Who Is William Cavanaugh III?

William Cavanaugh III is an American businessman with a long history of leadership positions in the energy production and real estate industries. Born in New Orleans, Cavanaugh served in the United States Navy for eight years before jumping into work in the energy sector.

He served in leadership roles in several energy companies and was most recently on the board of directors of Duke Realty, which was an American real estate investment trust (REIT) based in Indianapolis. Cavanaugh has also been a key player in fighting deregulation in the energy industry and in the safe exploration of nuclear energy.

Key Takeaways

  • William Cavanaugh III was the CEO of Carolina Power & Light, which later became Progress Energy.
  • He studied at Tulane University and received several certifications that helped boost him as a leader.
  • Cavanaugh opposed the deregulation of the energy industry because he didn't see how the move would make energy companies both more profitable and better for customers.
  • Cavanaugh retired from Progress Energy in 2004.
  • Since his retirement, he held positions at energy industry groups like the World Association of Nuclear Operators.
William Cavanaugh III

Investopedia / Alison Czinkota

Early Life and Education

William Cavanaugh III was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1939. As a young man, he enrolled at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he studied mechanical engineering. He graduated with his undergraduate degree in 1961.

Upon graduation, Cavanaugh enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he served for the next eight years, learning important lessons about nuclear power generation through the United States Navy’s nuclear submarine program. He received an honorable discharge from the Navy in 1969.

Cavanaugh attended the Kidder-Peabody Utility Corporate Finance program in 1983 and Harvard University’s advanced management program in 1991. As a working student, these designations helped prepare him for senior management roles in production within the energy sector.

Notable Accomplishments

After leaving the Navy, Cavanaugh began his career at Entergy in New Orleans. Here, he served in executive leadership roles at three of the firm’s electric utility subsidiaries:

  • Arkansas Power & Light
  • Louisiana Power & Light
  • Mississippi Power & Light 

He joined Carolina Power & Light Company as the company's president and chief operating officer (COO) in 1992. Seven years later, he assumed the role of and rose to the role of chairman and chief executive officer (CEO). As the company's leader, he was a key player in the firm's acquisition of Florida Progress, which CP&L bought for $54 a share.

The combined company adopted a new name, Progress Energy, and became what was at the time the ninth-largest energy producer in the United States. Under Cavanaugh’s leadership, the firm grew to become a Fortune 500 company with a new headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina with approximately $8 billion in annual revenues. Cavanaugh retired from the company in 2004.

After retiring from Progress Energy, Cavanaugh served as chair of the World Association of Nuclear Operators. WANO is an international association of nuclear power plant operators dedicated to promoting the safe exploitation of nuclear energy. The role of chairman is now filled by Tom Mitchell, former president and CEO of Ontario Power Generation in Canada.

Progress Energy was taken over by Duke Energy in July 2012 in a $26 billion merger that formed the nation’s largest electric utility at the time.


Cavanaugh notably resisted the trend in the energy industry to take advantage of deregulation in order to shift operations into energy trading. This is in contrast to other players in the energy sector at the time, like Enron Corporation, the leader in this movement, which was later disgraced after it was accused of lying to shareholders and manipulating energy markets.

Cavanaugh's skepticism led him to lobby against the deregulation of the energy industry. In the end, Cavanaugh was vindicated, and his reputation as a CEO with integrity grew.

Personal Life

Cavanaugh is married to Alyce Lee Cocchiara. The couple has four children, Kyle, Craig, Chris, and Connie. Although he did assume the role of chairman of the World Association of Nuclear Operators after retiring, he does enjoy spending time with his family.

What Is William Cavanaugh III Best Known for?

Although not necessarily a household name, William Cavanaugh III may be better known in the energy industry. He worked with several energy companies, including Carolina Power & Light Company. The company later became known as Progress Energy and was acquired by Duke Energy in July 2012. Cavanaugh was also against the trend after the energy industry was deregulating, helping his company buck many problems that other, larger energy companies faced.

What Happened to Progress Energy?

Progress Energy, which was previously known as Carolina Power & Light Company, was acquired by Duke Energy in 2012. At the time, the $26 million merger created the largest electric utility company in the United States.

Why Was William Cavanaugh III Against Energy Industry Deregulation?

While many companies within the energy sector celebrated the deregulation of the industry, William Cavanaugh III was skeptical about the move. Congress passed laws between 1989 and 1994 that allowed the purchase and sale of power on a wholesale basis and for energy to be traded. Rather than jump in and expand the company as others did, he remained cautious. Instead, he focused on Progress's primary business and helped keep it afloat. This gave him a reputation as a solid leader within the industry.

The Bottom Line

The average person may not know of William Cavanaugh III. But those in the energy sector may be more familiar with him. Cavanaugh worked in the public energy sector for decades, heading up Carolina Power & Light Company, which later became Progress Energy. He was one of the key voices against the deregulation of the energy sector. At a time when others were trading and sharing energy and expanding, he bucked the trend and helped keep his company afloat by focusing on the company's primary business.

Article Sources
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  1. University of South Florida. "William Cavanaugh III."

  2. Microsoft. "William Cavanaugh III."

  3. Duke Realty. "William Cavanaugh III."

  4. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Progress Energy."

  5. WANO. "Our Structure."

  6. U.S. Securities And Exchange Commission. "Duke Energy and Progress Energy to Merge."

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