Alex MacDonald-Vitale stood down as chair of the Middle East Investor Relations Association (Meira), having led the body since 2015, and Andrew Tarbuck became the new chair in March 2018. Here, Andrew Holt asks Tarbuck about his new role and the challenges ahead
What does it mean to Meira for you to be stepping into the role of chair?
It is very exciting for me. Alex and I have been working together on the board of Meira for some time and I have been vice chair for the past two years so I would stress that it is very much a continuation of what we have been working on during that period: it is very much business as usual. It is a case of focusing on the ongoing initiatives we have worked on together and applying a leadership style of my own while pioneering a few pet projects. My move from vice chair to chair is just one example of good governance being executed by the organization.
How long do you plan to be in the role?
I am completely subject to the Meira board for its ongoing approval. It is a balance between continuity and keeping things fresh. Jointly, we have in mind an initial term of two years, subject to a renewal or rotation. As Meira is a not-for-profit organization, the chair has a day job and the role is executed on an entirely voluntary basis. The key components for continuation in the role are energy, enthusiasm and time – and continued board support.
Is that not a rather short time frame for you to get your teeth into the job?
I think there are pros and cons of a relatively short initial term. There is a strong argument for keeping things fresh and giving the Meira board and our wider stakeholders the opportunity to review fitness for the role, which is good corporate governance. I am sure that, at the appropriate time, the benefits of continuity versus change will be taken into consideration. We have an excellent and diverse board that upholds our corporate governance and so, as always, I am led by the majority view of that board.
What are the main objectives you want to achieve in your new role?
Our main objectives stem from our strategy for 2018/2019. The key objective is proliferating investor relations at an execution level. In my view, there are three distinct phases in IR in the emerging market space: one is talking about it – this is the discussion phase when IR is increasingly on the agenda; two is understanding it – this is the phase where the mind-set change occurs; and three is executing it – this is the adoption phase when best practice IR is a day-to-day reality.
In the Middle East, there has been much discussion about IR over the last decade so I think we are very much in phase two, with a degree of the execution phase coming into play. The objective now is to move more and more market participants into the execution phase and trade more on actions than on words. For Meira, this means we really must focus on our operational capabilities to ensure there is value-added support for our members and stakeholders.
How will this be achieved?
We are taking a dual approach: top-down and bottom-up. The top-down approach is essentially working with the regional regulators and exchanges that have the overreach of all the listed companies; this is an umbrella approach. Different jurisdictions are at different stages. The UAE and Kuwait, for example, have forged ahead with mandatory IR provisions for listed companies. Developments such as this on the institutional level are key.
Then there is the bottom-up approach, which is all about encouraging our relationships with individual corporates. It is about our visibility in the regional market, our outreach and our ability to converse with corporates. It is about hosting the premier IR regional conference, assisting with IR conferences hosted by our regional chapters, attending IR-related events throughout the Middle East and generally being visible in the market.
The more we do as an organization, the more outreach we have, the more opportunity we have to meet corporates and build relationships. And that bottom-up process helps to increase our corporate membership. We also seek to be the voice of our members and engage in critical dialogue on their behalf.
In terms of focusing on our operational capabilities, we need to face down the conundrum of growth versus spreading our resources too thinly. Clearly, we can consider increasing our resources but this can be difficult when resources are traditionally constrained for not-for-profit organizations. As we grow, we have to work out how we grow our executive capabilities while keeping true to our not-for-profit principles.
What do you see as the major challenges?
Maintaining the momentum: in the Middle East it is very much about government-led growth and development initiatives but there are many other initiatives in a myriad of areas that governments are concerned with, not just capital markets and IR.
The challenge is keeping our relatively small area of IR on the agenda and we need to keep the pressure up. Further, we are still in the understanding stage and there are many listed companies that are working on comprehending what IR is all about. They need to be continually encouraged. Then there is the challenge around developing the mind-set of disclosure and engagement with stakeholders, which needs to be nurtured and encouraged.
Who are you prioritizing for meeting with?
The one major priority is reaching out to regulators and exchanges: they have more breadth in what they can do. We are encouraging the bottom-up membership, too, but I am also very focused on the top-down approach. That ties in nicely with the key jurisdictions: for example, we inaugurated our Saudi chapter in May last year. One of my pet projects is encouraging the success of that chapter and helping to establish it in the heart of the Saudi capital markets conversation.
So what would you say are the strengths of Meira as an organization?
For a relatively youthful organization, the breadth of Meira is quite incredible – recently, we launched our new chapter in Saudi, we are looking to establish in Jordan and we also have a chapter in Palestine. There has been year-on-year growth in the chapter network and our breadth is getting wider and wider – though the challenge linked to this is that we do not want to dilute the message or our resources.
One notable development is that we are finding increasing numbers of private companies and organizations that are either considering listing or just simply wishing to improve relations with stakeholders, and they are reaching out to us for a greater understanding of best practice IR. This is something we are trying to encourage and we have a big part to play as we are an obvious starting point for interested participants. Our reputation, connectivity and branding in the market is key to finding these opportunities. Most importantly, in everything we do, we need to make a difference.