Gov. Pat McCrory worked at Duke Energy for 29 years.
That’s what his resume says.
Other than a few short sentences about his areas of work, his biography says nothing else about his career.
Duke Energy officials aren’t talking.
Well-connected state and local leaders aren’t saying.
Charlotte City Council members aren’t sure.
And McCrory hasn’t said.
Few have delved into McCrory’s history at Duke. And until recently, it didn’t matter.
But a month ago, a Duke Energy coal ash pond dumped tens of thousands of tons of toxic gray sludge into the Dan River.
Now, critics are saying he’ll go soft on Duke because of his years there. That his career was a mystery for a reason. That he is more loyal to the company than to the people of North Carolina, even six years after resigning.
McCrory said that he couldn’ t be easy on Duke Energy because he knows too much about how management works there — and how it’s failed to prevent one of the state’s worst environmental disasters.
“My expertise is not in coal. I never worked in that area,” McCrory said. “But I know infrastructure and I know management and I know engineering. Somewhere along the way there has been a breakdown in ensuring that site was properly maintained.”
On Friday, McCrory gave the News & Record his first in-depth interview about his career — and how it shaped his philosophy — since the coal ash spill.
McCrory had another reason for breaking his silence: He wanted to put an end to his image as a corporate fat cat with nothing but cushy jobs during his years at Duke.
Without any details of what the governor did for 29 years, critics are finding all kinds of ways to fill in the blanks.
“I’m sure a lot of people would like to know what Pat did when he was at Duke,” Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Michael D. Barnes said.
McCrory’s official biography reads like the classic American success story.
McCrory graduates from Catawba College.
He’s hired into a “rigorous management training program” at then-Duke Power.
“Through that opportunity, he learned the energy business from the ground up, digging trenches, climbing electric utility poles and more,” according to the bio.
As McCrory fills in the blanks, he portrays his time there as years of rich experiences, relationships and education.
When McCrory graduated in 1978, the economy was in shambles.
He interviewed for a couple of management-training jobs and chose Duke.
Duke assigned McCrory to Charlotte where he said he hit the streets with linemen during his first week on the job.
“I was riding in a construction truck — two guys on both sides of me, chewing tobacco,” he said. “The guys riding with me taught the college boy some things he didn’t know. Putting on rubber gloves and actually putting your hands on hot wires was a good learning experience.”
After that work, the company offered McCrory a management position in South Carolina.
He didn’t want to move because he desired a different career path. McCrory wanted to use his teaching degree to train workers and executives.
He moved into the company’s design engineering department because the group needed a corporate trainer.
But his stint as a trainer was short.
“I learned so much about engineering,” he said, “they transferred me to the engineering office where I became the engineer recruiter for the entire company, where I hired nuclear and electrical and mechanical engineers.”
McCrory said, as a young man in his 20s, he became a specialist at interviewing candidates.
He traveled to every top engineering school in the country.
“I was interviewing 15 people a day, so I learned a lot about interviewing skills and I wrote a training manual about it. I’ve used those skills today on my cabinet. I’m a very tough interview,” McCrory said.
McCrory became manager of the company’s recruiting program for engineers during the “boom years” of the 1980s, as he called it.
He was responsible for recruiting hundreds of engineers a year to work across the Duke system in several states.
“That’s the good news,” McCrory said. “The bad news is in 1988 they eliminated my job and had layoffs.”
He said he was planning to get married in a few months, “and I found out that my job had been eliminated, which was a turning point in my life. It still sticks with me today — never to take a job for granted.”
But three weeks later, the company hired him back, offering him a promotion as training director for the entire company.
“I had a pretty large staff. It was almost like being principal of a high school. I had training facilities across the state that I was responsible for.”
Throughout the 1980s McCrory’s jobs had taught him to be a salesman.
Soon, he would begin to sell his merits as a candidate.
McCrory sought — and won — a seat on the Charlotte City Council in 1989 at 32 years old.
Working hard on council and as a training manager at Duke didn’t faze McCrory, he said, because he’s always worked two jobs.
“I’ve always had jobs where I would typically go 12 or 14 hours a day,” he said.
After several promotions at Duke — and moving up to Mayor Pro Tem on the council — McCrory decided to make a run for mayor and was elected in 1995.
