How IR can be brilliant: Highlights from CIRI 2017
More than 180 IR professionals gathered in British Columbia at CIRI’s diamond anniversary national conference last week. The conference theme – Brilliant IR: Bringing clarity and value to investor relations – focused on how IR can continue to evolve to meet the demands of increased economic and political complexity.
Yvette Lokker, CIRI’s president and chief executive, set the tone in her opening remarks, imploring attendees to ‘leave this conference with new knowledge, a new friend and a renewed energy’.
Ultimately, the key takeaways from the conference are:
- IR is on the front line in dealing with political and economic uncertainty, new trends in governance and regulation, and changes in investor behavior. In many cases, this is driving a growing convergence between IR and corporate governance
- Through experience, a continued focus on the fundamentals of IR and a sense of community (between corporates, advisers and vendors), IR teams are navigating these choppy waters
- IROs who excel have the ear of their senior management, and even their board. As Chaya Cooperberg, chief communications officer at AmTrust Financial Services, said: ‘IR can have a seat at the table.’
Brilliant IR is strategic IR
This final point was illustrated by the first and last keynote sessions. In the opening session, Randy Smallwood, president and chief executive at Wheaton Precious Metals, outlined how IR plays a central role in his company’s success. When it was announced that Smallwood was taking over as CEO in 2011, he was immediately coached by his IR team on what his strengths and weaknesses were and how he could use those to demonstrate new opportunities for his shareholders. In turn, he promoted the vice president of IR to senior vice president, putting him on par with the company’s CFO. Smiles spread across the room when Smallwood said: ‘IR is very important to us, to any public company. I work for my shareholders.’
The last session was similarly illuminating, with Janet Craig, vice president of investor relations at Fortis, and Stuart Kampel, director of IR at TransCanada Corporation, outlining the role they have played in recent high-stakes M&A transactions. ‘Know the business, the industry and the transaction and then stand up and give the perspective of current and potential shareholders to your management,’ said Kampel. ‘That’s our responsibility as IROs.’
Craig explained that when she first joined Fortis, she found meetings were taking place between executives, lawyers and bankers without a representation of what investors may think. ‘Sometimes you have to insert yourself into the process,’ she said, adding that once you’ve got management’s attention, you should take take the opportunity: ‘People don’t forget to add you to meetings if you add value.’
In the spirit of recognizing brilliance, CIRI presented its two flagship awards, with Isabelle Adjahi winning the Belle Mulligan award for leadership in investor relations and Chaya Cooperberg taking home the award for excellence in investor relations. CIRI also inducted four individuals into its fellowship program, which it launched two years ago to commemorate those who have made an important contribution to the profession. The 2017 inductees are Bob Tait of T8 Investor Relations, Lorne Gorber of CGI Group, Greg Waller of Teck Resources and Nancy Woo of Nancy E Woo Consulting. Finally, the institute presented pins in recognition of years of service: the 10-year service award and, for the first time ever, the 20-year service award.
A changing world for IR
The rest of the sessions were broadly split into two groups, the first covering macro trends such as changes in investor behavior, the rise of shareholder activism in Canada, regulatory changes, political uncertainty and the growing role of CSR on investor rationale. These sessions highlighted how important corporate governance has become and why IR needs to be collaborating with its peers in other functions. This was particularly evident when Wendy King, vice president of legal, risk and governance at Capstone Mining Corp, outlined how she worked with IR when ISS flagged issues with the company’s executive compensation policies. Together, King and her IR colleagues identified the shareholders that vote with ISS and built a plan of action from there. ‘The collaboration between IR and corporate governance is such an important relationship,’ she said.
The second group of sessions examined how technology can enhance the fundamentals of IR. We heard from Corbin Advisors about how to elevate and differentiate earnings releases, while Business Wire discussed how to make the earning process more efficient and secure, highlighting its newly inked relationship with Workiva. Blender Media covered trends in IR websites, once again discussing how technology can make information more accessible and readable. In addition, attendees debated the pros and cons of virtual AGMs and social media.
A tight-knit community
The sense of community between corporates and vendors was particularly evident at the end of each day, when attendees gathered for a drink. This year’s conference was held in Kelowna, a remote part of British Columbia famed for its vineyards. With the help of two slightly eccentric locals, conference attendees spent the last night locking horns in a round of competitive grape stomping.
Mercifully, the bar was well stocked with grapes that had been crushed long ago, stored in barrels and fermented for years. As the sun went down over the Okanagan Lake, glasses were clinked, wine was sipped and grapes were pulled out of places they should never be found. Cheers to another 30 years of CIRI.