Serious business at world’s biggest IR get-together

Aug 01, 2011
<p><i>Neil Stewart</i> reviews the 2011 NIRI conference</p>

The numbers were up. The buzz was positive. The mood was one of relief and celebration: ‘We made it through another year. We made it to another NIRI conference.’  

The world’s biggest gathering of IR professionals took place in early June, with around 1,300 IROs and their service providers converging on Orlando, Florida for NIRI’s annual convention. Attendee numbers were up on last year’s conference, which itself displayed a firm uptick on 2009 when attendance took a hard hit during the financial crisis.

In the opening session, NIRI CEO Jeff Morgan pointed out that 15 percent of this year’s conference-goers were from outside the US, representing every continent except Antarctica. ‘You’re here to make sure you understand US investment practices because there’s so much investment capital in the US,’ he said. The degree of non-US interest in NIRI points to one prong in the organization’s growth strategy: this fall NIRI will launch a series of global IR practices seminars for non-US IROs wanting to learn how IR is done in the US. The first one will take place in Miami.

NIRI has been carrying out a strategic organization review, explained NIRI chair Doug Wilburne, vice president of IR at Textron. He divulged how NIRI can grow not only by tapping the new wave of IPOs for new members, but also by recruiting private companies that may one day go public. The institute is further considering whether to offer corporate memberships, opening the way to involving other executives such as CEOs and CFOs and serving them with information.

On the advocacy front, NIRI answered the SEC’s call for fixes to proxy mechanics with strong suggestions for reform. ‘Unfortunately, because of Dodd-Frank, the SEC has sort of put that off until next year,’ said Morgan. ‘But it will come back.’

After several years spent yo-yoing between San Diego and Florida, in 2012 NIRI will hold its annual conference in Seattle, Washington. This will be the first time the conference has been held in the Pacific Northwest – another sign that the organization is continuing to evolve.

Straight talk from the top
It was stirring to see a huge crowd of IROs gathered in a hangar-sized ballroom for this year’s general sessions. Big sessions and breakouts alike seemed exceptionally well attended, from a standing-room-only crowd at the pre-conference international panel discussion to a closing presentation on body language.

George BarrettOne of the highlights was a keynote speech focusing on this year’s theme: leadership in a changing world. George Barrett (pictured right), CEO and chairman of Cardinal Health, ran down six points about the role of IR as part of his broad-ranging address:

1. IR must serve as a strategic partner, not just as a voice to the Street.
2. IR can be an important bridge to the board – but remember that every board is different.
3. Transparency is more and more critical, particularly as it relates to strategy, performance drivers and milestones for measuring progress. But that doesn’t mean you have to share everything at the expense of undermining competitiveness.
4. Bring shareholders along with the strategy.
5. Integrate your message.
6. Embrace the naysayers.

This article appeared in the August print edition of IR magazine.

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