RALEIGH, N.C. — The top bosses at Duke Energy and Progress Energy have hammered another nail in the necktie's coffin. • Last month, as the CEOs met with employees in Raleigh and Charlotte to discuss their multibillion-dollar merger, they left their ties at home. Progress CEO Bill Johnson wore a casual dress shirt and sport coat. Duke CEO Jim Rogers had a sweater over his open-collar Oxford shirt.
For years, fashion pundits have chronicled the tie's steady demise in the corporate world. At most high-tech companies, ties are as out of place as 20th century cell phones.
But when the top executives at traditional, stodgy utilities say they typically avoid ties to set a more casual tone, it's a heavy blow for an icon of conservative workplace culture.
Johnson will put one on if the setting calls for it, such as when he visits investors on Wall Street. But generally, "we try not to wear them," he said. "Employees really like it."
Workers follow the leader. For many years, Progress had much stricter dress expectations, said spokesman Mike Hughes, who now usually skips ties.
"Two CEOs ago, it was French cuffs and neckties," Hughes said. "We used to joke about French cuffs on his pajamas."
Part of the no-tie look by the Progress and Duke bosses was probably purposeful, to portray a friendly image. One message they gave at the employee meetings is that job losses and early retirements are coming as the two companies merge. Maybe that type of news seems scarier when delivered by guys in ties.
Certainly, some professions still require ties most days. Many clients expect lawyers to dress like lawyers, for example.
At ChannelAdvisor, a Morrisville, N.C., company that provides e-commerce services, anyone in a suit is either selling something or interviewing for a job, said CEO Scot Wingo.
"We have a very casual work environment because folks work really hard and long hours, so we want them to be comfortable," Wingo said. If customers are visiting, ChannelAdvisor employees will "kick it up a notch to 'work casual' " — that's khakis and a collared shirt for Wingo, a passionate believer that a tie is like a noose that hurts productivity.
"When you think about it, it's kind of like your appendix — something we have, but nobody really remembers why and what purpose it serves," Wingo said. "Are we supposed to wipe our mouth with it? Is it covering the buttons on our shirt?"