Sharon Decker was expecting to get her masters degree in divinity this year, then go on to pastor a church in rural North Carolina or return to the University of Virginia as a chaplain.
Instead shell take another career detour as North Carolinas next commerce secretary.
Decker, a Rutherford County resident and former Duke Energy executive who once chaired the Charlotte Chamber, was among Gov.-elect Pat McCrorys last wave of Cabinet appointments Thursday.
It wasnt where I was headed, said Decker, but it feels so right.
McCrory, who will be sworn in on Saturday, also named former Wake County schools superintendent Tony Tata as transportation secretary and former Rep. Bill Daughtridge of Nash County secretary of administration. Another former Duke employee, Neal Alexander of Lincoln County, will become director of the state office of personnel.
I am incredibly proud of the strong team weve assembled, McCrory said in a statement. These individuals are pragmatic problem solvers and leaders that will help me run the government in the most effective way possible while seeking long-term solutions for our state.
Decker, 55, is expected to have one of the higher-profile roles in the McCrory administration.
North Carolina has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Throughout the campaign, McCrory pledged to make the state competitive, particularly with neighboring states such as Virginia and South Carolina.
Im going to have a firm economic policy in which everything is centered around the idea that it is the private sector thats going to get us out of this recession, he told one audience last August.
Decker, who moved to Rutherford County a decade ago, once had a high profile in Charlottes business community.
She was the first female vice president at what was then Duke Power Co. She later founded The Lynnwood Foundation, created to restore Charlottes Duke Mansion and run the William States Lee Leadership Institute, named for a longtime Duke CEO. A philanthropist, she was once Charlotte Woman of the Year.
Charlotte Chamber President Bob Morgan called Decker an inspiring choice for commerce.
She offers superb business acumen with a keen sense of what it will take to move Charlotte and our state forward, he said.
Cyndee Patterson, current president of the Lynnwood Foundation, called Decker a visionary.
Shell be the perfect salesperson for North Carolina, Patterson said. Shes really great at getting people to see the positive side of all kinds of things.
Decker said she believes in incentives to help attract jobs. She said there may be opportunities to partner with neighboring states.
Everything, she said, ought to be on the table.
In Rutherford County, which has one of the states highest unemployment rates, Decker got a firsthand look at a troubled economy.
What I know, having lived in a rural county now for almost 11 years, is this is a different world, she said. I dont have answers right now Im very motivated. Its my neighbors that are without work. Its my family without work.
After leaving Charlotte, Decker moved to Rutherford County. There she started The Tapestry Group, a ministry for women. She has pastored two small churches in the county and is 16 hours from a masters in divinity from Gardner-Webb University. Last year, as part of her studies, she served as chaplain at the University of Virginia law school and Darden School of Business.