Michael Mitchell: Things have changed a bit

Reflections on a quarter-century of IR to mark IR Magazine's silver anniversary

At about the time IR Magazine was founded, I had just moved into IR myself. In 1986 I was asked to set up an IR department at Burton Group. Big Bang had just taken place and all the major US banks were in London with their checkbooks to rouse the sleepy Brits from their cozy world of stockbroking.

It was a great time to be learning about IR as almost everybody else was learning, too. Back then it was still acceptable to have a good lunch in the City with a friendly broker and a few of his/her best clients: you could judge the success of the meeting from the movement in the share price by the time you got back to the office.

My time in IR has been eventful, working with some very high-profile CEOs whose inspiration was sometimes challenging. At Burton, Ralph Halpern was a tremendous retailer but a pernickety traveler. I remember the crestfallen look on the face of the Credit Suisse broker who had booked us into the best hotel in Geneva only to have it dismissed as ‘run by Rocco Forte’.

Gerald Ratner, as many will remember, sometimes let his sense of humor get the better of him, but the analysts loved him, joking and drinking and even arm-wrestling with him in the bar the night before a presentation.

Things have changed a bit since then. Everyone is more serious about what is said, and technology has moved on. In the early days of email we would ring recipients to tell them we were sending something with an attachment. Others of my generation will remember the dreaded 35mm slides that had to be prepared the night before results presentations.

If the financial director wanted to make a last-minute change, an army of technicians would have to work through the night to deliver the slides by 6.00 am the next day. And I used to sleep with the press releases in my room so they could be hand-delivered to the newspapers at 7.00 am.  

Something else that has changed over 25 years – sadly for the worse – is travel. Concorde was a very special experience but, alas, it’s no more. And airport security was virtually non-existent: you could literally run onto an internal flight to Boston and buy your ticket on the plane.  

My verdict overall? It’s been fun – most of the time. You never know what’s coming round the corner. My best advice to those starting in IR now is to beware of investment bankers bearing gifts – whether they be free investor roadshows or M&A deals you can’t afford to miss.

When I left IR for a couple of years I really missed being at the heart of things: it’s a great job to have in any organization.

Michael Mitchell is the outgoing general manager of the UK's Investor Relations Society.

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