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Dec 19, 2023

How to navigate a rebrand and a spin-off in the space of a year, according to the head of IR at Kellanova, formerly Kellogg’s

Process was challenging because investors often craved information that was not yet available, says John Renwick

John Renwick, vice president of investor relations & corporate planning at Kellanova (formerly the Kellogg Company) has spent 23 years at the company. He initially joined in 2000 as vice president of IR & competitive analysis and then held a number of operational roles in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Toronto in Canada and the Queretaro Area of Mexico before returning to Battle Creek, Michigan to reprise and expand his role as vice president of IR & corporate planning in 2016.

John Renwick
John Renwick, vice president of investor relations & corporate planning at Kellanova

Before he took on his first IR role at the Kellogg Company, Renwick was a sell-side analyst at Morgan Stanley, covering packaged food stocks. He was on a roadshow with Kellogg’s C-suite around Europe when, at the end of the trip, the CFO said he had a ‘crazy idea’ and asked him whether he wanted to become the firm’s IRO.

Renwick was taken by surprise: ‘I’m a New Yorker, my wife’s a Jersey girl and we barely knew where Michigan was!’ he recalls saying. Intrigued to see what life was like ‘on the inside’ of a food company, however, he took the role, thinking he’d be back on Wall Street in two years.

A return to Wall Street didn’t happen, thanks to a special company culture and plenty of exciting career opportunities. In 2004, he took the first in a number of operational roles, becoming vice president of sales finance & business management. In 2006, keen to move internationally, he was assigned to Kuala Lumpur as CFO of Kellogg Asia.

‘It was an incredible experience for my family – imagine having to swat monkeys off the family car some mornings! – and for me to experience business in emerging markets,’ Renwick  recalls. ‘We were trying to expand consumption of cereal, which is cold, crunchy and sweet, to consumers accustomed to local fare that tends to be hot, soft and salty.’   

In 2007, he moved ‘from the furnace’ of tropical Kuala Lumpur to ‘the freezer’ of Toronto, as CFO of Kellogg Canada. Then in 2010, he moved to Queretaro for nearly four years as CFO of Kellogg Latin America, learning both the language and culture, as well as the excitement of a region with unique business challenges. ‘It wasn’t uncommon to experience currency devaluations, electricity shutdowns or earthquakes in various countries,’ Renwick explains.

By 2013 he had returned to Battle Creek, Michigan, as CFO of US snacks. ‘This was another great learning experience, as it was a uniquely challenging time, with consumer trends shifting away from low-calorie, low-fat foods, causing brands like Special K to fall out of favor, and there was tremendous industrywide pressure to take out costs,’ Renwick says. In 2016, he was asked to take back the IR reins, and this turned into his current role as vice president of IR & corporate planning.  

Day-to-day operations

Today, the IR side of his team consists of Renwick alongside an IR director, an IR manager and an IR co-ordinator. They cover everything from day-to-day IR operations and the IR website to investor materials and events, as well as analysis of peer companies, industry trends and investor expectations. Quarterly earnings are obviously a major part of the job.

‘The minute a quarter ends, we have to understand the results, trends, latest outlooks, risks and opportunities of all our businesses,’ Renwick says. ‘We work closely with our four regions, the corporate planning side of our team and our treasury and tax departments. We also co-ordinate closely with our corporate controllers group and legal on proper disclosures. All of this research is incorporated into a press release and earnings presentation.

‘Ensuring that IR and management have adequate back-up information to answer wide-ranging investor questions is time-consuming, as it involves preparing a slide deck of 80-90 pages and writing a detailed Top 30 questions section with recommended responses.’

On the earnings release day, Kellanova’s press release gets issued at 8.00 am, followed by an earnings call at 9.30 am. Corporate communications handles the media interviews with the CEO immediately afterwards and the communication of the earnings results to employees, while Renwick commences direct calls with each covering analyst through the rest of the day, and often into the evening.

With the pandemic passed and the company’s transformational spin-off now completed, Kellanova is getting back to a full calendar of physical visits to investors and investment conferences. Its IR team plans the year’s investor outreach calendar prior to the start of the year, anchoring it around trips following its earnings releases and around three major conferences spaced across the year, and then filling in the calendar with other sell side-sponsored events. Renwick says it has been ‘an unusual few years, but we are now getting back to our normal, more comprehensive and in-person investor outreach calendar’.

Selling the spin-off

Kellanova’s recent spin-off of WK Kellogg Co was a tremendous undertaking, both operationally and from an investor relations standpoint. Asked about the transaction and the rationale behind it, Renwick says there were two primary elements.

‘The first was that it became clear the North American cereal business would do better on its own, with a fit-for-purpose structure and strategy, and no longer having to compete for incremental resources with the larger and faster-growing snacks business,’ he explains.

‘The second was that no matter how snacking-oriented and global its portfolio, Kellogg Company would always be viewed by investors as a US cereal company because of its name and heritage. It was not uncommon for us to have a 60-minute meeting with investors and spend up to 45 minutes of it discussing US cereal, which was about 15 percent of our business.’

Announced in June 2022, the spin-off was completed on October 2, 2023. It is not uncommon for spin-offs to require such lead time, given the significant amount of work involved across the organization. From an IR perspective, this meant spending more than a year communicating with investors on the rationale, prospects and progress toward executing the spin-off.

‘This was challenging at times, because investors often craved information – particularly around financials – that we simply didn’t have completed yet,’ says Renwick. ‘We wanted to give investors a picture of how the underlying Kellanova and WK Kellogg Co businesses were performing, but we couldn’t yet accompany that information with full financial statements.’

Once the carve-out financials and strategies were completed, the company conducted a joint investor day for Kellanova and WK Kellogg Co to provide analysts and investors with the information they needed.

With the spin-off now completed, the job is a little different. ‘We can now focus on demonstrating how this is a higher-growth, higher-margin and more consistent deliverer of financial performance,’ Renwick says. ‘Our portfolio is clearly weighted toward snacks and emerging markets, which are advantaged for growth. Our margins are higher. And our brands are incredible.’

Gill Newton

Gill Newton

Gill Newton of Phoenix IR
Partner at Phoenix-IR