The List (1-10)
1. Ken Lewis
CEO, Bank of America
In 2006: 1
Our sources were nearly unanimous: Ken Lewis is the most powerful person in town. But it’s almost by default. Sure, he runs Bank of America, which looks to be coming out of the financial meltdown in pretty decent shape, having picked up Countrywide and Merrill Lynch for pennies on the dollar. Yes, he’s the longest-tenured CEO of any of Charlotte’s big companies. And yes, Bank of America is now the dominant corporation in town, employing 14,000 people, controlling a large chunk of uptown real estate, and financing the bulk of the city’s bigger construction deals. But Lewis is not much involved in local affairs, beyond the bare minimum. He has a huge, unwieldy bank to run, and shareholders would much rather see him in the boardroom than at Charlotte Chamber functions. No, Ken Lewis is number one not because of what he does, but what he can do. “When Ken Lewis has a cold,” a knowledgeable source told us, “Charlotte has the flu. With the stroke of a pen, he can reduce the workforce [of BofA] by 10 percent.” That’s not a man that city leaders want to cross.
2. Michael Marsicano
President, Foundation for the Carolinas
In 2006: 3
Over and over, people we spoke to said that the way to attain power and influence in Charlotte is to demonstrate success at bringing people together. And then they named Michael Marsicano as the ultimate exhibitor of that skill. Marsicano was already well connected by virtue of his time leading the Arts & Science Council and through the Foundation for the Carolinas. Over the past few years, Marsicano has maneuvered FFTC into leadership roles on several major civic initiatives, such as improving the public school system and launching the center city cultural campus. In doing so, Marsicano has recruited scores of influential business and nonprofit leaders to FFTC boardrooms, and FFTC’s assets have increased to $750 million, tripling since 2001. Now, Marsicano plans to move FFTC front and center on contentious local issues, such as racial trust and affordable housing. And as local corporate CEOs focus on keeping the ships afloat, nonprofit leaders like Marsicano will play an increasingly influential role in determining the city’s future.
3. Jim Rogers
President and CEO, Duke Energy
In 2006: Unranked
How many other Charlotteans have been profiled by The New York Times Magazine? Answer: zero. How many other Charlotteans have been profiled on 60 Minutes? Again, zero. Rogers has been making the national media rounds trying to sell his vision of a new kind of energy company, one that keeps an eye on the environment as well as the bottom line. The results have been mixed. The Times fell for him hard, but some environmentalists say the emperor has no clothes. He wanted to build two coal plants in nearby Cliffside, but only got approval for one. He’s not getting much traction in his efforts to get the state to approve Duke’s new Save-A-Watt energy efficiency program. But he still has plenty of pull in Charlotte. After a series of mergers and acquisitions, Duke isn’t quite the corporate citizen that it used to be. But whoever the CEO of Duke is will always be a major player here. The company employs more than 5,000 people and controls a lot of real estate. And Rogers is a dynamic leader who has become involved in local affairs where he can.
4. Mac Everett
Interim CEO, United Way; General Chairman, Wachovia Championship
In 2006: 6
Everett is the epitome of a go-to guy. In recent years, the retired Wachovia exec has chaired executive search committees for Carolinas HealthCare, the YMCA, the Charlotte Chamber, and UNC-Charlotte. That means he’s had a heavy hand in choosing many of Charlotte’s top leaders. He chaired UNCC’s football study committee. He oversees the Wachovia Championship. And of course, he’s doing his damnedest to bail out the United Way. “Mac Everett has some true juice,” said one civic colleague.
5. Hugh McColl
Chairman, The McColl Group
In 2006: 17
Says one source in a position to know, “I still think Hugh McColl is the godfather of the city.” And he meant that in the nicest possible way. Fact is, Hugh McColl was a titan, is a titan, and will be a titan until the earth is no longer graced by his presence. Without him, there is no current-day Bank of America. In other words, without him, Charlotte would solely be the province of largish regional banks. His vision, along with key lieutenants like Joe Martin and Jim Palermo, and fellow titans Bill Lee and Ed Crutchfield, began the sweeping transformation of downtown. He used the bank to prop up local restaurateurs, to support the arts (hello, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center), and to help lure professional sports to Charlotte. He applied personal wealth for the benefit of the arts (McColl Center for Visual Arts). But power is not built on legacy alone. McColl, now seventy-three and seven years removed from the top seat at Bank of America, is still consulted on every major decision involving the center city. He contributes heavily to political campaigns, particularly Democrats. And he (along with Jerry Richardson and, OK, Bill Diehl) is one of few members of this list who turns heads and inspires whispers when he enters a room.
