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Mar 31, 1998

In the stocks

CEOs who don't give a damn about IR should be heard too

Every year at around this time the UK's Investor Relations Society holds its conference. Every year it hauls up some corporate bigwig to give a keynote address on why investor relations is vital, crucial, valuable, valued and generally top notch at their own company.

This year Lord Blyth of Rowington, deputy chairman and chief executive of The Boots Company is doing the honors. Boots has gained several fans in recent times for its dedication to shareholder value. By many accounts in the City it does a pretty good job at explaining how it's going about creating and sustaining that value as well.

Now that's all well and good. And in no way am I knocking the IRS - which is doing a great job at raising the profile of IR in the UK - for inviting Lord Blyth. Having a corporate bigwig open a conference on IR puts IR people in the right mood. Everyone can strut about proudly accepting hearty slaps-on-the-back all day in the knowledge that this is a great profession and senior management loves us.

But I've got an alternative suggestion. It may be slightly radical, slightly unworkable, but I think it's worth pondering. Instead of having one of these leading CEO/chairman/president people stand up front and say just how important IR is to their company, why not get a corporate bigwig who everyone knows doesn't really give a damn about IR.

There are still plenty of them out there in the UK - some lurking within the FTSE 100 - and a heck of a lot more in continental Europe. The idea would be to get an IR laggard in to give a presentation on the joys of IR - you'd never get anyone to explain why they hated the function, of course. That would be verging on honesty.

Then, once the presentation is over and the polite applause has died down, out from the back of the stage would creep a panel of analysts and fund managers who have actually experienced this company's disdain of the financial community. They could then ask him (or her) what on earth they think they're doing. Why do they profess to practice good IR when the reality smacks of something very different?

To create that feelgood feeling among delegates necessary for the remainder of the conference, the Investor Relations Society could just provide some squishy tomatoes to gently lob in the direction of the offending CEO after the panel's interrogation.

Now that would really set everyone up for the day.

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