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. He currently serves as a Lead Director on the Board of Directors of the Duke Realty, an American real estate investment trust (REIT), based in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Key Takeaways

  • William Cavanaugh III is best known as the CEO of Carolina Power & Light (CP&L), which later became Progress Energy.
  • During his tenure at CP&L and later Progress Energy, Cavanaugh opposed 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, and since then he has held positions at energy industry groups like the World Association of Nuclear Operators.

William Cavanaugh III Biography and Career

William Cavanaugh III was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1939. As a young man, he enrolled at Tulane University, also in New Orleans, where he studied mechanical engineering.

Military Career in the Navy

After earning a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1961, he enlisted in the United States 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.

In 1969, he was honorably discharged from the Navy, at which point he embarked on a career at Entergy Corp., based in New Orleans.

Cavanaugh's Early Career in the Energy Industry

At Entergy Cavanaugh served in executive leadership roles at three of the firm’s electric utility subsidiaries: Arkansas Power & Light, Louisiana Power & Light, and Mississippi Power & Light. 

Cavanaugh went on to attend the Kidder-Peabody Utility Corporate Finance program in 1983 and Harvard University’s advanced management program in 1991. These certifications helped prepare him for senior management roles in the energy production sector.

He joined Carolina Power & Light Company in the role of President and Chief Operating Officer in 1992, and rose to the role of President and Chief Operating Officer (CEO) in 1999.

Cavanaugh's Later Career

As CEO of Carolina Power & Light, Cavanaugh led the firm’s 1999 acquisition of Florida Progress Corp, 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.

During this period, Cavanaugh notably resisted the trend in the energy industry to take advantage of deregulation in order to shift operations into energy trading. Enron Corporation, the leader in this movement, was later disgraced after it was accused to lying to shareholders and manipulating energy markets. Cavanaugh's skepticism led him to lobby against deregulation of the energy industry. In the end, Cavanaugh was vindicated, and his reputation as a CEO with integrity grew.

William Cavanaugh III Retirement

Cavanaugh retired as Chief Executive Officer of the new company in 2004, and the company was later taken over by Duke Energy in a $26 billion merger that formed the nation’s largest electric utility.

After retiring from Progress Energy, Cavanaugh served as Chair of the World Association of Nuclear Operators, an international association of nuclear power plant operators that is dedicated to promoting the safe exploitation of nuclear energy.