‘It’s much broader than a gender and race for me’

(MBN USA editor’s note: This article is being reprinted with permission from the Edison Electric Institute’s (EEI’s) Electric Perspectives Magazine).


(Electric Perspectives Magazine’s editor’s note: Recently, Exelon President and CEO Calvin Butler — who took the helm at Exelon Corp. in January, having served at the company and its subsidiaries since 2008 — was interviewed by EEI Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer & Chief Human Resources Officer Courtney Peterson for the Electric Perspectives podcast. The interview has been condensed for length and clarity. Listen to the full interview at eei.org/podcast).


Courtney Peterson (CP): Can you tell us a bit about your journey to becoming the leader of one of the largest energy companies in America?


Calvin Butler (CB): Yes, and it has been a journey. For those of you who don’t know, I am a corporate attorney by training. Right out of law school, I had the pleasure to work for an energy holding company that owned a local natural gas and electric company in Peoria, Illinois. The CEO of the holding company, Bob Viets, was my mentor. I first met him when I was an undergraduate, before I went to law school, and we developed a relationship. He gave me the opportunity to spend time with him and his colleagues, and I knew I wanted to do his job someday.


Many opportunities were presented along the way. Having that front seat with him and being part of this industry early in the mid-1990s really set the stage for me coming back to the industry after I left it for almost 10 years. I left and got operations experience, and then I joined Exelon in 2008. I was in a variety of roles, and all of them added tools to my tool belt. I knew that if I got the opportunity to sit in this chair one day, I would be well-equipped to be president and CEO of this organization. And I went from an attorney to chief lobbyist to running one of our energy companies to handling mergers and acquisitions.


So, the background was varied, but each job instilled different skills and knowledge to help me become the best CEO I can be.


CP: You touched upon a topic that’s especially important to me, and that’s leadership. How were the leaders and mentors in your life critical to helping you rise to your current position?


CB: I mentioned Bob Viets; we’re still very close to this day. I think when I was named CEO, he was prouder than any parent. My kids still call him Uncle Bob. Along the way, you could just see the pride in him, and he appreciated my grind.


Before I left in 1999 to work outside the industry, the first thing I did was have a conversation with him, because of how much I valued that relationship. If he would’ve told me, “No, I need you to stay here,” or, “I want you to stay here,” I would’ve stayed. But, he said, “Well, it’s a real opportunity for you and your family to go and grow,” and I left the industry for almost 10 years.


When I had the pleasure to be at RR Donnelley—which was, at that time, the world’s largest commercial printing company—I had two individuals who took me under their wings. One, the (former) vice chairman of Donnelley, Jim Donnelley, told me he could see me in leadership, but I needed to get operations experience. I ran two manufacturing plants for RR Donnelley. I was able to demonstrate that I was much more than a lawyer, a lobbyist, and a corporate type.


Later, I had the pleasure of working closely with the (former) CEO of RR Donnelley, Mark Angelson. Mark moved me back to corporate after running the manufacturing plants. So, my learning continued.


I was recruited to join ComEd [Commonwealth Edison] in 2008. What was significant about that is I had the opportunity to work for Frank Clark, the company’s first African American CEO. He recruited me, and I learned so much from Frank. He rose through the ranks from the mail room at ComEd to become its CEO. Frank has a very humble spirit and a spirit of service about him, and I always admired that. Also, it’s where I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Von Hoene, who is one of my closest friends and a huge sponsor.


The difference between a sponsor and a mentor, I think, is this: With mentors, you set up regular meetings and you talk about your development and so forth. Sponsors are individuals who, when you’re not in the room, are speaking up on your behalf, asking the question, “Why not Calvin for that next opportunity?” I can tell you, Frank and Bill were sponsors of mine, and they did so much for my career development. Those are just two examples, but so many people invested in me, and, along the way, I hope I continue to make them proud.


CP: I’m curious to know the specific things you think other leaders can be doing to help the next generation follow in your footsteps. What is your advice to other leaders as it relates to mentorship and sponsorship?


CB: I can tell you what I do, but I think everyone’s different, because everyone leads in a different way. I think the first thing you need to do as a leader is to be genuine and authentic. I like to spend time with people, get to know them. And I give very direct and timely feedback to individuals.


If I can’t tell you directly and give you examples of your performance, shame on me for doing it behind your back. So, I’ll tell you what you do well. I’ll tell you where you’re falling short. And, I’ll tell you what I’m going to say in the room when you’re not there. Because that level of feedback gives individuals the opportunity to rectify, course adjust and do whatever they need to do if they care about the feedback.


That’s how I tend to engage with people who I see have potential and those who really seek that level of input.


CP: I want to switch gears and talk a little bit more about the work that Exelon is doing in the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) space. Exelon is consistently recognized for achieving excellence in pursuing DEI values. What are your specific priorities for the current year?


