By BECKY GILLETTE
Haley Fisackerly, president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi, Inc., doesn’t care for being stuck in the office most of the time. As the head of the largest electric utility in the state with 447,000 customers in 45 counties, he thrives on being out to interact with employees and customers. For him, communications are far more than talking about how Entergy Mississippi is being innovative in developing advanced metering infrastructure and launching the state’s first major utility-owned solar power project. It is about listening.
“Communications isn’t just telling our story, but listening,” Fisackerly said. “We may be a regulated utility monopoly, but we don’t have to act that way.”
Fisackerly is also on the road frequently in his role as chair of the Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development. In that role, he is helping to sell Mississippi as a location for new business development.
“The thing I admire the most about him is he is focused on trying to make Mississippi better,” said Scott Waller, interim president, Mississippi Economic Council. “He really looks at it from an overall perspective. He gets what we need to do regarding workforce development to make sure we have the skilled workforce not only for the jobs today, but the jobs of the future. He is a leader not of just of Entergy, but the state in driving our economy in a very positive way.”
Fisackerly grew up on a farm south of Columbus.
“It taught us a lot of things: A great work ethic, ingenuity, and when something broke, how to fix it,” Fisackerly said. “It was hard work, but I have some very fond memories of it as well. I remember being on tractor at the end of day with the sun setting. It was a very peaceful moment. My dad also used to say by exposing us to hard work, we wouldn’t pursue farming. It worked for one of his three boys. I just knew it wasn’t my cup of tea. I chose a different path.”
He attended elementary and high school at Heritage Academy in Columbus where he was heavily involved in athletics and was student body president his senior year. He was later a student government leader at Mississippi State University (MSU), where he was on a scholarship as an athletic trainer for the football and baseball teams. He was also an orientation leader at MSU where he learned skills such as public speaking.
His first job after college was working for the Mississippi State Alumni Association traveling across the state. Then he got called by Bill LaForge (now president of Delta State University), who offered him a job in Sen. Thad Cochran’s office. While in D.C., one of his roommates was Mayo Flynt, who is now head of AT&T Mississippi, and Fisackerly worked alongside Mark Keenum (now president of MSU), who at the time was also working for Cochran.
“I have lifelong friends through that job,” Fisackerly said. “I went to Washington thinking I wanted to be in politics. I learned so much. It was fun. When I was 25 years old, I was asked to head up the office when Bill LaForge left. It was that opportunity and experience that influenced the path I ended up taking.”
He had some good advice from a colleague: “This is a very demanding job. It can kill you if you let it. Find an issue that interests you and develop a specialty in that. It might lead to an opportunity for you.”
Fisackerly decided energy issues interested him. It was through that work that he got to know people at Entergy, which eventually led to them offering him a job.
“I joined Entergy in December 1995, worked for them in D.C. for four years and then transferred to Little Rock, Ark, where I worked as director of regulatory strategy,” he said. “I worked on a lot of different projects.”
Fisackerly got married to Alison Lewis, a native of Washington D.C., about halfway through his time in Arkansas. That in 2002, Carolyn Shanks, then president\CEO of Entergy Mississippi, tapped him to become vice president of customer operations for Entergy Mississippi.
“It was a new position Carolyn created that was responsible for a combination of all customer facing functions including customer service and economic and community development,” Fisackerly said. “It was a great experience. I started to learn more about operations and the challenges brought about by major events like Hurricane Katrina.”
Because of very high natural gas prices in the late 90s and early 2000s, Entergy decided to look at building a new nuclear power plant at Grand Gulf. Fisackerly became vice president of government and regulatory affairs in 2007 charged with working on regulatory mechanisms to build new nuclear reactors not only in Mississippi, but other parts of the Entergy service territory.
There hadn’t been a new nuclear power plant built in the U.S. in 30 years. So, it was almost like starting a new industry.
On the first day in office after being promoted to president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi in June 2008, he had to deliver the bad news that Entergy was having to increase rates 30 percent because of high natural gas prices. But things quickly changed.
“The recession changed growth projections across the country,” he said. “And the greatest game changer was shale natural gas. When natural gas prices plummeted because natural gas became more plentiful, the economics changed.”
Although they had invested in excess of $50 million in working towards building a new nuclear power plant, Fisackerly said that project was put on hold when it became clear that lower natural gas prices were here to stay.
“The decision to not build a new nuclear power plant was the right decision for our customers and our owners,” Fisackerly said. “Another thing we did was join a regional transmission system called MISO. If it is cheaper to run our units, we do; if it is cheaper to buy elsewhere, we do that. As much as 30 percent of the energy we sell comes from the market. That is why our customers today see some of the lowest rates in the country. We are 25 to 30 percent below the national average.”
Today he sees more transformation ahead in the electric utility industry. That includes the increasing cost competitive of alternative energy such as solar, combined with energy efficiency reducing customer demand for electricity.
“People are using less electricity, but are more dependent,” he said. “Because of customer expectations of being constantly connected, we have to figure out how to make sure their lives are never interrupted. The deployment of our advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) will be the foundation for this change. After we deploy AMI, we will deploy new products and services that will change how we interact with customers and how we provide electricity to customers.”
In his role as chair of the Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development, he said it is important to direct more resources towards workforce development in order to be competitive because the state is limited in what they offer with economic development incentives.
“We hope to move to having a stronger partnership between public and private partners so we are more competitive in not just attracting industry, but retaining industry and developing our workforce,” he said.
MSU President Keenum said Fisackerly is an exceptionally dynamic leader and one who instills confidence and calm in those with whom he interacts.
“It has been my privilege to watch Haley’s work in both the public and private sectors over many years and it’s clear to me that he brings a servant’s heart to the critical leadership role he plays in a vital public utility,” Keenam said.
Bill Sones, Chairman and CEO, Bank of Brookhaven, has served with Fisackerly on a number of different boards and committee.
“I think he serves on every board in Mississippi,” Sones said. “Seriously, he is one of Mississippi’s great business leaders of this generation. He sure has put Entergy’s footprint on many of the best things that have happened in our state. Haley is thoughtful, smart, personable, and besides all that, he can dance.”
In addition to dancing, he and his wife enjoy spending time with their sons, Ryan, 13, and Reeves, 15. Fisackerly also took up cycling about 18 months ago, and is enjoying participating in this fast-growing sport.
“My favorite spot to ride is the Natchez trace,” he said. “There is no better ride than to wake up early, get on the Natchez trace on 5:30 a.m. and catch the sun coming up over the reservoir. It is a moment of peace I really love. Seeing the sun rise and nature wake up is hard to beat. The Natchez Trace is a real treasure we have in our own back yard.”