With affordability among its top challenges, Exelon Corp., in 2022 alone, connected customers with more than $589 million in energy assistance to help pay their bills. The aid went to low-to-moderate-income residents in large cities, including Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
At the same time, the nation’s largest utilities holding company provided Black entrepreneurs with much-needed financing—a $36 million racial equity capital fund to help minority-owned firms nationwide expand operations and create jobs. In 2021, Exelon spent $2.9 billion with diversity-certified suppliers, including over $260 million with Tier 1 African American vendors.
Those initiatives represent some of the recent actions Calvin G. Butler Jr., Exelon’s new president and CEO, shared in an exclusive interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE. Butler controls a sprawling operation: The Chicago-based firm operates six gas and electric utilities with over 10 million customers in Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia.
An Exelon board member, Butler emphasized that his firm produced annual revenue of nearly $20 billion in 2022 and is more than just an energy company when it comes to serving communities where it operates.
With this current role, Butler is among only seven Black Fortune 500 CEOs to achieve that status if more Black executives are not appointed to such top positions by May. That is a significant development given that the number of Black CEOs has reportedly declined from nearly 20 in recent years, and pressure remains on corporate America to boost the number of Blacks in C-suite roles.
According to Exelon, Butler was named president and COO in October 2022 and joined Exelon in 2008. He has been cited by many organizations for his leadership and community commitment. He was named among BLACK ENTERPRISE’s “300 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America” in 2017.
For the first time under Butler’s watch, Exelon disclosed its most recent earnings for 2022, covering the fourth quarter and full year.
In a sweeping conversation, Butler touched on several topics, including Exelon’s future growth plans, how the firm serves its diverse customer base, and the status of Black corporate board representation.
As Exelon’s new CEO and president, what are your top two to three strategic plans to boost revenues this year and in upcoming years?
It’s truly an honor to lead a company like Exelon. That is significant, and I don’t take that lightly. The fundamentals of our business are solid. We will continue to operate one of the safest and most reliable utilities in the country. But as excited as I am about where we are, I’m more excited about our future. Our growth will come organically. We have a plan over the next four years to invest $31.3 billion in capital. And when you invest that amount of capital with our growth rate of 7.9%, that gives you organic growth in those four years alone of over $17 billion compounded. So that is the size of adding a utility like ComEd in Chicago, our largest utility. So, what we must continue to focus on is executing the plan, as I know we’re capable of doing, and that is our plan in the near term. We will continue to invest in our communities and ensure this energy transformation is an equitable one.
Some corporate executives have expressed concerns about forces such as continued high inflation levels and fears of a recession that could hinder their growth prospects for 2023. What are your biggest challenges for Exelon this year, and how do you plan to overcome them?
Affordability is one of our No. 1 concerns, meaning the ability of customers to pay their gas or electric bills. We have some of the most diverse jurisdictions in the country. I also know that a $1 increase in our rates for some of our customers is also a dollar too much. So, we focus on the affordability issue every day by keeping our operating maintenance budget flat or below the rate of inflation. We have done a wonderful job in connecting our customers with energy assistance. What’s amazing is there are still billions of dollars left unused, but we know there are still people out there who need help.
As of this coming May, you will be among one of seven Black Fortune 500 CEOs if none are named to that role by then. Given the decline in Black CEOs of the nation’s largest publicly traded companies in recent years, why is being on that roster vital to you?
I bring a perspective to the C-suite that some of my colleagues may not, and I prioritize different things because of my experiences and what’s important to me. And therefore, Exelon will prioritize some of those same items. [Diversity, equity, and inclusion] is foundational to what Exelon is. It’s one thing to say it and another thing to reflect it in your leadership and numbers. Our corporation is roughly 52% diverse, including over 39% for people of color and over 27% for women. On the vice president and above level, we have over 60% diverse, including [people of color] representing over 31% and women almost 42%. When you come in, and we hire you, you see yourself in the C-suite. You see yourself as being able to achieve a level of success within our company, and you don’t have to go somewhere else to be promoted and to achieve.
In your position as CEO, what role will you play in influencing and increasing the number of Blacks at the highest levels of corporate America regarding corporate directors, C-suite executives, and CEOs?
I have never told any of my leadership team, ‘You need to hire a Black person or a woman.’ What I have said to them is we will approach it this way. We have a diverse hiring panel, and all our slates for jobs will be diverse, and I tell them to hire the best person. As a result of that, our numbers reflect more women and Blacks. When you give individuals opportunities, the cream rises to the top. And that is how we’ve done it, and that is what I will continue to do by pushing for transparency and opportunity. It’s no longer for someone to say, “I’m looking for an engineer, but I can’t find a Black person.” What we say is, “Are you going to the HBCUs and outside your normal recruiting processes? because we know they are out there.” As a result, our pool of candidates has expanded threefold over the past decade.