With Bankruptcy Exit in Sight, PG&E’s Mr. Fix-It Plans to Retire
(Bloomberg) -- PG&E Corp. Chief Executive Officer Bill Johnson, who was hired to steer the California power giant through the biggest-ever U.S. utility bankruptcy, will retire in June when the company is expected to exit Chapter 11.
Johnson, a utility industry veteran who joined PG&E about 11 months ago, is not leaving over a disagreement, the utility said in a filing. PG&E board member and former telecommunications executive William Smith will become interim CEO June 30, when Johnson’s resignation takes effect.
Johnson, 66, joined PG&E last May, months after the company filed for bankruptcy facing an estimated $30 billion in liabilities from wildfires blamed on its equipment. The announcement of Johnson’s departure comes after California regulators said Monday that they’d approve the company’s bankruptcy plan if it overhauled its board, submitted to increased state oversight and took other steps.
“I joined PG&E to help get the company out of bankruptcy and stabilize operations. By the end of June, I expect that both of these goals will have been met,” Johnson said in a statement.
PG&E shares rose 1.8% at 11:11 a.m. in New York.
Johnson arrived at PG&E vowing to reform the embattled utility. “I’d like to fix it,” he told California lawmakers shortly after starting. “If you actually talk to people in the industry, they would say, ‘Oh yeah, he’s the fix it guy.’ This is a big fix.”
Under his leadership, PG&E pushed to devise a reorganization plan that would satisfy both state officials and creditors. After striking a series of settlements with major claimants including fire victims, the company is now racing to gain approval of its turnaround plan by June 30 to qualify for a state fire insurance fund.
Last fall, Johnson and PG&E were criticized for the utility’s decision to shut off power to millions of people for days at a time in an effort to prevent power lines from sparking wildfires during high winds. At one point, California Gavin Newsom called for PG&E’s entire board to be replaced including Johnson.
In testimony before state regulators and the U.S. Congress, Johnson vowed to improve the company’s execution of future shut-offs, but he said they’d be needed for years as the utility worked to upgrade its system, which serves a region plagued with increasing fire risk from drought and climate change.
Johnson’s successor, Smith, joined PG&E’s board last year. He spent 37 years with AT&T Inc., where he was president of network operations. He will serve as PG&E’s CEO until a permanent one is hired.
Before PG&E, Johnson was CEO of the federally owned utility Tennessee Valley Authority. But he was best known as the victim of a strange moment of boardroom drama. In 2012, he was fired as CEO of Duke Energy Corp. less than an hour after the energy giant finalized its takeover of his prior company, Progress Energy.
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