DIRK 2015: We need to talk about money

Jun 05, 2015
<p>A roundup of the 18th annual conference of Germany&rsquo;s investor relations body</p>

DIRK’s 18th annual conference, held in Frankfurt on June 1-2, is still too big to be held on a single day. Along with many of the revisions to an improved and more interactive format made last year, 2015’s event saw the introduction of more IR Basics training sessions and more specialist subjects, including activism, sustainability and keeping better control of your CEO.

Day one had up to seven sessions taking place at any one time across Frankfurt. Those new to the profession could be introduced to some IR Basics, receive some first-hand mentoring or learn how to deal with the troublesome financial media. One of last year’s most successful additions – the IR BarCamp session – made a welcome return, with participants able to introduce themselves to the room and suggest their own topics for debate.

The afternoon was punctuated by two large panel discussions that took a big-picture look at Germany’s capital markets. A foreword delivered by professor Henning Vöpel from the Hamburg Institute of International Economics, titled ‘Where does the money go?’, examined the causes and results of the global financial crisis and its ongoing legacy for investors. Vöpel argued that despite increasingly stringent regulation, European economies were in the process of divorcing themselves from their money markets.

He then chaired a further discussion of capital markets, before a later panel tackled the looming implementation of MiFID II and how it might affect the role of IR managers in Germany.

Day two saw proceedings move to the Westin Grand Hotel, where service and technology providers exhibited their wares alongside vintage German cars. Kay Bommer, DIRK’s managing director, welcomed delegates back and reminded them of the theme of the day’s discussion: ‘Let’s talk about money. Now!’ The task now facing IR managers, he said, is to determine ‘how to serve Germany as an economic center’, and the day’s panels and workshops attempted to suggest some solutions.

Karl-Ludwig Kley, CEO of healthcare and materials firm Merck, then delivered a keynote speech highlighting the power of good IR, and how in his opinion the role of the function is to ‘translate the needs and wants of the market to a company’.

The morning then opened up into a series of individual workshops, offering attendees a chance to tackle specific issues facing their constituents – such as board gender diversity, activist investors and sustainability – as well as more fundamental sessions tackling IPOs or corporate governance.

Some of the more left-field sessions included an examination of the synergies between corporate communications and IR by John Gilardi of Qiagen, an experienced IR manager in both Germany and the US. He suggested there is a trend toward the two functions being integrated into one team, particularly at small and mid-cap companies, and that there are several positive reasons to do so, especially as the audience IR addresses becomes larger.

The final session of the day promised to teach IROs ‘how to train your CEO/CFO without getting fired’. Ulf Brackmann, a management coach and communications specialist, outlined some methods for better understanding how your company’s management members think and behave, and using that information to shape how you talk to them. Though full mind control was not quite achieved, the session gave those in the room plenty of ways to approach their CEO with more confidence and understanding.

Finally, the main conference made way for tables, drinks and food as the German IR Awards 2015 got under way. Corinna Wohlfeil, a presenter for German television channel n-tv, took to the stage to announce the top IR performers across Germany’s stock exchanges, as determined by WeConvene Extel research. GfK and Hugo Boss both picked up company awards, while Deutsche Telekom’s head of IR – and IR Magazine cover star – Stephan Eger was named the best IR manager at a DAX 30 company.

DIRK also unveiled its latest crop of certified investor relations officer (CIRO) qualified professionals, who over the past year have been drilled in capital markets, financial analysis and investor communication. Their growing number and enthusiasm, as well as that of DIRK’s few hundred attendees, suggests Germany’s capital markets will be well served going into 2016.

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