IR Magazine takes a look at IROs and their affairs
The past six months have seen a raft of senior IR professionals make the move into corporate or public affairs, either in a new career step or as an add-on to their remit. What has made this role – once viewed as a vague, unchallenging communications-cum-planning reward title for company time-servers – a favorite option when considering life after IR?
‘We’ve recently placed a number of people into a combined IR and corporate affairs role,’ confirms Oskar Yasar, a founder at the Yasar Broome Partnership, a London-based executive search firm. This is the result of two trends, the first of which is how important corporate affairs, government relations and IR are today within organizations. ‘More and more CEOs and members of senior management have come to realize their careers are dependent on how their company communicates with its stakeholders, be it the media, investors or the government,’ Yasar explains.
The second trend is that as IR has become more sophisticated and has much more exposure to the C-suite, investor relations departments are now often taking over the corporate communications remit. IROs who don’t wish to spend their whole career in investor relations or take the traditional step up to a CFO role can move away from finance by taking responsibility for corporate affairs.
With a background in communications and marketing, Chorus Aviation’s Nathalie Megann first moved into the profession when her CFO ‘tagged her for IR’ as the Canadian holding company spun off from ACE Aviation in 2006. Now a CIRI board member, Megann oversees IR and corporate affairs in a tandem role she views as a natural match with numerous transferable skills.
‘Just like IR, corporate affairs requires you to have a deep understanding of your business, your industry, your peers and your competitors,’ she says. ‘Both functions are about building relationships and trust, and upholding an exemplary corporate reputation. So it’s more than just communications – it’s about strategy and being proactive.’
IROs will need to be aware of changes in their environment, of what the sentiment is toward a company, both internally and externally. ‘With so much happening so quickly you need to be able to have a good macro view of what’s happening around your company and your industry, and be able to quickly determine what needs to be actioned on a micro level in your strategic execution,’ Megann adds. ‘So it’s being proactive with your corporate narrative as a result and being an adviser to your C-suite in developing adequate messaging.’
Megann enjoys her company’s ‘culture of working collaboratively, listening and improving, and being conducive to good corporate affairs and good IR.’ This kind of environment will help IROs to work within their organization on determining ‘the way forward in terms of communicating your story’ and dealing with various stakeholders, she says. ‘Your language needs to be clear, simple, and it absolutely must be accurate and consistent for all your audiences.’
Megann also oversees government relations, an important aspect of a highly regulated industry such as airlines. But a large part of those relationships is with operational executives, she says: ‘Flight operations would be the primary holders of those key relationships with the regulator.’
Yasar encourages his IRO candidates to seek exposure to ‘non-IR traditional routes’ such as government relations but also media relations. Some IR professionals are ‘scared about talking to the media,’ he notes. But even though their primary audience is the investment community, IROs should not shy away from the press. ‘For instance, The Lex Column in the Financial Times is read by a lot of people in the regulatory industry as well as government,’ Yasar points out. ‘For an IRO, not to understand, appreciate and value the importance of those essential media outlets is a sizable mistake.
‘If you want to move into corporate affairs, you have to broaden your experience and you have to really understand the machinations of the government, the regulatory industry and media relations. Every IRO is different and has different goals. It’s up to the individual to determine what he or she wants from his or her career.
‘In fact, the common thread that runs through these IROs moving into corporate affairs, strategic planning or internal communications is that they’re incredibly ambitious and they know where they want to go – they’ve created those roles for themselves.’
Yasar advises IROs to do executive coaching when they get to a certain level in their career, in order to fully understand what their brand is. ‘An IRO creates a brand around his or her experiences,’ he says, stressing that the more senior IROs become, the less aware they are of the possibility of doing such professional development courses. ‘Companies will encourage those initiatives. They can’t afford for their leaders not to be trained and developed professionally.’
While Megann sees a lot of opportunities at her current company to ‘continue to build shareholder value’, she is open to board appointments as part of a future retirement plan as well as a method of supplementing her current role at Chorus. Most recently, she joined the board of crown corporation Tourism Nova Scotia. ‘There’s more demand for diversity on boards to bring different perspectives to issues that companies face,’ she says. ‘It’s not just all legal, human resources and financial concerns that boards have to overcome: it’s also public perception, corporate reputations, risks or crisis management. Those are areas of expertise I can bring to a table.’
This article appeared in the fall 2017 issue of IR Magazine