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Feb 11, 2014

Nipping at TD’s heels: the buzz on and off stage at the Canada awards

CN, Bombardier and ARC Resources made it through the snow to celebrate the IR Magazine Awards ‒ Canada 2014

After 17 years, the Canadian leg of the IR Magazine Awards still fizzes. Even a heavy dump of snow couldn’t quell spirits last Wednesday, when a crowd of more than 300 gathered at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto to celebrate.

Guests at the black-tie event brought tales of planes diverted because the runway was too slippery, only to return later. Others had to land at a different airport from the one they had planned. CN even had to cope that day with a threatened strike, but still made it from Montreal to snag four awards.

TMX Group started the proceedings with remarks on the importance of IR. But Canadians never stay serious for long. In what has become traditional, the other main sponsor of the awards, Canada’s national paper the Globe and Mail, satirically announced awards for dubious achievement: the Dubies.

Following the theme of the Sochi Winter Olympics, SNC-Lavalin, Bombardier, Barrick Gold, BlackBerry and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford all got skewered by Dubies from the Globe’s Report on Business editor Derek DeCloet. (Biggest laugh: ‘Word has it that Mr Ford will actually be participating in one of the events: the half-pipe.’)

Bombardier was a big winner at the real event, taking four awards in another tour de force by the Montreal company, which last year won the mid-cap grand prix.

After DeCloet, former Canada AM host Seamus O’Regan took over the stage for the rest of the night, fronting the ceremony with his Atlantic Canada twinkle and the backing of a little big band. (O’Regan’s biggest laugh: ‘No question, lululemon has had its problems over the last year, but it’s certainly done well in terms of transparency.’)

The night’s big winner, TD Bank, brought a large contingent led by CFO Colleen Johnston as it vied for 10 different awards and won five, more than any other company. One of the awards Johnston picked up was for TD’s CEO, who is in his last year at the bank. ‘As Ed Clark retires later this year, the relentless focus on the investor is one of the many legacies he’ll leave behind,’ she said from the podium.

In a backstage interview, TD Bank’s head of IR, Rudy Sankovic, revealed the bank had managed to stay at the top of the Canada Top 50 even while streamlining its IR team, which used to be 12-strong. ‘We have been downsizing the team with a mantra that says, Let’s get smaller but still focus on our legendary customer service,’ Sankovic remarked.

TD has also been focused on its CEO succession planning, showcasing key candidates including the final choice, Bharat Masrani, as well as the next tier of senior management.

At the Canada Awards, CN is breathing down TD’s neck. Under former IRO Bob Noorigian, it reigned at the top of the standings until TD’s momentum propelled the bank ahead in 2011. Now Noorigian’s successor, Janet Drysdale, after her first full year in charge of IR, looks to be staging a comeback.

Drysdale had spent four years working alongside Noorigian in IR, ‘learning from the master,’ as she acknowledged backstage, and in 2013 took CN’s IR program to a new level of intensity. ‘We hit the road a lot,’ she said. ‘We went to a lot of new places we hadn’t been before, or hadn’t been for many years. We did a trip to Europe, where we hadn’t been marketing for probably 10 years. Being out on the road and meeting with investors directly was the key thing.’

David Carey from Calgary’s ARC Resources was on hand to accept the award for best mid-cap IRO, the fourth time he has received that trophy. There was another reason Carey was missing ARC’s earnings call for the awards gala, though: he was also presented with the award for lifetime achievement in investor relations.

Backstage, Carey reflected on how much he has learned from everyone he’s worked with, both in his career at ARC and other energy companies before ARC, and also in the broader IR community, including as CIRI chair from 2009 to 2011. ‘It’s the people,’ he summed up.

In particular, Carey mentioned ARC’s new CEO, Myron Stadnyk, who took up the position on January 1, 2013, and this year was nominated for best IR by a CEO. ‘To be there in his first year is a tremendous accomplishment for a rookie CEO,’ Carey said.

This year the Canada awards were especially enlivened by lots of Twitter discussion. Check out #irawards for some fun photos and congratulatory messages.