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Mar 06, 2023

Recapping awards, macroeconomic difficulties and lessons learned from 2022

Winners at the IR Magazine Awards – South East Asia 2022 share their views on the latest macroeconomic issues facing IROs and what their award wins mean to them

To win an industry award takes strategy, good values and a drive to succeed past the competition. An award reflects the effort and passion a company puts in all year round. While a company’s strategy may change, the recognition awards offer can be a good metric of success.

This drive is exactly what Indorama Ventures used to secure its triple win at the IR Magazine Awards – South East Asia 2022, held virtually last December. The firm won best overall investor relations (mid-cap), best investor relations officer (mid-cap) and best in sector for materials.

Recapping awards, macro-economic difficulties and lessons learned from 2022
Vikash Jalan, Indorama Ventures

Vikash Jalan, vice president of strategic planning and head of IR at the petrochemicals company, explains how the firm’s ethos to consolidate its efforts within the ESG space played a part in the group’s overall success.

‘I’m very thankful to my management for its co-operation and support in our initiatives; that is probably what investors appreciate,’ Jalan says. ‘We are a company of 26,000 employees and we have an internal communication system that is very strong, so I think it’s good to get that recognition going throughout the company.’

The ฿207 bn ($5.9 bn) chemicals giant is in the process of preparing for its annual capital markets day, which takes place in March this year. ‘That sets the stage for the rest of the year: we look forward to reaching out to some new investors, so it’s quite an exciting time,’ Jalan remarks.

‘Most recognized awards’

Similarly, PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) was also a multi-winner, taking home best overall investor relations (large cap), best in sector for energy and best investor relations officer (large cap) for Thanat Thamrongsaksuvit, IRO at the ฿615 bn firm.

Other top winners include real estate investment trust company Cromwell European REIT Management, which bagged the prize for best use of multimedia for IR.

Recapping awards, macro-economic difficulties and lessons learned from 2022
Elena Arabadjieva, Cromwell European REIT Management

‘We have known about this award for a long time,’ explains Elena Arabadjieva, COO and head of IR at the real estate conglomerate. ‘It is probably one of the most recognized awards for IR professionals. I believe making it known that this profession is rewarded and awarded makes a difference.’

Meanwhile, Manulife US REIT won trophies for best in sector for financials (including real estate) and best ESG materiality reporting (small cap). Caroline Fong, deputy CEO and chief IR and sustainability officer at the company, says receiving the awards ‘was a great encouragement’.

George Aluwi, IRO at GoTo Gojek Tokopedia at the time of the awards, took home the rising star award. ‘This was the first time in my career I entered a competition,’ he says. ‘I wanted to highlight my unique experience as part of the IR team. I had the privilege of working on pivotal moments at the company, including the Gojek and Tokopedia combination, and subsequently the company’s listing on the Indonesia Stock Exchange through its IPO.

‘As a result, my constantly evolving responsibilities afforded many learning opportunities and countless ways to make an impact, which I felt was important to showcase to the judges.’

The process

The awards fall into two categories: researched and nominated. For researched categories, companies do not submit nominations. Instead, analysts and investors cast their votes and give their opinions on which companies provide the best IR service.

In nominated categories, companies submit written entries to articulate their success and achievements from the past year, giving any publicly listed company the opportunity to be considered for an award. While the process itself may take time, the effort put in at this stage makes the difference between winning and losing.

Recapping awards, macro-economic difficulties and lessons learned from 2022
Sumrid Sumneing, PTT Exploration and Production

‘We take the submissions quite seriously: we submit only for awards where we think we have actually achieved something over the year,’ Arabadjieva says.

Recognition is very important, she adds: ‘If you’re an IR professional, almost by default you’re an outgoing communications person who thrives on intangible recognition. Sometimes just saying to somebody, You’ve done a good job is more important, but it’s still good to be recognized, especially when it’s coming from investors and people from the same industry, from people who can actually relate to the function.’

Sumrid Sumneing, CFO at PTTEP, says the company ‘was really pleased to receive the awards. They prove our determination and accomplishments within IR, as well as [providing] the recommendation of an external organization like IR Magazine.’

Lessons learned

The last few years have been challenging for companies around the world, with 2022 in many ways being the most difficult. An unprecedented energy crisis due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Covid restrictions still in place across key countries such as China caused disruptions to supply chains, and inflation hit an all all-time high, which made everyday household product prices skyrocket.

