Samuel Bakowski hears from Janet Drysdale – and others at CN – about the daunting prospect of filling Bob Noorigian’s shoes
North American railroad giant CN recently appointed Janet Drysdale to succeed retiring IR legend Bob Noorigian as vice president of IR at the Montreal-based firm.
To replace such an esteemed figure would be daunting for many – Noorigian guided CN to more than 25 separate honors at the IR Magazine Awards in Canada over the years – but Drysdale is relishing the opportunity presented by Canada’s only transcontinental railway.
In recalling the excitement she felt when first approached for the role in the fall of 2012, it is clear Drysdale possesses that vital enthusiasm needed to manage the company’s relationship with the global investment community.
‘When I was approached to come back to IR as head of the department, I was extremely excited,’ she recounts. ‘I think it’s a fantastic place to be within the company as you have the perspective to look out over all of the things the organization is doing.’
Claude Mongeau, CEO and president of CN, believes Drysdale has the requisite attributes to make her mark at the company. On the eve of her appointment, he said in a company statement: ‘Janet is well prepared for her new role at CN with a strong track record in financial and marketing positions, and I look forward to her joining our leadership team.’
Mongeau, who became chief executive in 2010 having spent 10 years as CFO, also took the opportunity to pay tribute to Noorigian’s work over the last 16 years at the company.
‘Bob has been a trusted partner and adviser to CN leaders, and to me personally throughout my entire career at CN,’ he noted. ‘He has provided CN with valuable guidance regarding our position in international equity markets and deftly managed CN’s relationship with investors.’
Among the many awards garnered by CN during his time at the company, Noorigian picked up the individual award for best IR officer five times, most recently at the IR Magazine Awards – Canada 2012.
Before joining CN, he honed his knowledge of IR and the railroad industry through roles as director of investor relations at Southern Pacific Railway and Union Pacific Corporation.
On the announcement of his retirement from the Canadian rail group, Noorigian spoke to IR Magazine and took the opportunity to thank his wife Shirley ‘for putting up with all the late nights, missed dinners and inopportune phone calls.’
He also found time to thank all ‘the good people who worked tirelessly with me over the years (Rose, Paul, Janet, Nadeem, Mark). They made me look good and sound smart.’
Following graduation with a master’s degree in business administration from McGill University in Montreal, Drysdale joined CN in 1996 – incidentally, the same year as Noorigian – soon after the company went public in November 1995 when it listed on Toronto Stock Exchange and the NYSE. Former CEO Paul Tellier appointed Drysdale as part of a management development plan aimed at bringing ‘fresh blood’ to the organization.
Her first role at the railroad company was as a marketing manager for the petroleum chemical business unit, a role she felt was very beneficial to her development. ‘It was a fantastic job: these are the roles where you have a really small piece of the CN pie and you try to expand your business and understand the market and how to drive growth,’ Drysdale says.
She first got to know Noorigian when she moved on to a revenue planning function. She enjoyed the diversity of her new role and discovered a great deal about the intricacies of IR through regular contact with Noorigian. As she explains, this was pivotal in the development of their working relationship:
‘Being a railway, we’re a good bellwether for what’s happening in all kinds of areas, whether it’s consumer markets, the economy, forest products, grain, coal – you name it, we’re involved in it. So Bob and I would speak on a regular basis because the majority of investor questions are really about your market.’
Drysdale spent four years working with Noorigian and, during her time as senior manager of IR, she spearheaded CN’s response to the Carbon Disclosure Project, for which CN was recognized as a Canadian leader in climate change disclosure.
When Claude Mongeau – certainly no stranger to IR success himself, having won the IR Magazine Award for best investor relations by a chief financial officer in 2008, 2009 and 2010 – was elevated to the CEO role in 2010, Drysdale had the ‘good fortune of moving into a position in the financial planning department where the objective was to get some on-the-job training and learn more about the financial side of the business.’
She believes this was very much the final piece in the jigsaw for her move into IR. ‘My team was responsible for putting together the financial plan – not only the numbers but also tying it to the strategic plan, and then learning how to communicate it,’ she explains. ‘It was a wonderful experience and excellent training for me to come back into an IR role.’
Ambitions for the role
So is there anything Drysdale will be changing in CN’s IR program now she has taken the reins? ‘As I’ve said, Bob is a legend so I don’t want to change or adapt his winning formula,’ she says. ‘The goal really is to build on his accomplishments.
‘I think Bob really has a passion, not just for investor relations, but for capital markets in general. I think his priorities within the IR role were to efficiently and effectively meet the needs of the investment community and do so in a way that’s an efficient use of management’s time. Those are the same things I hope to build on in the future.’
That said, Drysdale acknowledges that the world is evolving and therefore some change in IR is needed to keep pace with the developments. ‘Economic and market volatility, increased demand for disclosure and transparency – including on matters concerning the company’s environmental and sustainability performance – these will all need to be addressed,’ she explains.
‘In addition, there is a more vocal stakeholder interest today than there was even just a few years ago. And the impact of social media has been tremendous in terms of speed and the spread of information.
‘There is no titanic shift we are looking to achieve, but I think, when you consider all these tweaks, you’ve got to adapt in order to stay at the pace the world is operating at around you.’