Investor Relations | Knoxville, Tenn.
Grace Felker is bilingual. She’s lived her adult life in the United States so it’s hard to tell, but English is her second language. Her native language is Mandarin.
She’s also fluent in the language of corporate finance, but more on that later.
Felker’s story starts in China.
“I lived a sheltered life as a child,” she recalls. “I was very close to my family. My parents were both civil engineers. As soon as they graduated from college at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China, they went to work on their first of many hydroelectric power plant projects along the Yangtze River.
“What my parents did was very much like what many of the first TVAers did along the Tennessee River in the 1930s and 40s. They designed and helped build dams that controlled flooding and electrified rural areas.
“In many ways, my world today seems very far from where I grew up. But here in east Tennessee, I also feel quite at home. Whenever I visit a hydro site or set foot in the Great Smoky Mountains, I can’t help but think how much these beautiful mountains and creeks resemble the place where I spent my childhood.”
Felker’s dream, growing up, was to go far away. “I wanted to travel the globe,” she says, “so I decided to study abroad. I applied to several business schools in the United States, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga was the first to send me an admissions letter.”
She packed her bags and bought what turned out to be a one-way ticket. Felker graduated with a Master of Business Administration degree from UTC in 1997 and eventually got a job working for Southern Company in Atlanta.
That’s when she met her husband, Felker says. “Robert is a graphic designer and a true Tennessean. Something about Tennessee drew him back. We relocated to Knoxville, and I was able to get a job at TVA. We have two children – Olivia is 13 and Eli is 11 – so this is home now.”
As part of TVA’s Corporate Finance team, Felker helps to make sure TVA has the funding it needs.
It’s a world with a language of its own – with words like yield curves and debt capital, operational liquidity, fair value measurements and bond valuation. But the group’s basic role is simple, says Felker. “We manage cash investments and issue debt to ensure the funding for TVA operations and asset investments.”
Currently, Felker is on a rotational development assignment in Investor Relations.
“TVA’s investor relations program is an integral part of TVA’s Corporate Finance function,” she says. “Our primary role is to enhance investor demand for TVA debt securities by keeping the financial community informed of TVA’s performance.”
TVA has two primary sources of cash: revenues from power sales and proceeds from the issuance of bonds, notes and other debt instruments in the financial markets. Institutions as well as individuals in the United States and around the world purchase TVA debt securities as investments.
“Debt can have a negative connotation,” Felker acknowledges, “but it’s necessary to fund new generating facilities and major environmental projects. These are often multimillion dollar projects that will serve ratepayers for decades, so – instead of putting the entire cost on current ratepayers – we issue debt as needed; then the debt is paid back over the useful lives of the assets.”
Because TVA competes with other companies for investors, part of Felker’s job is coordinating investor outreach. She helps to arrange one-on-one visits for investors and TVA executives, meetings at various events and conferences and quarterly financial conference calls.
Ensuring that existing and potential investors understand TVA credit and see TVA securities as a good investment benefits TVA ratepayers, says Felker. “The more buyers we can attract when we issue bonds or other securities, the lower our borrowing cost. The lower our borrowing cost, the lower we can keep our electric rates and the more jobs and prosperity we can bring to the Tennessee Valley.”
Felker has learned a lot about diversity in the 20 years she’s lived in the United States.
“I did not fully appreciate diversity until I came to the United States. Now I have a much better understanding of its power and why embracing diversity is so important.
“President Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘In this country we have no place for hyphenated Americans.’ The spirit of unity and inclusion in that quote struck me. I believe this country’s commitment to “equality and justice for all” has helped to put it in the forefront of humanity and technological advances.
“In the same way, I think TVA’s success is built on its diverse workforce. TVA is stronger because it practices inclusion. I’ve felt welcome here from the very beginning.
“We all come from different walks of life. It’s okay to acknowledge our differences when we interact with each other; they’re a source of strength. We should also be mindful of our similarities. We should act and speak with kindness, openness and respect in every life situation.”
Having a sense of humor doesn’t hurt either, she says with a laugh. “My husband and I are from such different worlds. If we can get along and stay happily married, most of us should be able to accommodate each other’s differences in the workplace.”
Meet more TVA employees, and learn about some of the fascinating ways they serve the Tennessee Valley through their work in energy, environmental stewardship and economic development.
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