Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland announced yesterday that President and Chief Executive J. Henry Butta will retire Sept. 1, after a 44-year career with the company and 12 years as its chief, during which he also became known as a civic leader and a close associate of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Mr. Butta, 63, who said he has been thinking about leaving for more than a year, announced his decision to the company's board of directors June 21, a week before the public announcement.
"I've been thinking about it for a year and a half," Mr. Butta said. "I stayed because we had some important issues on our plate. CEOs shouldn't stay forever. This is a good time to go."
Mr. Butta has been at least as well known for his civic activities as his work at C&P.
He said he will not retire from his wide-ranging civic commitments, which include the chairmanship of the state Higher Education Commission and the Governor's Employment and Training Council. He said he has talked to the governor about joining the state government.
"I've made no decision on that, and neither has the governor," Mr. Butta said. "He has talked to me about the possibility of doing some things, but we're still chatting."
Mr. Schaefer said, "I'd really like him to come with us. I can't see him not being involved in public service."
Civic and business leaders praised Mr. Butta as a Horatio Alger success story and as a public citizen who used his post atop the state's telephone company to help the community on projects as diverse as raising money to help poor people insulate their homes and lobbying the National Football League to award an expansion franchise to Baltimore.
"He worked his way from the bottom to the top," said Jerome W. Geckle, former chief executive of PHH Corp. and a friend of Mr. Butta's dating back to their time at Loyola High School. "He never went to college. He went to the school of hard knocks. He had common sense."
Mr. Butta's replacement will be Frederick D. D'Alessio, currently vice president of operations and engineering for the network services division of Bell Atlantic Corp., C&P's parent company.
Mr. D'Alessio joined New Jersey Bell in 1971 and has an engineering degree, along with a master's in business administration from Rutgers University.
Mr. Butta came to the phone company in 1947 and was a lineman and phone installer before entering management in 1953. He became vice president in 1979 -- at the time, vice president was the highest-ranking C&P job in the state, since the company is based in Washington -- and soon thereafter met Mr. Schaefer, then mayor of Baltimore.
Mr. Butta soon became a leader of an effort called Blue Chip-In, in which corporate leaders helped raise money at the mayor's request for causes imperiled by government budget cuts, Mr. Butta said.
"That's how I got to know the governor, and the relationship just grew," he said. Mr. Butta was appointed by Mayor Schaefer to the chairmanship of the Corporate Stadium Task Force, which recommended building a new stadium complex at Camden Yards.
Camden Yards was later chosen, despite other recommendations that the stadium be built in Lansdowne, said Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority.
The relationship between the businessman and the politician continued to flourish as Mr. Schaefer tapped Mr. Butta to direct his transition team after he was elected governor in 1986. The higher education post and the chairmanship of the job training council followed.
"It basically was because [Schaefer] trusted him," Mr. Geckle said. "He never went public with anything, and he never took credit for anything."
Mr. Butta also has served as chairman of the Board of Governors of the National Aquarium, and as a director of groups ranging from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association to the University of Maryland Medical System and the Baltimore chapter of the American Red Cross.
"His position [at C&P] enabled him to get a lot more done," said H. Victor Rieger, executive vice president of Signet Bank/Maryland, where Mr. Butta is a member of the board. But he added that "Hank is self-motivated. He used his power well. . . . He'll still command attention."
Mr. Butta became president of C&P Telephone of Maryland when C&P reorganized its management ranks and was named chief executive officer in 1989. But he said the reorganization changed his title without changing his duties much.
Mr. Butta said he delayed his retirement as long as he did because C&P was trying to persuade the state Public Service Commission to give it the right to charge free-market prices for services where the company has competition, such as telephone directories and toll-free 800-number service.
The state agreed in September, and C&P, in exchange, agreed to freeze rates for two years on basic phone service in the state, where the company has a monopoly.
"We're doing better in the competitive marketplace," Mr. Butta said.
C&P spokeswoman Jeanine Smetana said Mr. Butta's departure isn't linked to the computer failure Wednesday that disrupted phone service to 5 million C&P customers for several hours. "He had already announced it to key people" before the computer failure, Ms. Smetana said. "He's had far too long and too successful a career here for Wednesday to be a factor."