Calvin Butler Jr.

Calvin G. Butler, Jr., 44, will become the CEO of BGE on March 1st. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / February 23, 2014)

Calvin G. Butler Jr. came to Baltimore nearly three years ago with one foot here and the other in Chicago, flying west on weekends to his wife and two teenagers.

Now he's firmly in this region. His family moved to Cockeysville last summer. He's on two local nonprofit boards. And on Saturday, he took the helm at one of the city's largest employers, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

He's glad his stretch as a nomadic exec is over. And he's not the only one.

"What I recognize is that I have a very patient wife," he said.

Butler, 44, an affable St. Louis native who helped oversee Chicago-based Exelon Corp.'s acquisition of BGE and its Baltimore parent, is a departure from his predecessor.

He's worked his way up the corporate ladder at several companies, while the freshly retired Kenneth W. DeFontes Jr. spent 42 years at BGE. DeFontes is an engineer with a master's degree in business administration; Butler is an attorney and skilled lobbyist. Butler is BGE's first African-American CEO — making the utility the largest Baltimore company to be headed by a black executive.

But Butler said his goal is to build on work already underway at BGE, from civic efforts to replacing old gas pipes. Though BGE draws criticism from consumer advocates about outages and rising rates, Butler said the company's surveys of customers suggest that satisfaction is higher than it's been in years, in part because of infrastructure work that has led to better reliability.

"We've invested $3 billion in the last five years, and we're planning on investing an additional $3 billion in the next five years," he said in his last week as BGE's senior vice president for regulatory and external affairs. "What our customers are seeing are the benefits of that investment."

Butler's introduction to Baltimore came in April 2011 when Constellation Energy — the city's lone Fortune 500 company — announced that it had agreed to sell itself to his employer.

Constellation had been in this position twice before with other firms. Once, it backed out in favor of another deal that kept it an independent company. Once, the acquisition imploded amid political furor over skyrocketing rates.

Butler's task as Exelon's new senior vice president of corporate affairs was to act as the company's point man in Maryland and make sure this merger actually happened.

"I don't think we would have completed the merger without his work," said Bill Von Hoene, Exelon's chief strategy officer.

What Butler did was build relationships — with political leaders, business officials, civic groups and others. He won power players over, then asked them to speak on Exelon's behalf. Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, was among those who testified in favor of the deal.

Fry said Butler made a "very effective advocate," not only because he was articulate and personable, but because he impressed people as someone who wanted to discuss details and hear what others thought.

"He basically became ... a known player in Baltimore because of his extensive outreach efforts to businesses and to individuals," Fry said.

Donald P. Hutchinson, CEO of the Maryland Zoo and a former Baltimore County executive, met with Butler early on in East Baltimore and was surprised by how much the newcomer knew about the area.

"He was familiar with City Hall, he was familiar with state government leadership, he was certainly familiar with the politics that was taking place in East Baltimore," Hutchinson said. "He ... had this very quick, deep knowledge of things it takes people a lot of time to learn."

Hutchinson later invited him to join the zoo's board, and Butler did.

David DeCoursey, executive director of Leadership Greater Chicago, which helps people understand community challenges, says Butler will be a valuable addition to Baltimore's civic efforts. Butler is a 2005 graduate of the leadership program and went on to serve on its board, helping convince businesses that they needed their employees to join, too.

"Whenever he spoke, people listened," DeCoursey said. "I had a great deal of respect for his demeanor and his understanding of the issues. ... He's very good at identifying what those needs are and ways of addressing them."