McCrory had to cut back his work at Duke.
Many critics felt Duke kept him on board so the city’s largest taxpayer could influence government.
McCrory and his supporters admit that it’s impossible to put in the time for a corporate career and a major political office.
John Lassiter, McCrory’s 2012 campaign manager and a close confidante as interim chairman of the state Economic Development Partnership, said of McCrory: “When he first went into public life, he was working a traditional schedule, which means he was balancing his 40-hour week. When he became mayor, Duke realized he would have to give more time and they allowed for that.”
McCrory said he had to get permission from Duke Energy before he ran for political office.
But as mayor, he said he couldn’t make the schedule work.
“I had to step back and put a hold on my career,” McCrory said.
As he came to know the city of Charlotte and its business community, Duke enlisted McCrory as a consultant on economic development.
John Autry, who is serving his first term on the City Council, said he and others never believed McCrory had much to do at Duke when he was mayor.
“As a citizen, we always considered the Duke employment as a ‘sugar daddy job’,” Autry said.
But McCrory bristles at the thought that he didn’t put in his time at Duke.
“I started with Duke. I didn’t get the job when I became mayor,” he said. “I wasn’t placed in that job. I worked hard. Duke had a motto of citizenship and service.”
At least once, however, McCrory was accused of putting Duke over duty when, in 1994, the then-mayor pro tem voted to condemn two pieces of land for a new Charlotte water line.
What he did not disclose, said a North Carolina Supreme Court justice in a written opinion, was that McCrory knew the land abutted Duke Energy property.
And the city would be free to buy power from Duke if it could gain control of the land.
The properties’ owners sued the city and the Supreme Court eventually found in favor of the city.
But Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. wrote a dissenting opinion that took aim at McCrory.
In the opinion, Lake said that McCrory exchanged internal emails with Duke officials and discussed condemning the land for the project.
McCrory then voted in favor of the condemnation at a meeting he chaired while the mayor was away, Lake wrote.
McCrory has repeatedly said if he had known at the time that Duke was involved, he would not have voted on the issue.
As mayor, McCrory defends his record and his career at Duke Energy.
“It was very transparent. I never hid from it,” he said. “With Duke I was working with industrial customers mostly outside the Charlotte area rather than industrial customers inside the city.”
Barnes, the Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem, wonders if McCrory’s role at Duke made him reluctant to promote green energy initiatives.
“As I recall, when Pat was here, when the council tried to work on green energy and green issues,” Barnes said, “I sense sometimes he had concerns about the council’s efforts and I wasn’t sure whether that was related to Duke or other issues.”
But there’s evidence that McCrory promoted environmental efforts.
In 2001, he helped create a program with the Environmental Protection Agency designed to draw regions together to promote clean air and water.
The group published a complex report in 2006 outlining its goals for a region of cities surrounding Charlotte in North and South Carolina.
But it’s hard to find any reports that show the effort was a success.
By 2008, McCrory resigned from Duke Energy to run for governor, which he said was one of the hardest decisions of his life.
After he lost that election, he went to work for his brother at McCrory & Co., a sales training company.
He also worked as a consultant for lawyers at the Moore & Van Allen firm in Charlotte until his election in 2012.
“A lot of the lawyers were good at legal work but they weren’t real good at strategy,” he said.
At the end of the interview, McCrory took stock of his past relationship with Duke Energy and the coal ash crisis.
He said Duke taught him what to do — and that’ll be the right thing.
“The one thing regarding the spill which is disappointing is that there was a lack of oversight of understanding what was beneath the coal ash, what was beneath the pond and the lack of a plan,” he said.
According to public records, engineering inspectors have had concerns over the drainage pipes under the company’s Dan River ash basin as far back as 1996. With their warnings going unheeded, the Feb. 2 coal ash spill is the third worst in U.S. history.
“That’s a serious, serious breakdown within that company that must be addressed. And I’ve demanded an answer in a short period of time,” McCrory said.
He’s emphatic that he can put distance between himself and his former employer.
“I can separate. I can clearly separate. I’m the first governor to support a lawsuit against Duke Energy.
“I make the assumption my past friends respect that responsibility.”