(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the Annual Alumni Luncheon and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)
Everyone hates it when the power goes out. Dwight Jacobs ’87, Duke Energy Corp.’s senior vice president of supply chain and chief procurement officer, understands that more keenly than most. When Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida in September 2022 and steamrolled a path of destruction all the way through the Carolinas, Duke’s line workers followed behind making repairs. Though hurricanes don’t acknowledge pandemics, Jacobs had to. In a matter of days, he made sure the front-line teams had what they needed — 3 million feet of wire and cable, 1,200 transformers and a thousand poles — despite unprecedented disruptions in supply chains worldwide.
Jacobs applies similar tenacity and strategy when it comes to protecting the rights of people who’ve been overlooked or deliberately pushed out of the way. A Lumbee Indian of North Carolina, he is co-chair of the American Indian subcommittee of the Alumni Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity. He and others successfully advocated for the University to restore the American Indian and Indigenous Studies major to the curriculum. “How can we execute our mission to ‘teach a diverse community of students to become the next generation of leaders’ if we ignore our complete history and some of those very students?” he wrote to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Jacobs is one of four brothers, all of whom became first-generation college graduates. He grew up in Alexander County, his parents having left the reservation in Robeson County for better job opportunities. He and his dad, a huge Dean Smith fan, watched UNC men’s basketball games together on their black-and-white TV. After his father died during Jacobs’ senior year in high school, Jacobs applied only to UNC. He stitched together a scholarship, a fellowship and financial aid, along with two or three jobs, to get through Carolina. And still made time to be manager of the JV basketball team under Roy Williams for two years and a statistician for Dean Smith for two years.
Jacobs became a certified public accountant and completed the Advanced Management Program at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and the Advanced Risk Management Program at Loyola University Chicago’s Quinlan School of Business. He began his career at the accounting firm Arthur Andersen as a staff auditor and quickly made partner. But the company got caught up in the disintegration of Enron Corp. in late 2001, and Jacobs joined Duke Energy the following year.
While he’s had a strong career trajectory, Jacobs has made sure he doesn’t rise alone. “He’s more concerned about helping others succeed than climbing the ladder by himself,” a former colleague said.
Over the years, Jacobs has positioned many junior colleagues to grow their careers and reach their potential. He considers his success at Duke less about earnings reports and more about those he’s mentored. Character matters more than the letters after his name. He sponsors an employee resource program for indigenous people at Duke called FIRST.
When Duke checked in with employees post-pandemic and found the results worrisome, Jacobs dug in and conducted dozens of focus groups with employees of all rank, from union workers to those at the corporate level. He made site visits and hosted safety summits and all-hands meetings to learn how the company could improve the lives of its employees. “He has the ability to motivate, be productive and add value,” a co-worker said.
For years, Jacobs has been involved with Communities In Schools in Charlotte, serving on the board and as an Executive Committee member. He once filled in for a parent, driving a young man to college when the teen didn’t have a way to move into the dorm.
At Carolina, he has served on the board of the UNC Children’s Hospital and on the UNC Board of Visitors. Faith guides him. He teaches Sunday school at his church and goes on mission trips in state and out of the country. His strong family keeps him grounded, too. Regardless of with whom he’s meeting, when his mom phones, he picks up her call.
A co-worker summed him up: “Dwight cares about people. That’s the most important thing you can say about someone.”
The Distinguished Service Medal is presented by the GAA Board of Directors.