Charles William Duncan Jr. (born September 9, 1926) is an American entrepreneur, administrator, and politician best known for serving as U.S. Secretary of Energy on the Cabinet of President Jimmy Carter from 1979 to 1981. He had previously served as Carter's United States Deputy Secretary of Defense during the Iranian Revolution. Earlier, Duncan had run the family business, Duncan Coffee Company of Houston, Texas, for seven years, until the Coca-Cola Company acquired it in 1964. After seven years on the Coke board, Duncan became the corporation's president.
A native of Houston, Duncan was prepared at the Sewanee Military Academy and served two years in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He graduated from Rice University in 1947 with a degree in chemical engineering. Duncan also pursued two years of graduate work in business administration at the University of Texas and worked briefly as a roustabout and chemical engineer for Humble Oil and Refining Corporation (now Exxon).
In 1957 Duncan joined his family’s coffee business, which had been founded by his uncle and father in 1918. Duncan Coffee’s early brands, notably Admiration and Bright & Early, had become grocery staples in Texas and surrounding states. Duncan rose steadily through the ranks and attained the presidency in 1958, when he was 31. Under his leadership, the company expanded into the production of instant coffee—a new and popular beverage—by acquiring plants in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Duncan also acquired several regional brands of ground coffee, including Butternut Foods of Nebraska and Fleetwood Coffee of Tennessee. Most importantly, he developed Maryland Club Coffee, which was marketed as a premier, upscale blend rivaling Maxwell House. The company’s print ads featured an elegantly dressed model, brunette Elsa Rosborough, who became known as Miss Maryland Club.
On May 8, 1964, Duncan Coffee merged with the Coca-Cola Company, and Charles Duncan joined the Coke board. He ran the newly formed Coca-Cola Foods Division, which included the coffee and citrus (Minute Maid) divisions of Coke. Three years later the company dispatched him to London to serve as chairman of Coca-Cola Europe. There Duncan supervised the operation and expansion of almost 300 Coca-Cola bottling plants throughout Europe and Asia, including ones in Eastern Europe, Southwest Asia, and North Africa. The first Eastern Europe introduction into Bulgaria made The Coca-Cola Company the first U.S. consumer marketing company to penetrate the Iron Curtain.
In 1970 Duncan returned to Atlanta and the following year became Coca-Cola’s president. During his tenure from 1971 to 1974, the company enjoyed extensive growth. It also modernized its advertising. During this period Duncan bought, from Coca-Cola’s eminent R. W. Woodruff, the famous TE Ranch, southwest of Cody, Wyoming—a working cattle ranch established in 1895 by William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody.
In 1974 Duncan left Coca-Cola to head back to Houston, where he became the chairman of both Rotan Mosle Financial Corp. and Robertson Distribution Systems. In 1976, he received a call from newly elected President Jimmy Carter, whom he had known in Atlanta when Carter was governor of Georgia. Carter asked him to accept the position of Deputy Secretary of Defense. In January 1977 Duncan moved to Washington, where he worked with Defense Secretary Harold Brown. The Iranian Revolution followed, encompassing political changes that marked that nation’s transformation from a monarchy under the pro-western Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to a so-called republic under the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Duncan’s duties involved multiple trips to several countries, including Iran, some of which were undergoing considerable turmoil. Duncan’s military advisor was a young colonel named Colin Powell, who considered Duncan a mentor and good friend. When Powell was promoted to brigadier general in 1979, Duncan pinned on Powell's rank insignia.
Duncan had a watershed year in 1979. In July, he became a member of the Cabinet when President Carter chose him to succeed James Schlesinger as Secretary of Energy. The appointment drew some criticism, as Duncan had little experience in the oil business, but his managerial skills proved effective for a job that involved tough negotiations with OPEC and long lines for gasoline. The experience strengthened Duncan’s belief in conservation measures of all kinds, in addition to enhancing production.
Leaving Washington at the end of Carter’s term, Charles Duncan again returned to Houston, in January 1981. There he founded—with his brother, John H. Duncan—Gulf Partners, a private investment firm. He also served on the boards of The Coca-Cola Company, J. P. Morgan Chase, Texas Eastern, American Express, United Technologies, and more. Duncan also served as Limited Partner of Houston NFL Holdings, LP  and as treasurer and director of The Methodist Hospital. Additionally, he was a director of The Welch Foundation until October 2004. At the request of Texas Governor Mark White and billionaire politician Ross Perot, Duncan joined the Select Committee on Public Education, and the Texas State Board of Education. That Board formulated the controversial “no pass no play” rule, requiring athletes to maintain passing grades in all academic classes.
Throughout his career, Duncan repeatedly served as a trustee on the Board of Governors of Rice University. From 1982 to 1996, he served as chairman of Rice’s board. He twice led the search for a university president, lobbied for the recruitment of international students, and helped establish the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, a nonpartisan think-tank. When Duncan retired from the Rice board, the school named its new computational engineering building in honor of him and his wife, the former Anne Smith in 1996 (Anne and Charles Duncan Hall). In 2007 the couple marked their fiftieth wedding anniversary in June and then—in October—donated $30 million to Rice to establish Duncan College, the university’s eleventh residential college and its first-ever all-green building. This was part of Rice’s Vision for the Second Century, which included establishing new residential colleges to accommodate the need to expand the student body while keeping the characteristics that makes Rice distinctive.
Today, Duncan (in partnership with his son, Charles W. Duncan III) oversees the diverse operations of Duncan Interests in Houston. Duncan also serves on the Board of Trustees of the education non-profit Reasoning Mind.