As CEO of Exelon Utilities, there’s plenty for Calvin Butler to deal with on an immediate basis. While the unit of Chicago-based Exelon is still addressing the financial damages from the big winter storm in Texas in February, Exelon Utilities’ parent is in the process of spinning off its nuclear-power and green-energy unit from its six regulated electric and gas utilities.
And Butler is overseeing Exelon Utilities’ planned investment of $27 billion over the next four years in modernizing its grid while keeping rates affordable, after having led the company’s similar investment of $22 billion over the last four years.
But Butler also has risen within Exelon Utilities for his leadership in an area that’s just as strategic and as crucial to success, but not as operationally oriented as these: nurturing the human capital that the company needs—and that it will increasingly count on—in the years ahead, especially in the arena of creating equity.
“Diversity drives performance,” Butler told Chief Executive. “Back in the day, we talked about diversity and inclusion. But now there’s also a focus on equity. It’s not just about giving people the opportunity; you need to make sure they have a level playing field to succeed. That’s where the conversation has shifted.”
Butler is encouraged that “the conversation” now also has more volume and more participants in the wake of Covid-era jolts such as the murder of George Floyd last summer, and due to the ensuing interest by members of corporate America in forging a new path.
“I was pleased to see other companies step up and fill the space and lead by example,” Butler said. “Time will tell if these were just reactions to the moment. It’s key that we sustain our efforts and be intentional in the communities that we serve, because people are watching.”
Intentionality was behind Butler’s achievements as CEO of Exelon’s Baltimore Gas & Electric unit, from 2014 until he was promoted to head Exelon Utilities in 2019. Diversity and inclusivity were front-burner issues during his tenure there, in part because of the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man who died in Baltimore Police custody.
“Many people stepped up and reacted and said, ‘Enough is enough,’ at that time,” Butler recalled. “But that wasn’t sustained. And communities that are disadvantaged saw that. They saw the starts and stops of the business community and the philanthropic community.”
But at BG&E under Butler, there were only starts—and continuation. On his watch, the company greatly multiplied the number of company leaders who were female and who were people of color. “We started to create a team where the community could sit back and say, ‘BG&E represents us because they look like us,’” he said.
Internally as a result, Butler believes, “Our employees started believing they were all empowered to grow and saw themselves advancing in a company that previously may not have been as receptive to them having a career or going into upper levels of management.
“We invited people to bring their whole selves to work, not act in a certain way. We said, ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves together.’ We set clear goals for how we were going to lead. And if anyone didn’t rally around what we were doing, they were no longer there. We were very clear about the type of culture we were going to build and the environment we would create, and what behavior would be expected of leadership.”
Butler extended BG&E’s impact by increasing its partnerships with women- and minority-owned businesses, boosting the company’s share of supplier expenditures on such vendors to 43 percent by the end of Butler’s tenure from 14 percent when he started the job.
And BG&E more fully engaged minority communities with its philanthropic outreach, not only investing more funds but also targeting them more effectively. “We focused on building and lifting up areas of the community that had been ignored, such as workforce-development efforts in high schools and even middle schools,” Butler said. “We targeted individuals who might not ever have seen themselves working at BG&E. People saw us as more than just a utility—as a company making investments in the local community and being part of the community.”
In addition to the short- and long-term qualitative benefits for the company, pursuing this agenda also paid off for BG&E in key quantitative performance indicators. “The company had the best numbers in its 200-year-plus history in safety, reliability and financial metrics—all the key things we were measured on,” Butler said. “Our team was diverse and inclusive and went into the community and had an impact.”