Twenty-five leading IROs from the last quarter century

Dec 17, 2012
<p><em>Janet Dignan</em> hears from 25 IROs who have helped lead the profession from obscurity to center stage over the last quarter century</p>

The corporate world is full of first-class IROs, working hard to satisfy senior management on the one hand and the investment community on the other.

Many strive to measure their own effectiveness – and we at IR Magazine, via our annual awards programs, also do our best to identify the leading IR teams around the world.

Choosing the best individual IROs over the past quarter-century is a daunting task, but IR Magazine has selected 25 IR professionals who, for a range of reasons, have made a particular impression.

Listed alphabetically here, these individuals are (or have been) at the very top of their game. All have won awards, and all have done the IR profession proud.

Outstanding start

First up is Kiran Bhojani, an outstanding IRO at E.ON in Germany for many years. At our continental Europe awards ceremony in 2008, E.ON won the grand prix and three other awards, bringing Bhojani’s career total to more than 30. That evening, to everyone’s surprise, he announced he was leaving E.ON.

Later we presented him with a framed IR Magazine cover dedicated to his IR work and commitment – after all, he had interrupted his holiday to fly to Amsterdam to be at the awards ceremony.

His response hinted that he still had things in perspective, however: ‘Life is worth more than the share price,’ he said. ‘Don’t let the BlackBerry drive you; you drive the BlackBerry.’

Roberto Castello BrancoRoberto Castello Branco, IR maestro at Vale in Brazil, is another repeat award winner. IR Magazine particularly likes his assertion, proffered to this magazine, about the nature of IR:

‘In investor relations, there are no mysteries and no secret weapons. We just try to do ordinary things extraordinarily well.’ He’s clearly succeeded, which is one reason Vale has won so many awards: 22 trophies in the past five years alone.

Nancy Chen, former IRO at Li & Fung, began her professional life as a buy-side analyst with a Japanese investment house, where she covered Li & Fung for three and a half years before joining the in-house IR team.

Her predecessor at Li & Fung told Chen the company had a lot of potential because its management was well respected, but that the stock was not widely covered.

Within a couple of years, virtually anyone looking at Hong Kong was covering the company. Chen’s success was also evident in several award wins, including for best IRO in Hong Kong. She’s now head of investor relations at Sun Hung Kai Financial.

Next up is Roddy Child-Villiers, head of investor relations at Nestlé in Switzerland, whose IR career started almost as long ago as IR Magazine, in 1989. Another multiple award winner, Child-Villiers is reticent when asked what he feels most proud of in his IR career.

‘Wherever an IRO works, it is the efforts of the other employees that count,’ he notes. ‘At Nestlé, there are more than 300,000 people who make the company what it is. If I have any pride, it is in celebrating their achievements.’

Child-Villiers cites three IR heroes. The first is ‘the man who originally said credibility is like virginity – you can lose it only once. It should be the watchword for anyone in IR.’

Second is Alex Sandberg, former owner of College Hill Associates, ‘the first person in financial communications to believe in me.’ And finally there’s David Lyon, CEO of Bowater (now Rexam), ‘the first man I pitched to on behalf of CHA – the first account I won – and the man who took me from consultancy to corporate life by employing me five years later.’

North Star

Blair ChristieFor Blair Christie of Cisco, CEO John Chambers and former CFO Larry Carter are the IR heroes. ‘Their understanding of the investment community, respect for my team’s advocacy on behalf of this community, and commitment to transparency and strong integrity have been a North Star for the investor relations team at Cisco,’ she says.

Her greatest pride comes from receiving recognition for Cisco’s IR ‘during the toughest years, when the internet bubble burst, and during times of rebuilding our company’s leadership. To be recognized during tough times is incredibly satisfying.’

The achievement of which Nexen’s Janet Craig is most proud is, by contrast, rather modest. ‘The honest answer is that I have this career at all,’ she says.

‘I fell into IR when I was in a temporary job where my boss was nominally in charge of IR. They paid an external IR firm and I started reading the stuff coming in and – frankly – fixing some of it: grammar, syntax and so on.’

That piqued her interest in IR and she found a job as a project manager in an IPO roadshow company.

