Mihaylo Economics Professor Robert Michaels has spent more than 47 years studying and teaching business. His specialty is industrial economics, particularly related to the electricity and natural gas fields. He looks back on his career, with advice for today’s students and alumni considering opportunities in economics.
For Robert Michaels, an economics career began as an extension of science coursework at the University of Chicago in the 1960s. “I was in college and like all smart kids in those days, I studied science,” he recalls. His university did not offer business majors, so economics courses were available as electives. “I took an economics elective in my third year, and I did well in it.”
While working for the nonprofit Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington, D.C., Michaels recognized the importance of an economics education. “I realized economics provided a knowledge of the world that other people did not have,” he says.
Michaels earned his Ph.D. in economic theory from UCLA in 1972 and embarked on a teaching career that would span more than 47 years, mostly at Cal State Fullerton’s business college, punctuated with short-term assignments at other institutions such as Claremont Graduate University and the University of Southern California.
The Energy Sector Electrifies Michaels’ Career
Michaels’ career focus developed when he was offered a temporary assignment consulting for California electricity companies. He would ultimately spend more than 11 years involved in energy antitrust cases.
Since the 1980s, Michaels would develop an expert knowledge of utility market industrial economics and would have roles working for utilities, power producers, power marketers and industry associations. He has written for a number of leading journals, including his current column in Energy Metro Desk.
His work has provided him with academic research topics and Michaels has appeared in op-eds in major newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, in addition to television appearances. “I have been involved in one of the greatest industrial innovations in history. Electricity is moving from monopoly to competition, and there is a big trend toward renewable energy,” he says.
Michaels notes that there is a complex process involved in electricity generation that many people are unaware of. “Bulk high-voltage power must be assembled into a reliable package delivered to consumers,” he says. “Power to households represents only a third of the electricity produced in the United States, with much of the rest going to industry.”
Watching Fullerton’s Business Program Come of Age
Michaels would spend many years on the committee responsible for staffing the Department of Economics at Fullerton, ensuring that the program would have top-level and diverse faculty to educate the next generation of economic professionals and scholars.
“We are the most published institution in the country not offering doctoral degrees,” he says.
Getting Started on Your Economics Career
Think economics is an academic and professional path for you? Michaels says roles in the field can vary greatly. “Major in economics and be ready for anything, but be sure to learn something about real business,” he says. “With my specialty of industrial economics, I have to say that you stumble upon these careers. It may begin with a dissertation or consulting job.”
Looking at trends in the business world, Michaels sees specialization as the wave of the future. “Businesses are shrinking in scope,” he says. “Everyone says to get big, but in reality, businesses are becoming more specialized, which will have a major impact on commerce and trade in the future.”
For More Information
For more on Mihaylo’s economics programs, visit the Department of Economics at SGMH 3313 or online.