March 3, 2021
Written by: Dr. Michael Sykuta, Executive Director, FRI
Many of us spent much of last year wondering,”What will life be like after 2020?” While we still have a ways to go before we’ll see just how much life is changed, I can say that, for me personally, taking on the role of Executive Director of FRI was not on my scorecard at this time last year. However, this is one post-2020 outcome that has me looking forward excitedly to what comes next.
I first learned of FRI almost 20 years ago. Dr. Stephen Ferris had just stepped into this role. I had worked with Steve to found the Contracting and Organizations Research Institute (CORI) at the University given our shared academic interest in corporate governance and contracting behavior. The FRI and its mission are closely related to those interests. In fact, the FRI and CORI co-sponsored a program on utility-related contracting issues in 2004. When I was presented the opportunity to join FRI as Executive Director effective January 1, 2021, I was immediately intrigued and soon convinced that this was a great opportunity.
Also as of January 1, FRI changed administrative homes on the MU campus. FRI was founded in 1988 within the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business “to promote education, research and service across various areas of finance.” Over the years, the Institute’s programs have evolved to focus primarily on economic, financial and regulatory issues related specifically to regulated utility industries. Following discussions throughout 2020, FRI and University leadership made a decision to strategically realign the Institute with the University’s Division of Applied Social Sciences (DASS). As an Associate Professor of Applied Economics in DASS, that’s where I came in.
I am excited to continue FRI’s legacy of providing a neutral forum for regulators, industry, consumers, and scholars to engage around issues important to all industry stakeholders. The annual Utility Symposium will continue to be a centerpiece in our programming. And the Advanced Seminar on Utility Pricing is back in 2021 after a COVID-related hiatus in 2020.
We are expanding engagement with our Hot Topic Hotline webinars and industry-related Point of View (POV) articles. Rather than being exclusive to FRI Members, these programs will be made more broadly accessible to the public. Members of our Advisory Board are developing four Hot Topic Hotline webinars for 2021, so keep an eye on our social media and website for details. And I’m looking forward to our first “official” POV to be published right here later this month by Advisory Board member Sarah Ruan Blanchard, Manager of Regulatory Relations & Policy at Alliant Energy.
The move to DASS opens new opportunities to build upon the success of FRI’s existing programs by exploring and developing new educational and research-based activities to support our current stakeholders. In addition, working in collaboration with University of Missouri Extension, FRI has opportunity to expand its stakeholder reach to include programs to support regional economic development decision-makers and to engage with non-investor–owned utilities like cooperatives and municipals.
I’m looking forward to what’s in store for FRI. I’m looking forward to opportunities to create even more value for our members and Advisory Board. I’m looking forward to helping develop new educational and research programs to support FRI’s mission. And I’m looking forward to engaging with our members and stakeholders as we work to serve their interests. If you have ideas you’d like to share, I encourage you to reach out to any of our excellent staff or myself. And if you’re interested in being more directly involved with FRI, we would love to visit with you.