‘If we get past that,’ adds Craig, ‘then I am most proud of the relationships I have built with the Street and management. They have allowed me to do my best to add value.’

Carol DiRaimoCarol DiRaimo, like many of her top-rated IR peers, says her greatest pride comes from ‘the relationships and trust built over the years.’ Now with Jack in the Box, she began winning awards for her IR at Applebee’s.

‘After 18 years on the accounting and finance side, I started officially doing IR at Applebee’s International in 2001,’ she explains. ‘It took me nearly two years to convince the firm to let me do IR, as that was not my background.’

DiRaimo won the best IRO award four years in a row, from 2004 to 2007, when she was at Applebee’s. She then moved to fast food chain Jack in the Box, which was nominated for most progress in 2009 and again in 2010.

She won best small-cap IRO and saw her firm nominated for the grand prix in 2011, and this year she received two nominations, for best IRO and the grand prix.

Funny guy

Martin Gottlob, who has headed up IR at Danske Bank since 2004, says he derives most pride in his work from ‘being recognized by investors and analysts as a reliable and trustful IRO.’ Gottlob was previously a banking analyst, so he knows what’s required from the other side – always valuable in the IR role.

Perhaps most memorably, he was responsible for one of the better IR jokes, made as he was collecting a clutch of post-credit crunch awards on behalf of the bank in 2008, including best IRO in the Nordic region and grand prix for best overall IR.

‘On the balance sheet, there’s a left side and a right side,’ he said. ‘On the left side nothing’s right, and on the right side nothing’s left.’

Ken Janke, former IRO and now deputy CFO at Aflac, says he ‘stumbled into the IR profession back in 1981’, when he worked for the National Association of Investors Corp (NAIC), which meant spending a lot of time interacting with IROs from around the country.

‘During the evenings, I worked on my MBA with the goal of landing an IRO position,’ he explains. ‘That happened in 1985 when Aflac offered me a job.’

Janke’s IR hero, ‘without a doubt, would have to be my late father, Ken Janke Sr, who ran the NAIC for many years. He was a great advocate for individual investors and an incredible mentor during my time there. I rode to work with him almost every day and learned an incredible amount from him – about investing, business and life.’

Asked about his proudest IR achievement, Richard Jones, who heads IR at Indorama Ventures in Thailand and first started doing IR in 1998, recalls the day of the firm’s IPO in 2010:

‘I persuaded the Stock Exchange of Thailand to allow us to be the first company ever to promote the IPO on its rooftop LED board, viewed from thousands of vehicles daily. And we did a countdown to the IPO on all the exchange’s internal televisions over 10 days – another first.’

As for his IR hero, we offer Jones’ response here – with no apology. ‘This may come out sounding disingenuous,’ he says, ‘but it really is so difficult to choose just one IR hero that I have to choose a symbolic digest of heroes.

IR Magazine has taught me so much over the years about the importance of transparency, the need for complete honesty – telling the negatives along with the positives – and the fact that IR is probably at the bottom of the list of people investors want to hear from in a company. This may hurt the ego, but it reminds me that I am merely a corporate ambassador.

IR Magazine has featured the ideas of thousands of IROs over 25 years who I will perhaps never have the opportunity to meet, yet I can learn about what works and what doesn’t from all of them in one place. The world’s best IROs have taught me through IR Magazine, so it’s definitely my real IR hero.’

Belle Mulligan, 1940-2009, Barrick Gold, Canada

As one of the founders of the Canadian Investor Relations Institute, Belle Mulligan’s name lives on in many Canadian IROs’ memories. Hugely respected in IR circles for her generosity and integrity, she was also cited by an analyst as ‘adding 10 percent to the valuation’ of her company. For Nexen’s Janet Craig, she is an IR hero. ‘I don’t think I actually ever met Belle, but I remember her vividly,’ Craig recalls.

‘She was beautiful, poised, impeccably dressed and very smart. She oozed professionalism and success. I remember seeing her walking down a hall at a conference center, and I turned to Joey Brown and said that I hoped to be like her someday. And while I can’t say I am any of the things Belle was, in my mind she is the IR person I hope one day to be.’

Limited Brands’ former IRO Tom Katzenmeyer is a repeat winner of grand prix and best IRO awards in the US who made a real impact on investors and analysts in his time there.

