When Deb Kuo moved from Deloitte to Exelon 17 years ago, she was met with what she calls,“a big culture shock.” At the time, Deloitte was a larger, faster-paced business that functioned using the mentality that if it didn’t keep up with the changing times, it would fall behind. As a senior manager in the firm’s management consulting practice, she was expected to move quickly from client to client, always being mindful of critical context and client expectations in order to rapidly and efficiently achieve objectives while providing effective solutions to make an impact.
Meanwhile, Exelon was still on its way to becoming the massive corporation it is today. Kuo came into the energy company still blazing from the fire that Deloitte set inside her and, needless to say, quickly realized her new organization was on a separate mission and her new colleagues were operating at a slightly different pace than to which she was accustomed.
“I was the first outsider to come into the real estate and facilities organization,” she recounts. “Not only was I entering into a newly created position to develop a portfolio strategy that had never been done before, but I was also not someone who had ‘grown up’ inside the company. There was certainly a sort of discomfort that I felt with my colleagues and within myself. I quickly realized that I had to change my own style if I was going to be effective inside the company.”
Kuo’s first year taught her as much about her work and leadership styles as it did about herself. She was coached to adjust her pace to connect with her colleagues, while keeping her sights on her department’s growth as well as her own. Attracting the attention of several senior leaders, Kuo tapped into the wisdom of her new mentors at Exelon, adapting her approach to developing a portfolio strategy with her colleagues that encouraged everyone to advance. “One of my mentors would say, ‘Your attitude, not just aptitude, determines your altitude.’ I realized I had to adjust my attitude, so that my colleagues would recognize that I was interested in—and needed—their help and their feedback. Then we could walk together,” she says. Kuo developed her leadership style to be much more inclusive, patient, and forgiving. Eventually, her colleagues recognized her willingness to work hard to build their collective success and became energized to work alongside her.
“Surrounding myself with people who are smart and curious and motivating my team to work with me created a huge advantage in terms of leading the team to a place we could be successful,” Kuo says.
After her first year, Kuo’s career at Exelon flourished. She continued to build upon the lessons she learned over the next 16 years, meeting her colleagues where they were while maintaining her unflagging curiosity and drive. Together, she and her team conquered incredible feats, including developing and delivering Exelon’s new Baltimore headquarters at the end of 2016. “We made a commitment to Baltimore when we merged with Constellation Energy,” Kuo says. “There was a lot of angst in the community centered on the impact Exelon might make. It was a sensitive project, but when I was asked to head it, I was excited to be part of it.”
Kuo and her team designed the headquarters in a way that built upon the company’s environmentally conscious personality while quelling Baltimore’s anxieties around potential repercussions. The project not only serves as an icon for Exelon’s progressive workplace, it also serves as an example for how it responsibly goes about “cultivating and developing minority- and women-owned businesses that may typically be too small to work on large projects” as the company joined forces with local contractors and service providers to complete the job.
As a determined, esteemed woman of color, Kuo’s modus operandi has been to erase the limiting stereotypes attached to minority groups and females. Her own journey separated her from traditional Asian career paths in the engineering and medical fields. Instead, her love of design and architecture inspired her to forge what was considered a rebellious career path, proving that a job outside of medicine could be practical and honorable. As she moved up Exelon’s ladder, she paved her way as the company’s first real estate and facilities executive and oftentimes, the only Asian woman in Exelon’s leadership ranks, breaking the mold she was expected to fit into. She was determined not to be defined by the boundaries set by others. Each position Kuo has held was created for her, she says, to challenge her with opportunities to continuously learn and grow. After seven years in her last position as vice president of real estate and facilities, Kuo realized that for her, the next frontier for personal growth and exploration lay outside Exelon, and she retired, appreciative of the legacy Exelon enabled her to leave behind.
“Deb was instrumental in elevating the mission of the real estate and facilities team at Exelon,” says Griffin James, now senior manager of real estate transformation at Deloitte Consulting LLP, who worked with Kuo during their time at Exelon. “Her leadership helped executive leadership understand the value real estate assets have to both enhance employee experience and support the company’s bottom line.”
Now, as Kuo reflects on her professional career early in her retirement, she recognizes how her work has molded her into the person she is today. Inevitably, Kuo has become a leader, an exemplar, a mentor, and a trailblazer. She learned that “being a leader is recognizing that not everyone has the same objectives or goals as you do. You have to recognize people for who they are and what they want so that you can support them and still encourage them to be valuable contributors to the team.” With her time now in her own hands, she hopes to continue the legacy she began as an inquisitive creator of change.
Savills congratulates Deb Kuo for this well-deserved recognition. Your leadership, knowledge, and passion are a driving force. We are proud of our long-standing partnership in finding the right real estate solutions for Exelon. Savills has elevated the potential of workplaces for over 160 years. Learn more: savills.us.