CB: We express diversity, equity and inclusion as our core values. By core values, I mean that they’re key components of our business, not just something nice to do or an afterthought in that process. Our efforts around DEI don’t sit on the sidelines. When you see us doing it well, it’s because it’s interwoven in all aspects of our business.


When I talk about leading the energy transition for the coming decades, and doing it equitably, it’s really anchored on a few key elements. One is always around delivering customer value. We’re doing that by investing in technologies and programs to help our customers afford what we provide. We’re also investing more than $31 billion through 2026 in our infrastructure. Investing that $31 billion to harden and make the energy grid more resilient is one thing, but who you invest it with and where you invest it matters. At the same time, we’re working to modernize and upgrade the grid. It has to be ready to meet future energy demands.


And, we are prioritizing our investments in our communities. We want to be a partner in our communities. We want to help our communities meet their climate commitments. We want to be thought of as the leader in workforce development and supplier diversity programs, as well as our STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] initiatives and climate change. Exelon was the first in the industry to create a racial equity capital fund — not just because it’s nice to do, but because we recognize that minority businesses’ number one barrier to growth is access to capital. As an example of investment, in 2022, Exelon invested in our partnership with diverse suppliers and spent $2.9 billion with diverse suppliers across our jurisdictions.


Those are our focus areas, and that’s why I’m confident that Exelon will lead this energy transition equitably and reliably.


CP: You have said that DEI is the future of the workforce; how does your company advance these principles internally and support diverse employees? What does this look and feel like inside of your organization?


CB: I think it looks and feels different for every employee, depending on where he or she sits. We’re talking diverse employees: Diversity can be described as someone who’s in their early 60s and has been working for the organization for 30 or 40 years and feels left out of this transition. It could be that new hire who is 22 years old, who doesn’t have a college degree and wonders if they have a future in the organization. It could be that parent who just reentered the workforce.


It’s much broader than just gender and race for me. Our goal is to ensure that every employee within Exelon feels valued and included. Therein lies the challenge, because every program, by nature, potentially makes someone else feel alienated or not included. So, how I talk about it to my team members is: “Look, we are a company that’s committed to serving our jurisdictions. We need to be representative of the communities that we serve, not only in our entry-level positions, but in our executive-level positions. If we do that, everyone has a seat.” We’re clear that anyone who works for Exelon is required to demonstrate these values. And my job is to role model that behavior.


We are going to have processes and procedures in place to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to have a seat, and we’re going to invest, put our money in programs to ensure that everyone across our jurisdictions knows that the Exelon companies have a place for them if they choose to work for us. That’s where you see us investing in our STEM programs, including the Exelon STEM Academy, which helps young women. That’s where you see us investing in our workforce development programs at under-resourced schools that traditionally don’t have parents or relatives who ever worked for one of our energy companies.


CP: How is Exelon working to help underserved communities benefit from the significant investments being made to build a resilient clean energy economy?


CB: We show up every day to understand our communities where we work and where our employees live. We have several efforts in flight, including dedicated limited-income energy efficiency programs; clean electric transportation options, including school buses and public transportation; and limited-income community solar programs.


We are ensuring that new jobs in the clean energy sector are filled locally and are developing programs targeted for the jurisdictions that we serve, for people to get jobs with their local electric company. And we are working with community partners to provide job training and workforce development programs.


We don’t have to do it all. We partner with those organizations within the community that have a track record and are trusted, where they see us as a valuable partner. Those are just a few examples of how we show up and ensure that we’re bringing all the communities along. When we talk about this energy transition, it won’t be equitable if you leave neighborhoods or certain communities behind.


CP: Calvin, we’re grateful for your leadership. Is there anything else that you want to share about you or about the work of Exelon?


CB: I think the biggest piece that I want to share with individuals is that I’ve been very fortunate to work with some of the best CEOs in leadership in this industry. What I understand about being in this industry, more than anything else, is it takes a team. And we have been so fortunate to have the responsibility to deliver energy — electricity and natural gas — to so many homes, and none of us takes it lightly.


The power of the team is really what makes Exelon special. I refer to it as the power of the platform, and it’s something that I value and that we embrace as an organization. When we do it right and we show up, it’s amazing. But when we have something go sideways, our ability to self-adjust and to get back on course goes to show you what a resilient organization we are. That’s what I appreciate. And that’s why I think it’s such a privilege to be sitting in this seat. I’m honored I got the opportunity from our board and from my predecessor, Chris Crane.


Hear the full conversation on the Electric Perspectives podcast at eei.org/podcast


Exelon Edison Electric Institute’s Electric Perspectives Magazine Calvin Butler Courtney Peterson Electric Perspectives podcast Exelon Corp.

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