Yet despite the rocky period, ‘every year has taught us something,’ Jalan reflects. ‘We need to evolve accordingly. The macro geopolitics have been highly volatile – this is something that is hopefully getting better this year.’

Recapping awards, macro-economic difficulties and lessons learned from 2022
George Aluwi

Arabadjieva says she’s learned that nothing is for granted and things change all the time. ‘You have to adapt to plans as the external environment changes,’ she says. ‘Nothing is constant; we never stand still. I guess this is probably a big learning point.’

Reminiscing on last year, Fong says the company learned to be quick on its feet and ‘vigilant to unfolding situations, in order to respond swiftly to pressing investor concerns.’ Amid ‘significant’ unit price movements in Q4 last year, she explains how the company found out through sources that ‘certain brokerages had been giving an inaccurate perception to investors, leading to concerns that unitholders would be affected by the US internal revenue code section 1446(f).’

This section imposes a new withholding tax on transfers by non-US people in partnerships that are engaged in a US trade or business, she says. Manulife acted promptly and published its clarification that ‘no tax is required to be withheld’ from unitholders under this section. ‘We also reached out to our investors and stakeholders to explain the situation,’ Fong adds, noting how the incident taught the company to act swiftly to rectify the situation.

Wider global factors

With China reopening its doors, businesses across the globe can finally begin benefiting from the opportunities it offers, with investors now able to return to in-person meetings. ‘There’s a clear signal that China is open, everything is rebounding,’ says Jalan. ‘This is going to help the company reach out to more people – for example, in Hong Kong where we have many investors.’

Recapping awards, macro-economic difficulties and lessons learned from 2022
Caroline Fong, Manulife US REIT

While the reopening matters in the context of a wider global economic recovery, ‘it will take some time for this to trickle through to businesses,’ Arabadjieva warns. ‘I will say that probably the biggest impact from China reopening, outside of freer travel for people, will hopefully be the easing of supply-chain issues and pressure on commodities and different parts of the manufacturing process.’

The inflationary environment in 2022 also had an impact not just on the unit price of Manulife, but also that of many other Singaporean real estate investment trusts, says Fong. Higher borrowing costs and the work-from-home phenomenon had an ‘adverse impact’ on the group’s portfolio valuation.

‘The value of IR is not only important during the best of times, but even more so during the worst of times,’ she says. ‘Everyone loves to deliver good news, but when you have bad news, that could be your defining moment. I believe that the harder the news, the more we need to be transparent and accountable. That must be the reason why there is a premium placed on IR.’

Positive outlook

Despite the challenges businesses face in this macro environment, ‘it has meant a lot that our investors and stakeholders appreciate what we have done,’ says Fong, with the awards reminding the company that during challenging times and crises, ‘IR is more critical than ever. Instead of lying low, or focusing our efforts operationally, we must never forget to over-communicate and be transparent.

‘Hiding in a corner or remaining silent is not an option as we must first and foremost be accountable to our unitholders and stakeholders.’

It’s important for an IR professional to always be open to using new tools to keep all stakeholders engaged, and approach all investor dialogs with empathy, Aluwi says. He believes this helps to identify the concerns of the other party more effectively, leading to more successful engagements.

‘Always see a challenge as a learning opportunity and approach it with a growth mindset. You’ll be surprised to see the good that could come from it,’ he concludes.

Recapping awards, macro-economic difficulties and lessons learned from 2022
Thanat Thamrongsaksuvit, PTT Exploration and Production

Looking to offer advice to other potential award winners, Thamrongsaksuvit says PTTEP would like to become a role model for other companies, especially the public firms in Thailand, and encourage them to work better within the IR community.

IR professionals need to stay up to date with changing circumstances and new developments in economic activity, Sumneing says: ‘Not only for the part that may affect the company, but also future trends.’

IR teams will also need to work productively to deal with the unforeseen situations and work on a plan that will allow the IR team to work more flexibly and efficiently, he says.

‘The person in charge of IR must be prepared and able to perform according to the expectation of the capital markets and stakeholders – after all, that is the role of IR,’ he concludes.

Register your interest for the IR Magazine Awards – South East Asia 2023 and IR Magazine Awards – Greater China 2023.