Tennessee Valley Authority CEO talks leadership

William Johnson, CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority, wants UNC’s future business leaders to know that success is not always monetary.

“We’ve gotten confused about achievement and success,” he said. “We’ve gotten comfortable with the idea that the end of success justifies the means of the human toll it takes.”

Johnson offered students leadership and life advice Thursday in this year’s first Dean’s Speaker Series lecture.

“Most of us mere mortals got into our positions through a combination of several things: luck, circumstances, a little bit of skill, a lot of perseverance, but most of all, through the work of others,” Johnson said.

The event was hosted by the Kenan-Flagler Business School, the UNC School of Law and UNC’s Institute for the Environment.

Johnson, a UNC law graduate, focused on the responsibility that leaders have and the reputation that many business leaders disregard the impact they have on the lives of others.

“Authority is the least effective of leadership tools. How well you influence others has a lot to do with your motives.”

Though Johnson answered some questions about the TVA in the questions after his lecture, he primarily focused on topics that were applicable to students’ lives.

Sophomore Christopher Donaldson, a pre-business major, said he was surprised that Johnson didn’t spend more time talking about his job.

“It’s nice to hear such relevant and inspirational things from someone who has actually been there, from someone who is a CEO,” Donaldson said.

Freshman Emma Blackwell said the event impacted her career goals.

“I’m still deciding where in business I want to end up, so this was a good opportunity to explore different aspects of the business world,” she said.

Johnson also offered a final piece of advice for success-hungry students.

“Don’t worry so much about what you’re going to do,” he said.

“At some point, you’re going to get out of school, you’re going to work, you’re going to have to put food on the table. Don’t get too excited yet, just go with the flow a little bit. It will all work out.”

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