And, really, that makes him the last of a breed. No other local corporate heads think “Charlotte” at the same time they think of their company. They don’t have that option; shareholders wouldn’t stand for it. More than one person, in the wake of Wachovia’s implosion, has criticized, with 20/20 armchair hindsight, Ken Thompson for spending too much time on community issues and not enough time figuring out how badly the Golden West deal stunk. McColl has been sympathetic in interviews, but you know on the inside he’s seething at the potential damage the Wachovia meltdown will do to his downtown. And don’t be surprised if he jumps into the fray to try to fix things.
6. Johnny Harris
President and CEO, Lincoln Harris
In 2006: 19
Much of Charlotte’s prominence in the sports landscape can be attributed to Johnny Harris. Most recently, he played key roles in founding the Wachovia Championship and landing the ACC football championship. He and his family also developed much of SouthPark and Ballantyne. But this is not a lifetime achievement award. Harris is president of Quail Hollow Club, which counts Charlotte’s richest and most powerful among its membership, and he’s an influential member of Augusta National. He has one of the largest Rolodexes in the city. “If he wants something to happen, or doesn’t,” one longtime observer told us, “he usually gets his way.” And, unlike much of the new guard, he tends to think Charlotte first.
7. Pat McCrory
In 2006: 10
It’s long been sport in Charlotte to claim that the mayor doesn’t have much power, that this town is run by CEOs and their lackeys. That used to be true, primarily because CEOs and their lackeys were the politicians. But as Charlotte has grown, and the companies headquartered here have grown, top businesspeople have largely stayed out of politics. With the possible exception of the late John Belk, who was mayor from 1969 to 1977, Pat McCrory is the most powerful local public official in modern Charlotte history. He has CEOs and senators on speed dial. He’s the city’s top spokesperson. He represents Charlotte to the nation at a time when the nation is increasingly looking at Charlotte. A mix of wealthy Democrats and Republicans give to his campaigns. And, of course, he’s running for governor. If you procrastinated in reading this issue, the election may have already occurred, and he very well may have won, surprising almost everyone. But even if he didn’t, he ran an excellent campaign, and every Republican in the state knows his name. And if he’s not the next governor, there’s a good chance he’ll run again for mayor. Why not? That’s a race he’s never lost. He still has the donors. He’ll likely face some stiff Democratic competition, but there’s no reason to think he won’t win again. Charlotte likely will be facing rocky times, and while that normally would work against an incumbent, they don’t call McCrory “the Teflon mayor” for nothing.
8. Smoky Bissell
Chairman, Bissell Companies
In 2006: 8
In a little more than a decade’s time, Bissell has developed Ballantyne from pasture and forest to the most dominant suburb in Charlotte, and he’s not finished yet. A Yale grad and former math teacher, he led a $100 million campaign for UNC-Charlotte, a $10 million capital campaign for Queens, and a $60 million campaign for Levine Children’s Hospital. Not many people in town have that kind of fundraising juice. He’s also Johnny Harris’s brother-in-law, making him a key member of Charlotte’s first family of big-money real estate development.
9 & 10. Tom Nelson and Anna Spangler Nelson
Tom: Chairman and CEO, National Gypsum Co.; General Partner, Wakefield Group
Anna: Chairman, C. D. Spangler Construction; General Partner, Wakefield Group
Between his Stanford undergrad, Harvard MBA, and White House Fellowship contacts, Tom Nelson is one of the most connected people in town. His wife and fellow Harvard MBAer, Anna, has a few contacts of her own, and her father is C. D. Spangler, former president of the UNC system, one of the largest shareholders of Bank of America, and a billionaire. Through Wakefield Group, which Anna and Tom co-founded and which Anna now runs, they are leading venture capitalists. Still only forty-six, Tom is well respected among Charlotte’s power elite, and he is keenly aware of civic issues, often working on them in the background. Together, they are Charlotte’s ultimate power couple, even if they, and especially Anna, shun the limelight.