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The utility business is an industry that still doesn't have many women in top leadership roles. Lynn Good is one of the rare ones. She heads one of the largest electric power companies in the U.S. And we're going to meet her now as part of our series "The Changing Lives Of Women." NPR's Yuki Noguchi spoke with Lynn Good about - among other things - being the face of a company grappling with some very public challenges.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: The first time I meet Lynn Good, it's by accident - crammed behind the hotel entrance doors the day before our schedule interview. She was waiting calmly after the fire alarms had gone off. It occurs to me later it was a fitting introduction to a woman whose corporate ascent has been marked by some emergency detours.
LYNN GOOD: There's nothing about Lynn Good at age 30 or age 35 that would've said, I am setting my sights on being a CEO.
NOGUCHI: But at age 55, she is - at Duke Energy, the nation's largest utility, based on market value. She's at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Conference to speak even though...
GOOD: ...I don't think of myself as a powerful woman.
NOGUCHI: Good grew up in Ohio - the daughter of two educators. It was her math-teacher father who encouraged her, she says, to take an unconventional path for women.
GOOD: He actually sat with me on the college catalog and helped me pick something that was the equivalent of computer science. I had never programmed anything. I had never seen a computer when I went to college.
NOGUCHI: Good is used to being the lone woman. She was one of the first in the Midwest to make partner at the accounting firm Arthur Andersen.
GOOD: I've had plenty of mentors but not many women. So I am generationally probably on the early part of the ascent of women into leadership roles.
NOGUCHI: Her two-decade career at Andersen came to an abrupt end after a criminal charge against the firm effectively shut it down in 2002. Good found her footing becoming Duke's finance chief in 2009. Then, 15 months ago, her predecessor left as part of a settlement with regulators over the company's handling of a merger. As CEO, she's surrounded by male peers.
GOOD: It doesn't make me uncomfortable. I don't even think about it, to be honest with you.
NOGUCHI: But, she says, she thinks women tend to focus on communication, relationships and connecting, and that that is an asset with the spotlight on her.
GOOD: I become the face of the company. And that's a responsibility.
NOGUCHI: Especially now as Good deals with her latest challenge - a toxic spill of pollutants that happened just months after she took office. A burst pipe dumped tens of thousands of tons of coal ash waste into the Dan River, a source of drinking water for over 50,000 people in southern Virginia. It's Good's toughest test yet. The company faces lawsuits and a federal grand jury investigation.
(SOUNDBITE OF VARIOUS NEWS BROADCASTS)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Today, a federal grand jury convened to hear evidence...
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Six weeks - that's how long it took federal prosecutors to convene a grand jury in the investigation...
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Protesters say Duke Energy has been acting like babies with its coal ash clean-up.
FRANK HOLLEMAN: I don't think Duke has ever had its reputation in North Carolina so damaged.
NOGUCHI: Frank Holleman is a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is suing Duke Energy. Holleman says Duke is a major community force and says Good, who was relatively unknown to the public, could make a difference.
HOLLEMAN: If she could get out in front of this issue - make a definitive, clear decision, she could create an identity for herself and for her company very quickly.
NOGUCHI: But so far, he says, that hasn't happened. Last month, the company announced a $10 million fund that will be used to promote clean water across five states. Holleman calls the move both deeply underfunded and hypocritical.
HOLLEMAN: Yeah, it was almost like physician heal thyself. It was an embarrassing public relations effort.
NOGUCHI: For her part, Good denies she's prioritized image - hers or Duke's - over dealing with the damage.
GOOD: My focus has been in ensuring Duke is doing the right thing, we have the right resources, we're making the adjustments, we're addressing the issue.
NOGUCHI: Goods says her worst days on the job so far have come when she's felt Duke has been accused of wrongdoing.
GOOD: I think about trust and confidence as something that you earn every day. And we will keep at it, earning it every day. And I hope that a year from now or two years from now, we're not talking at all about Dan River, but we're talking about the great service that Duke delivers to its customers and the commitment we have to the communities.
NOGUCHI: That will be put to the test. Duke says it is cooperating with the ongoing federal grand jury investigation. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
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