If Duke Energy's Julie Janson were given a blank check and guaranteed success, this is what she would want for Greater Cincinnati:

  • World Series win for the Reds,
  • Super Bowl win for the Bengals,
  • Martin Luther King
    interchange completed,
  • New Brent Spence Bridge built,
  • The Banks finished,
  • "Have Cintrifuse following 3CDC and hitting on all cylinders."

It's an impressive wish list. Pricey. Complicated.

Yet, the odds of success are quite high "” for most of the items anyway "” in part, because Janson has a hand in seeing them through.

She is an executive who seeks challenges. Her philosophy that a rising tide lifts all boats guides her work.

Janson is a hands-on, courageous leader, says Ellen van der Horst, president of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.

"She has high intellect and high energy. She is strategic and also tactical and highly practical," says van der Horst. "What that means is she is able to get the right things done."

Janson executes a masterful melding of what's good for Duke with her personal commitment to the community.

Engaged by Challenges

As president of Duke's utility operations in Ohio and Kentucky, Janson leads 3,100 employees who serve 1.2 million customers. Janson also is the first Tristate business chief to simultaneously chair the Cincinnati Business Committee and the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.

"My true north, my highest priority is the business of Duke Energy," Janson says. "It is a complex, highly regulated business and that is among the reasons that I love it. It is hard but we have a purpose-driven mission. The reliability and safety of our system is paramount."

For Duke, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., keeping the system safe means implementing smart grid and energy efficient technology. Often, those costs are shared with residential and business customers, but Duke offers help, too. It promotes a series of green and sustainable energy-saving projects, including energy audits for companies paired with intensive programs to reduce costs and carbon footprints.

As Duke is pointing out in a series of ads, customers "don't think about what will happen when you flip that switch because we do."

Janson wants to keep it that way, even if it means having to deal with contentious issues, like rate increases or criticism of Duke's unwillingness to foot the bill for the relocation of gas and power lines to make way for the Cincinnati streetcar.

Janson does not get intimidated.

"She can see an end goal that sometimes others can't," says Jill Meyer, managing partner at Frost Brown Todd. "Because she is so graceful, people don't realize the amount of force with which she is pushing."

Janson says Duke wants to do the right thing as it relates to the streetcar, but that it must protect its network. She says Duke cares about the city and is one of the only private companies to invest more than $6 million into economic development opportunities that will benefit from the streetcar.

"The contentious issues make the public initiatives more challenging, but the notion that we would hide from that very public work is a nonstarter," Janson says. "It helps us because we have relationships we can leverage out in the community. It makes it more challenging, but also much more fun."

Constant Change

Most of Janson's career has been with Duke or its predecessor companies. Her passion for the firm and its economic development efforts come through in her conversations, whether they are about championing the cause for a new bridge or Duke's regional site readiness and urban revitalization efforts.

"I really think I am just wired to think about things transactionally, about how to structure a deal," Janson says.

Her work with Duke includes corporate and merger and acquisitions experience. Janson got her start right out of the University of Cincinnati College of Law as a corporate attorney for Cincinnati Gas & Electric. When CG&E merged with PSI Energy to form Cinergy in 1994, Janson worked on the deal, an experience she found thrilling. During that time, she met many of the people now in Duke's top leadership roles, including company CEO Jim Rogers.

It was Rogers who convinced Janson to serve as Cinergy's first manager of investor relations. Janson, an attorney with a liberal arts undergraduate degree, would become the gatekeeper between Wall Street and Cinergy.

"It expanded my view of the business and the company story, and I learned that there is a world outside our four walls," Janson says.

After the 2006 merger with Duke, Janson became senior vice president of ethics and compliance and corporate secretary.

In her 24 years with the company, Janson has served in nine positions and worked through three mergers. She learned to keep an open mind with respect to opportunities and change.

"It is important to accept that change is constant and inevitable and to embrace it and realize that it will make us better and stronger," Janson says.

She's had many mentors along the way, all of them men, and all of them from inside the company. While she did not want to name anyone specifically, Janson says there were different mentors for different times in her career. From the prescriptive guidance she needed early on to the sounding boards she often uses to check the way she is thinking about something.

