‘I am looking for a handful of core competencies – or the potential to develop these core competencies,’ says Lynn Antipas Tyson, executive director of IR at Ford, talking about the skills she looks for in her team.
While there are different levels of seniority in the Ford IR program with different levels of responsibility, as people rotate into IR and out into the company again, these ‘core competencies’ are what Tyson is always on the lookout for, what she strives to foster in her team – and what she sees as essential to becoming a high-functioning IR professional.
Tyson has led the Ford IR program for six years now – having previously served as IR chief at Dell, PepsiCo and Yum! Brands, to name a few – and the firm operates a rotational program for the rest of the team. Having people come into IR, learn the skills of investor relations and move back out into the firm brings a wide range of benefits, explains Tyson.
‘Very few people in an organization actually understand what IR does,’ she says. ‘They think they do but they don’t. For example, yesterday I did two calls with investors that offered up items for our proxy. Very few people in the organization know we’re involved in that. That’s one example but there are so many things IR does that people just don’t know about. Having people throughout the organization who understand IR is helpful.’
Former IR team members bring that understanding of investor relations into their next roles. And Tyson says a stint in IR also brings a new perspective. ‘There are now all these [former IR] people out in the businesses,’ she says. ‘When we need something, or we have a question about something, they’re there. But more importantly, they approach their new roles with a keen understanding of value creation.’
Ford’s rotational IR program has proved so popular that Tyson says there is now more demand to rotate in than she can accommodate. Not only that, but other departments are increasingly looking to IR in their internal recruitment.
‘I am pleased to say that people who are looking for talent now look at who’s ready to rotate out of investor relations,’ explains Tyson. ‘We’ve gone through enough rotations that, within the company, people now understand the skillset people develop – or refine – when they’re in IR.’
Here, Tyson shares with IR Magazine the four key skillsets she looks for – and seeks to develop – in her IR team.
Situational judgment. This is ‘basically just having common sense,’ she says, adding that it is ‘incredibly important’. It is about ‘how you make decisions when you don’t have all the information,’ she explains – something that is increasingly important given how quickly information flows today and the impact it has on the capital markets. ‘Investor relations [people] need to have confidence in the ability to make decisions when there isn’t a tremendous amount of information,’ stresses Tyson.
Effective communication skills. ‘Listening, understanding, writing, presenting – anything that is used to communicate, convey, persuade, educate or inform is very important’ for Tyson, who says she views the role of investor relations as ‘critically important’ internally. ‘People need to be able to distill a tremendous amount of information in a short amount of time to figure out where there may be a disconnect or dissonance, internally or externally. How do you communicate insights from the capital markets that allow the business to make more effective business decisions, for example?’
Analytics. ‘Someone doesn’t have to have an MBA: they could have an advanced degree, they could be an engineer – we have a lot of engineers at Ford – but the ability to analyze data and come to a conclusion or come to a recommendation is important,’ Tyson stresses. For her, this isn’t just about filling out a spreadsheet but ‘being able to look at a body of information and know what it is telling you. And what it is not telling you. And what additional work you need to do to really derive the appropriate answer.’
This analysis is about everything that is relevant to the capital markets of course, but Tyson is also looking for an ‘understanding of valuation models, an understanding of where they’re flawed and how to influence how somebody values your company’.
Executive presence. Closely tied to communications skills, this is something else Tyson describes as a key attribute. It is in part also about having the ‘courage of conviction’ and ‘the ability to speak truth to power,’ she says, adding that this skill is ‘probably one of the hardest things for anyone, but especially so in investor relations, because there may be things you need to communicate internally that may not be well received but that are still the truth.’
That ability, as difficult as it might be to acquire and foster, is key to becoming a trusted adviser to senior management – and to elevating the IR role, says Tyson. ‘This is where having an IRO who is a trusted confidant of the CFO, of the CEO, of a whole host of people, is important. I think that is probably one of the biggest opportunities – and challenges – for IR people,’ she notes.
‘The question I probably get asked more than anything when I’m speaking at IR events is, How do you become impactful internally? The ability to have a voice internally is important because, if you have a seat at the table, you understand the dynamics of the corporation and you can give trusted counsel. That understanding of the internal dynamics of the company can in turn help you innovate when you are communicating the opportunities and challenges of the company externally.’