Alumni Awards 2011: Doug Johnson '77

Doug Johnson is the chief executive officer of Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation, based in Lenoir. He is a 1977 graduate of the Walker College of Business, with a bachelor's degree in business administration.

Johnson joined Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation in 1979 as an energy management specialist. He advanced steadily working as director of energy management, manager of energy services, vice president of marketing, and interim general manager. He became the energy company's CEO in 1990.

His service to his alma mater includes being a member of the Yosef Club advisory board, Appalachian Summer Festival advisory board, Walker College of Business advisory board, and the Athletics Feasibility Study committee. His community service includes board of directors and chairman of Caldwell 20/20, board of directors of the Caldwell Community College Foundation, Bank of Granite board of directors, and member of the Caldwell County Industrial Revenue Bond Authority.

Johnson has provided significant support for Appalachian both personally and through his role as the leader of one of the region's most influential corporations. He and Blue Ridge Electric have supported the Hayes School of Music, Appalachian Fund, Department of History and Mountaineer Athletics. He has provided assistance to the Walker College of Business in forging new relationships with companies and individuals that share a common interest in education.

Since 1998, Blue Ridge Electric and Appalachian's Office of Arts and Cultural Programs have collaborated to present arts programming aimed at enriching the culture of western North Carolina and improving the quality of life for its residents. During that time, Blue Ridge Electric as the lead sponsor of the annual Appalachian Summer Festival has become synonymous with the month-long, regional cultural event.

The focal point of Blue Ridge Electric's festival sponsorship is the annual fireworks concert. The company's support has enabled the festival to bring many of the nation's finest performing artists to Appalachian, while maintaining affordable ticket prices. Johnson's leadership also has been instrumental in helping the festival secure additional sponsorships and financial support, making it the High Country's most anticipated summer event.

"Doug Johnson's service and commitment to Appalachian have been considerable. His leadership both on our campus and in the business community has been outstanding, and he is always available when Appalachian calls on him," said Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock. "Not only has he personally made substantial financial gifts to the university, but as CEO of Blue Ridge Electric, he has provided decades of significant support across the campus."

"Doug's vision and leadership has served as a wonderful example of the great things that can happen when highly respected business leaders in our community commit themselves to advancing the quality of life for the region they serve," said Denise Ringler, Appalachian's director of arts and cultural programs.


Doug Johnson '77: Well, I'm a native of this area. I spent a good part of my growing-up years in Ashe County and then moved to Watauga County when I began high school. I've just always been an Appalachian State fan. The business school was really taking off when I started back in 1973, now, and I was very proud of what was happening there and just felt that it fit for me. I wanted to stay in this area, because I love this area.

DJ: Well, I received a bachelor of science in business administration degree, but my major focus was in banking and finance, and I thought at that time I would go into banking, was planning on going in that direction, and actually ended up changing careers and going into the utility business. But as you make that kind of a change, you know, the skills and the abilities that you gain through your education at Appalachian allow you to be flexible. The financial management skills that I learned in the banking program and finance programs were very applicable to running a utility.

DJ: I think it allows you to be flexible when you have those skill sets that can be used in a broad range of businesses, and I think that's one of the keys for Appalachian is we train young men and women today that they're going to have to be flexible as they move out into the work world. And so, when I began at Blue Ridge, I thought, 'this is a place where I really want to grow and hopefully aspire to be the chief executive of this company someday.' So I feel like it gave me that kind of confidence. It gave me the preparation and really helped me to focus on what it takes to be successful.

DJ: I understand how much Appalachian means to this region and how much it means to the business model for Blue Ridge Electric. It's beyond educating people when you look at what it means to this community to have a university located here, in terms of the economic power that it brings to our region. It's a tremendous advantage for us to have a university of this size and capability in our area.

DJ: So recognizing that, I wanted to be involved, and I began looking for ways for me to be involved personally, and to involve Blue Ridge more in making sure that Appalachian would be successful and that they would know that we're a partner and that Doug Johnson is a partner in the university, to be here and to provide support for and to be a cheerleader for Appalachian State University. I promote Appalachian State every chance I have to prospective students, to business people across the state and other states, just saying what a wonderful institution we have here, what a great university we have.

DJ: There are many different ways you can be involved at Appalachian State University, and certainly for me, personally, the college of business and athletics are going to be at the top of my personal list. So the first place I really got involved, as a lot of young alumni do, was the Yosef Club and being involved with supporting the student athletes and just being a part of the whole athletic process.

DJ: But I also had an opportunity, in talking with Chancellor Peacock a few years ago. He relayed a story about a young man he had met on campus. He was doing quite well and as he talked with him he came to understand that this young man had no parents supporting him. He did a little study and found out there were a lot of kids on campus that were really there and had very difficult financial circumstances, and he began a program called Appalachian Access. That particular program touched me personally, and Teresa and I both provide some money personally to that; and you just know you're putting some resources back to people who need them and who are going to appreciate that and do something with their lives in a very powerful way. So I'm very proud of that.

DJ: Another area I'm particularly proud of is the Appalachian summer program. Blue Ridge has been a corporate sponsor of that program for several summers now, and we're very proud to do that because of the overall access to the arts that it brings to our community. The excitement gives people in this region things to do and to be exposed to this kind of arts programming and to be able to have that right here on our campus in Boone. So I'm very proud of that and I think it's a great opportunity for Appalachian to bring in a group of people who appreciate the arts and who can learn more about Appalachian State University and become long-time supporters of our university.

DJ: Appalachian's selection to be a participant in the Solar Decathlon is a great honor for Appalachian State University, and it matches so well with the Chancellor and the university's overall strategic plan. It's a great tie with Blue Ridge Electric, because being the power provider to this area, we're in the business of helping to look at what are the innovative future resources and what are the kinds of energy sources that we should be looking to. So we were pleased and excited to sign on as a utility sponsor for that really outstanding group of young men and women.

DJ: I had a chance to go by and see the project—the house that they're building that they're going to take up to Washington, D.C., for this competition—and there's such enthusiasm for this project with these students, and for them to be able to go and participate in Washington, D.C. in an international competition and represent our university in an area that's one of our strategic growth areas certainly merited us being a partner and participating in that particular project.

DJ: When I first received notice that I was receiving the Outstanding Service Award from Appalachian, I was very touched by that. And the fact that so many people that I know have received this kind of recognition have done such wonderful things for Appalachian State University, and to be placed into that kind of category of service to ASU is humbling and honoring. Well, I hope that I've given enough and I want to give more to Appalachian State University because it's such a big part of me and had such an impact on my life, and I want it to have an impact on other people's lives.

DJ: So I'm excited about that. A lot of people in my family are Appalachian grads and they're excited about this as well. We talk about Appalachian all the time. It's just a big part of who we are, and to be recognized in this way—I'm very honored.