"That diversity has helped round me out," Janson says.

Sense of Self

Janson's leadership style is one that puts others at ease while remaining on target toward a stated goal.

"She's real smart and that really helps," says George Vincent, managing partner at Dinsmore & Shohl. He's worked with Janson on numerous community efforts. "You spend time with her, you instantly like her. And she is very persuasive."

With Janson, "what you see is what you get," says Meyer.

"No matter who you are, you instantly know her personality. She is down to earth, funny, smart and interested in who she is talking to," Meyer says. "That is maybe one of her biggest strengths. She can gain credibility right away."

Janson's comfortable sense of self makes it easy for her to ask others for input.

"It's been difficult for me as my career has grown to accept that I will never have perfect information," Janson says.

To compensate for that, she surrounds herself with talented people and encourages robust debates in an effort to make the best decisions possible with the information available.

She credits her team at Duke, including several vice presidents, and the other business leaders she works with for her success.

Johnna Reeder is a well-known Duke vice president because "she is the one who stays home and helps me out in the community," Janson says.

Successful leaders are able to identify their own pros and cons and find ways to fill in the gaps. Janson says her legal background and calm demeanor comes more from inside the utility business. Reeder is well spoken and passionate "and has a love for this city even though she will tell you she is not a local because she's only been here for 10 years," Janson says, adding that Reeder possesses a keen outward external focus.

"She is just as tough on me. She just makes me better."

Economic Development

Janson's public work clearly benefits Duke.

In her chamber role, Janson founded the Build Our New Bridge Now Coalition, which has signed on 100 companies and raised $1.5 million to advocate for a new Ohio River span along Interstates 75 and 71. More reliable transportation for the region means improved access for existing companies and can help attract new firms.

The success of the Cincinnati Business Committee's Cintrifuse innovation incubator will seed the region with entrepreneurial start-ups ready to hire more workers and add wealth to the Tristate.
And the CBC's efforts to rebuild the Martin Luther King interchange on Interstate 71 will go a long way toward better serving the large employers located in Uptown, including the University of Cincinnati, TriHealth, Christ Hospital and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

Janson says leading both organizations at the same time just "sort of worked out.

"I saw the synergistic opportunities with economic development and how we think both about the city center and the region as a whole," Janson says.

She was raised believing in the importance of lending one's time, treasure and talent.

Her willingness to be in the trenches to get work done makes others want to follow her, says Steve Stevens, president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and a longtime family friend.

"She is a doer," Stevens says. "She can roll up her sleeves and get in the middle of things pretty easily."

Janson proves this with her work on the bridge campaign. When she asks for money, "she makes the call herself and she comes to see you," says Dinsmore's Vincent. "That is a powerful statement."

In essence, Janson knows how to get things done.

Van der Horst says that despite the region talking about a Brent Spence Bridge replacement for years, Janson "is the first leader who has been able to really figure out how to bring a coalition together to move this forward."

Forceful Grace

This self-described "daughter of the region" says she doesn't see her leadership roles as a responsibility.

"I believe it is an honor to have an opportunity to be involved," Janson says. "This is my hometown and I think it is natural for us to care that this is a place we want our kids to come back to."

And therein lies Janson's grace.

"Where Duke and Julie come together is in saying there is a big platter of things that are not only good for Duke but also for the whole community," says Frost's Meyer.

Janson is involved in a myriad of other community groups, serving on boards and championing Duke's economic development investment work including a Site Readiness Pilot Program and the Duke Energy Foundation's Urban Revitalization Program. Those efforts are preparing tracts of land for development and giving Greater Cincinnati an edge with site selectors. The Urban Revitalization program helped push the Covington Biological Life Sciences Accelerator over the goal line and as a result, new tenants are being added.

Janson often calls economic development her day job and she obviously loves making an impact in her hometown.

"I see so many fabulous things happening around the city," Janson says. "You feel like we are just kicking it. There is a lot going on and a lot more to do."