BGE's new CEO settles in after a demanding few years

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

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."

Butler comes to the job after six years with Exelon, first with its Chicago utility ComEd, where he handled government affairs as well as overseeing areas such as real estate. He then headed Exelon's human resources for nine months before the Constellation acquisition redirected his career.

Before Exelon, he worked for the print firm RR Donnelley — his roles there ranged from lobbying to running a direct-mail plant in Illinois — and for a utility in Peoria, Ill., where he worked in government affairs, legal and operations jobs.

He won recognition along the way. Crain's Chicago Business named him one of "40 under 40" leaders in 2008. Peoria's African American Hall of Fame Museum inducted him into its ranks in 2010.

But his lack of engineering credentials has raised some concerns in the Baltimore region.

"He clearly has a strong background in lobbying and advocacy," said state Sen. James C. Rosapepe, a Democrat representing Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, who has pressed BGE to make its system more resilient to storms and deploy more repair crews during mass outages. "I'm sure BGE customers are hopeful he'll be equally effective in keeping the lights on."

Butler said reliability and safety are his top priorities.

Exelon's Von Hoene — noting that BGE's second in command, Stephen J. Woerner, is an engineer — thinks Butler's skills make him well suited to run a large utility.

"He's an inspirational leader," said Von Hoene, who counts Butler as a close friend. "He's a hard worker. He's smart. He's versatile ... and connects with people personally."

What matters to Ellicott City resident Cathy Eshmont isn't so much who BGE's CEO is as what he does. Her Reliability4HOCO group successfully pressed state regulators last year to require BGE to do more tree trimming and similar outage-prevention work after residents — and county officials — argued that the power went out in some neighborhoods too often and for too long.

Eshmont wants Butler to keep the trees in check and update BGE's infrastructure. Parts of the electric and gas systems are long overdue for replacement, she said.

"How did we get to the point where we have 100-year-old pipes in the first place?" Eshmont asked. "I'd like to see him focus on the consumer a little bit more."

Butler said BGE will keep up the faster pace of infrastructure work underway. He also wants the company to communicate better during outages so people can plan.

But he thinks BGE has made strides. Last year, customer satisfaction scores in surveys conducted for the company were the highest they'd been since at least 2001, BGE said. In five years, according to the company, BGE rose from the bottom quarter of about 20 peer companies to the top quarter.

BGE's satisfaction scores also improved last year in a separate, publicly released survey by market research firm J.D. Power.


But BGE ranked about average in electric residential customer satisfaction among large utilities in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, according to J.D. Power. BGE was modestly below average among that group for residential gas customer satisfaction. And most of the dozens of large and midsize utilities nationwide whose customers J.D. Power surveyed had higher scores.

BGE's research manager, Claude Lijoi, said it's tricky to compare utilities broadly because some regions are newer with young infrastructure or have fewer trees for storms to knock into power lines. The surveys also are conducted differently, online for J.D. Power and by telephone for BGE.

For now, Butler is just settling in. On Monday, he was packing for his move to the CEO's corner office.

Waiting to go were family photos, a Greater Baltimore Urban League report and framed art of golf clubs — the latter a reminder of the game he loves but hasn't played much in the past few hectic years. It wasn't as if, he said with a chuckle, he would carve hours out of his weekend for a round when his family already had given up so much time with him.

Von Hoene said the way Butler treats others, from family to friends to entry-level employees, is part of his appeal as a leader.

"He's one of the best people I know," Von Hoene said. "We want that in the company."


Calvin G. Butler Jr.

Title: chief executive of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

Age: 44

Residence: Cockeysville

Hometown: St. Louis

Family: Wife, Sharon, whom he met in high school, and children Raini, 15, and Blake, 19

Education: Bachelor's degree from Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., and a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis

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