The facilitator: An interview with new NIRI CEO Gary LaBranche
NIRI’s new CEO and president Gary LaBranche is a man who is a consensus builder and facilitator, he tells IR Magazine in an exclusive interview.
LaBranche, who takes up his role on March 17, says he will start with getting to know the NIRI staff, the board, and the leaders of the NIRI chapters, but has no confined plan from day one. ‘When I come to an organization I do not come with some preconceived notions or a barrel of things I have in my head I am going to do. I start with ‘who’ before ‘what’.
‘I do a lot of listening. It is critically important I understand where we are as an organization and a profession. My job is not to dictate those things. It is to find consensus about where people in the organization want to go: then figure how to get that done. I am a facilitator. I take a very consultative approach.’
NIRI he notes, is by its nature, collaborative. ‘In an institute environment you cannot really command. You can convince. You can cajole. You can cooperate and collaborate. But you cannot command. You need to get people to understand all the points of view and come to some level of consensus. To do this, you have to facilitate both dialogue and engagement. And to facilitate, sometimes you get people to think about things in new and exciting ways.’
‘We are’, he says, to coin a phrase ‘all in this together.’ He then lists all the relevant connected groups, something of a comprehensive roll call: the IR staff and board, the membership, the chapter leaders, all the constituency groups, the younger professionals, the fellows, IR Magazine, the entire IR industry and people who are not members. ‘The mission of NIRI is to advance the entire profession. That means it is not a closed club. It has a very inclusive approach.’
LaBranche has most recently been president and CEO of the Association for Corporate Growth, a global organization of 59 chapters in 10 countries, with $29 mn in revenue and 160 staff. An association executive for more than 35 years, LaBranche has served as CEO for three organizations. ‘My focus for most of my career has been working with organizations to transform and grow. That is what I enjoy. I love working with people to help them to work together to achieve common goals.’
Does LaBranche therefore want to develop the profession in a particular way? He cites the importance of NIRI’s IRC Credential. ‘The credential is just getting off the ground, so establishing and expanding it will really help establish the profession’s identity, authenticity and thought leadership.’
He says it will benefit the work of IROs in a number of ways: ‘It is a way we can identify what is an IR professional, the knowledge needed and the responsibilities performed by an investor relations officer. So the credential is central to our identity as a profession.’
Student of management
He describes himself as ‘an avid student of management’. He says: ‘I have been very influenced by the likes of [management guru] Peter Drucker who helped me better understand what management, leadership and organizations are all about.’
LaBranche comes back to his facilitator role. ‘The ultimate challenge for an organizational leader is to facilitate and develop consensus with a large, diverse group of people, each with their own wants, needs and ambitions and help harness those people together.’
When I ask NIRI board chair Valerie Haertel what made LaBranche the right choice, she lists a number of qualities. ‘Gary had so many qualities NIRI was looking for. He is a strategist. And the way he approaches things is through collaboration to move an organization forward. He has a track record of success in membership organizations and increasing the value to members. That was very important to us. We are always making sure we offer the best support.
‘He also has leadership experience in repositioning organizations to capitalize on their strengths and a solid background in the financial services sector, which was very important to the membership.’
Therefore, what will be success look like going forward to which LaBranche will be measured? ‘First and foremost it is about how our members feel about his performance and his leadership,’ she says. ‘I would say staying engaged with our members and listening to their level of satisfaction.’
Then she lists other criteria: ‘Looking forward, we want to grow the organization in new and innovative ways we haven’t imagined before as the profession continues to evolve, while raising the visibility of NIRI as a leading IR association globally.’