A consummate IR pro, he started in IR at Limited Brands back in 1989 and was there for the best part of two decades. Josh Cummings of Putnam Investments once said of Katzenmeyer:

‘It seems to me that Les Wexner, the chairman, has given Tom an awful lot of responsibility for the business. Tom is really the go-to guy because if I talk to him, I don’t feel the need to pick up the phone and talk to the CEO or CFO.’

A little over a year ago, BP’s head of investor relations, Fergus MacLeod, took on an extra role as head of strategy. MacLeod, who joined BP back in 2002 from Deutsche Bank, has won numerous awards for BP, including best IRO on a number of occasions, and he retains oversight responsibility for IR.

Indeed, part of his purpose as strategy head is to win back shareholder confidence. It’s a crucial function at this point in BP’s history, and one which only someone of MacLeod’s standing would be entrusted with.

Big deal

Karl Mahler, the urbane and charming head of IR at Roche in Switzerland, has the award for best IRO in Europe under his belt, along with numerous other accolades from investors and analysts over the years.

Mahler, who began in IR at Aventis in 2000, says he’s most proud of helping raise the finance to take Genentech private.

‘At around $40 bn, it was the biggest cash deal ever,’ he recalls, ‘and we achieved it in a very difficult market in 2009-2010, when the financial crisis was at its peak and there was basically no, or very little, liquidity in the market.’

Declining to name an IR hero as such, Mahler prefers to pay tribute to his colleagues at Roche. ‘The success of IR is very much a team effort,’ he insists.

Conversely, Bruce Mann, head of IR at Rogers Communications in Canada, has no hesitation in naming his IR hero: Ted Rogers, who died four years ago and who built the firm from the ground up.

‘He never shied away from taking the long view, never played the short-term results game at the expense of long-term value creation,’ says Mann.

‘He may have scared the hell out of some people along the way but he created many billions of dollars of investor and personal wealth in the process.’

Mann’s IR career began in 1995 at US West in Colorado. He says he’s most proud of two things: ‘the trust of management teams I’ve worked with, and the respect of the investment community, built on the back of multi-year relationships rooted in an almost religious focus on being responsive, transparent, proactive and credible.’

One-woman show

Magdalena MollBASF’s Magdalena Moll says her greatest IR achievement to date, by far, was the acquisition of Engelhard by her company in 2006. ‘This was the first unsolicited takeover by a German company in the US,’ she explains.

‘The coordination between IR, communications, strategy and M&A, and the work in both the US and Europe to see this project successfully through, was a real challenge. It’s also something I learned a tremendous amount from.’

Moll first began in IR in 1992, at Mannesman, ‘where I was a one-woman show. I took over the responsibility of IR from the controller at the time, and by the time I left the company we were a team of six IR professionals.’

She names Paul Scott, a partner at Brunswick Group, as her IR hero. ‘Paul has advised me and BASF on some of our most critical projects over the years,’ she says.

‘I have always been impressed with his ability to quickly see through the issue to get to the key point, and to understand the impact on the broader stakeholder groups.’

GE’s director of corporate investor communications, JoAnna Morris, has been with the company for more than 20 years, though the company first launched an IR department nearly 60 years ago, in 1953.

Morris has received multiple awards and nominations during her time in investor relations, but this year was a first for the best crisis management award: GE built and supplied the reactors for the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

Bob NoorigianBob Noorigian appears elsewhere in this issue, not least because its publication coincides with his retirement from Canadian rail group CN.

His IR career began at Union Pacific the same year IR Magazine started, in 1988, ‘almost by accident’. Noorigian was interviewing for a different position when he was asked about the IR role: ‘I never looked back,’ he says.

As for heroes, Noorigian names his wife Shirley, ‘for putting up with all the late nights, missed dinners and inopportune phone calls.’ But there are more: ‘Also, all the good people who worked tirelessly with me over the years (Rose, Paul, Janet, Nadeem, Mark). They made me look good and sound smart.’

For many years, Ladislas Paszkiewicz of Total in France made repeat trips to the stage at our continental Europe awards. He joined Total in 1985 but only moved to IR in 1991.

