Duke Energy's new CEO lasts for a day

Duke Energy's Plant Allen in Belmont, N.C. The company's merger with Progress Energy came with a twisty executive switch. (Chuck Burton / AP Photo / July 6, 2012)

For one day’s work, $44 million is a pretty sizable paycheck.

For a few hours this week, William D. Johnson served as chief executive of Duke Energy Corp. before resigning. His departure package could include $7.4 million in severance, relocation expenses and more, according to a securities filing.

Johnson, formerly CEO of Progress Energy Inc., signed a contract on June 27 to head up Duke for three years. He assumed the position on July 2, when a long-planned, multibillion-dollar merger between Progress and Duke, an electric utility focused in the Southeast, went into effect.

The buyout made Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke the largest power company in the country.

By the next day, through “mutual agreement,” he was out of the C-suite, replaced by Duke’s former chief James Rogers. On a conference call, Duke executives declined to discuss the rationale for Johnson's departure.

One of the conditions for the exit deal was that Johnson not badmouth his former employer. He probably won’t get the chance: Plenty of others are doing it for him.

John H. Mullin III, former lead director of Progress, wrote an open letter to several news organizations decrying the ouster, calling it “the most blatant example of corporate deceit that I have witnessed during a long career on Wall Street.

Mullin, who will not join the board of the combined company, called the switcheroo “one of the greatest corporate hijackings in U.S. business history” and “an incredible act of bad faith.”

The executive contortions also rubbed many investors the wrong way. In afternoon trading in New York, Duke stock was down 2.7%, or $1.87, to $66.70 a share. That’s a nearly 5% slide from the stock price before the executive lineup was announced.

Standard & Poor’s has threatened to slash Duke’s ratings.

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