IR30: The right message for the right investor through the right channel
CN is no stranger to the IR Magazine Awards in Canada, having picked up 46 trophies since 2001. Whether the IR program has been led by Robert Noorigian, who ran the department from 1996 to 2012, Janet Drysdale, who was vice president of investor relations from 2012 to 2016, or Paul Butcher, who has led the function since 2016, the company has continued to run its IR program to a high standard.
In this Q&A, Butcher discusses what he’s learned in the IR function and offers advice for young IR professionals.
What has been the highlight of your IR career so far?
I’ve been in IR for eight years but I’m in my 25th year with CN. It’s been quite a journey. From an IR perspective, the number one highlight is being able to learn from the best who were here before me: Bob Noorigian and Janet Drysdale. Maintaining the high quality of their program at CN has been a highlight for me. It’s a real team effort: management invests a lot of time in investor relations and last year spent 35 days with IR.
The way we think about IR is to deliver the right message to the right investor through the right channel. We have 30 analysts who want to meet with us, lots of different investors and lots of different communication channels. We always need to be as responsive as we can be to our investment group – they’re our customers.
How would you summarize CN’s approach to investor relations?
CN has strong buy-in from management for investor relations. I report to the CEO. The board feels the IR person, who talks to the investment community regularly, needs to be up to date on the company strategy. That means I’m part of the leadership team and the conversation around where the business is going.
We’re a team of four in total, and some of the positions (like IR manager and IR analyst) are seen as rotational roles. People come to IR, learn about the business and how we position ourselves as a company. We can then move them elsewhere in the company and they have a good understanding of who we are as a company and what investor relations is.
What advice do you have for people starting out in IR today?
As you’re the link between the company and investors, you definitely need to know a lot of aspects of the company. That means you have to build relationships and partnerships within your company, so that when you get specific questions from investors you can respond quickly and know what you’re talking about. A lot of investors expect to get answers from investor relations – they don’t always need to speak to management. You don’t need to be an expert on everything, but you need to know enough to make sure you’re communicating the story well.
Then being able to have a dialogue with your peers in other industries and IR roles is important to get a sense of what they’re doing. That’s why being part of CIRI is very important.
As IR Magazine celebrates its 30th anniversary issue with the winter 2018 issue – the 279th edition of the industry’s flagship magazine – we’ll be posting more throwbacks to old covers, revisiting some of the hot topics from the past 30 years of investor relations and hearing from some of the industry titans.