out to go to
all of my baseball and basketball games when I was in the
Pee Wee leagues, he says. I know that was
painful, because we were so awful.
When it came time to
choose a college, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and
MIT topped the list. I was looking for an
engineering-type school, and Dad sort of influenced me a
little, he says.
So Georgia Tech it was, in
pursuit of first a bachelor's, then a masters, degree in
technical engineering. A couple of summers brought work
at Duke Power, and a full-time position probably could
have been a job option out of school.
I had offers from
companies in North Carolina, Georgia, California and
Colorado, he says. I sort of wanted to go out
on my own and do my own thing, but I wasn't sure. Dad
told me frankly that he thought the opportunities in
California and Colorado were better for me.
For now. William Hall
Coley married the former Jenny Su in Atlanta last April
1. At some point, they'll return to the Southeast,
because twice-a-week phone calls back home just don't cut
it certainly not when your father's also your best
friend. It's Dad and then there are like 10 blank
spaces and everyone else, he says. He was my
best man at my wedding.
That's a day Big Bill will
never forget, but for more reasons than you might expect.
Just before the ceremony, we were back there behind
the scenes signing the wedding certificate with the
minister, he says. I was really, really
nervous, but he kept cracking jokes and reassuring me.
When we out in front of everybody, he sensed that I was
still nervous, so when my groomsmen were walking up, he
cracked on them, too.
Last year, all of the
Coleys got together in Wyoming for a couple of weeks for
vacation. This past Christmas, the Colorado Coleys were
given roundtrip plane tickets by the North Carolina
Coleys for a week's stay at the latter's new second home
Golf is one of Dad's
hobbies, he says. I keep asking him when
wants to retire and start playing more golf he and
Mom play together a lot.
The retirement question is
one that many want to know. He doesn't need the
money and I know he loves doing things with his family
and getting away from the office, Baker says.
But he also loves his job, and it's still fun and
challenging to him.
Coley doesn't mind talking
about birdies and bogeys, but it's evi-dent that a
heaping of daily nourishment come from his work.
There are all sorts of ways to get satisfaction out
of your job, he says. You get satisfaction by
delivering the earnings to the shareholders that you told
them you would. You get satisfaction in customer service.
And there's a lot of satisfaction in delivering your
product, a vital product, to the public.
He sees the public
his customers at various speaking engagements.
Many share opinions and most want his. The question
I hear most is, `What happened in California and can it
happen here?' I tell them that I don't think it will,
that I am confident the regulators and legislators in
North and South Carolina won't let us get in that
Coley says California
would have experienced its recent brownouts and blackouts
regardless of deregulation that it suffered from an
imbalance between supply and demand. Between '96
and '99, California's load increased by 5,500
megawatts, he says. The total new generation
added in that time was 600 megawatts just over 10
percent of its growth. The math just doesn't add
Duke Power maintains
energy reserves in the Carolinas of 15 to 17 percent.
That, coupled with an increased awareness of the impact
of electricity, makes for a bright future. People
who are not in our business have become more educated
about our business, Coley says. They
understand the correlation between growth and electric
supplies and growth and the economy.
It takes six-tenths
of a kilowatt hour to produce one dollar of domestic
gross product. That's a proven correlation over time, and
that's why you see countries like China trying to grow
their electric supply 25 percent a year they know
it's a way to grow the economy.
Baker says Coley can speak
effectively and efficiently on every facet of the company
and the industry. He's very quick, she says.
He can read thick documents quickly and be ready to
Twenty-four years together
breeds familiarity and aids the daily decision-making,
she adds. I'll read his mail, and it's amazing how
often I'll know what he wants done with it even before he
sees it. I liked the days before cell phones better,
because generally now when he gets in the car, he calls.
We're almost in contact more when he's traveling.
That's most of the time.
Coley faced his own March Madness a travel
itinerary that included three jaunts to Washington, five
days in Germany, three days in Atlanta, three days in
Florida and day trips to Hickory and Columbia, S.C. And
it wasn't an usual month.
I go more now than I
did 10 to 15 years ago, he says, and I really
don't mind it. The biggest frustration is not having
enough time to spend with customers and employers.
They're the ones who've made us what we are.
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