John Gollifer: A personal journey
I sort of fell into IR. I’m glad I did, given the industry’s variety and potential, its multi-disciplinary make-up and its undoubted profile at a time when markets really need it.
The first ‘IR’ I heard of was industrial relations, as far back as the 1970s in the UK. My first employer, Barclays Bank, had an IR team that was part of the planning and finance function.
It was considered a suitable training ground for high-fliers. Today, you can argue that IR is an industry in its own right. The UK has had an IR Society since the 1980s, while Singapore, for example, more recently established IRPAS, its professional IR body.
After my formative career years in banking, I landed on my feet in Singapore. Here I became directly involved in operating markets as opposed to being an intermediary.
I started at Singapore Exchange (SGX) as head of corporate strategy and marketing just after SGX went public in 2000. IR was then part of the communications function that reported to me.
With a new CEO in 2003, IR at SGX was created as a discrete function with primary responsibility for a key stakeholder group: the investment community. That was a bold and forward-thinking move given the size of SGX and its market at a time when the Asian IR industry was just nascent.
It soon became apparent at SGX that IR is a serious business. Our reporting line went all the way up to the chairman and the board, which we regularly updated on the state of the share ownership of SGX and what investors were thinking.
At the time of the SGX IPO, the company was valued at S$1.1 bn and the market cap of the Singapore securities market was approximately S$570 bn.
At its peak, SGX was an S$18 bn company and the Singapore market was rapidly approaching S$1 tn. Of course, in today’s post-global financial crisis environment, we have all had to start again in rebuilding confidence and value.
To do this, SGX will certainly need its IR: it will be a long, hard road given that the market has changed and the competition for attention and investor dollars is more intense. The good news is that IR in Singapore has certainly arrived and the need for IROs has never been greater.
The flipside is that in adverse market conditions, the more established markets have far deeper pools of liquidity and concentration of institutions, and are greater magnets for talent. They may be better placed to hold on to what they have and possibly extend their lead over developing markets.
As for me, I’m delighted to be back in London, which seems to keep reinventing itself as a leading international financial center – and of course I’m delighted to be part of the IR Society.
John Gollifer is general manager of the UK’s Investor Relations Society and former head of IR at Singapore Exchange.