He stayed in IR until 2004, the year after he won four awards in Paris, including best IRO. But the trophy gathering then came to an end, because Paszkiewicz was promoted to bigger things at Total; today he’s senior vice president of Total for the Americas.

Earning respect

Ron Slaymaker of Texas Instruments (TI) is most proud of ‘helping to build TI’s IR activity into a function that has earned respect both inside and outside our company.’

He’s quick to pay tribute to his team: ‘It’s made up of people who have broad and deep experiences inside our company and industry, having run businesses and worked in different functions. They had good alternative career options, but they chose IR. More than any skills I have personally, a capable team surrounding me has helped advance the IR function here at TI.’

Slaymaker began in IR in 1998, after 16 years with TI. ‘I hadn’t planned on IR being my next career step and, in fact, hadn’t even considered it,’ he recalls.

‘At the time, I thought it sounded like a fun job for a couple of years. I was partially right – it was a fun job, but it’s now been fun for 14 years.’

Geraldo Soares started in IR in 1999 with Itaú Unibanco Holding, where he remains to this day. With regard to Itaú, he’s most proud of ‘being a pioneer in initiatives such as public meetings and the IR website.’

More broadly, he’s proud of having helped to create the Steering Committee for Information Disclosure to the Market, of twice being president of the Brazilian Institute of Investor Relations, and of being the author of two books about the market.

Elizabeth SunElizabeth Sun, who heads IR for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC), has been a standout IRO in our Asian awards for many years now.

She is the face of TSMC among members of the investment community, who shower her with praise in our research carried out in the region to identify the best companies from an IR perspective.

At last year’s Greater China Awards, Sun took the best IRO trophy for the fifth time in six years; that’s apart from the other six she collected for 2012 alone.

Lifetime achievement

Bina ThompsonColgate-Palmolive’s senior vice president of IR, Bina Thompson, has been with the company since 1992. A past grand prix winner and NIRI board member, at the 2012 US Awards she was presented with the award for lifetime achievement in investor relations, prompting this comment from Colgate CEO Ian Cook: ‘Colgate people, as well as Colgate shareholders, owe Bina a tremendous debt.

For more than 20 years, she has helped investors and analysts understand our global business, our strategy and our results.’

At CapitaLand in Singapore, Harold Woo is nearing a decade in charge of the company’s highly successful – and award-winning – IR program.

A former sell-side analyst, Woo switched to IR when he joined CapitaLand in 2003, and his understanding of the ‘other side’ doesn’t go unnoticed.

As Woo himself said to IR Magazine: ‘I once had many love affairs with many companies; now I have only one love affair with one company.’

PetroChina’s Mao Zefeng, with nearly a dozen years under his IR belt, has won many IR Magazine awards and nominations over the years, including one for best investor relations professional in mainland China in 2010.

His success is perhaps in part a result of his credo: ‘Our investor relations work will never be satisfactory without the true satisfaction of our shareholders.’

The 25 top IROs of all time

Kiran Bhojani, independent (ex-E.ON), Germany

Roberto Castello Branco, Vale, Brazil

Nancy Chen, Sun Hung Kai Financial (ex-Li & Fung), Hong Kong

Roddy Child-Villiers, Nestlé, Switzerland

Blair Christie, Cisco, US

Janet Craig, Nexen, Canada

Carol DiRaimo, Jack in the Box (ex-Applebee’s), US

Martin Gottlob, Danske Bank, Denmark

Ken Janke, Aflac, US

Richard Jones, Indorama Ventures, Thailand

Tom Katzenmeyer, Ohio State University (ex-Limited Brands), US

Fergus MacLeod, BP, UK

Karl Mahler, Roche, Switzerland

Bruce Mann, Rogers Communications, Canada

Magdalena Moll, BASF, Germany

JoAnna Morris, GE, US

Belle Mulligan, Barrick Gold, Canada

Bob Noorigian, CN, Canada

Ladislas Paszkiewicz, Total, France

Ron Slaymaker, Texas Instruments, US

Geraldo Soares, Itaú Unibanco Holding, Brazil

Elizabeth Sun, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, Taiwan

Bina Thompson, Colgate-Palmolive, US

Harold Woo, CapitaLand, Singapore

Mao Zefeng, PetroChina, China

Sign up to get stories direct to your inbox
logo-black logo-black