Raising your profile as an IRO

Gaining access to the C-suite is critical for investor relations professionals, both to know what we need to know about the company for effective communication with investors – and to build personal success in our own careers – according to NIRI‘s June/July 2011 issue of IR Update.

The tips and ideas on raising your professional profile apply equally to IROs working in-house and consultants helping from the outside. Pick up your copy from NIRI and read “How Suite It is” (so far, the piece hasn’t appeared online).

Three qualities stand out to me among the several offered as keys to the C-suite:

Contribution. Several IROs and other execs say the key to gaining access to the corner office is to contribute to the business – in more than one way. Beyond doing your IR job well (which is fundamental), get involved with people and projects across various functions that are building value for the company.

Ruth Cotter, VP of IR for Advanced Micro Devices, urges IROs to be proactive:

At that level within the corporate world, they’re not looking for people waiting to be asked to do something. … Look beyond investor relations to garner the attention of your CEO and CFO.

Taking on a formal role in corporate strategy, business development or finance may be a remote aspiration for IROs in large, hierarchical companies. But look around. Often an IR person can informally volunteer to help people in other functions or serve on project teams that reach further into the business. Word gets around, and management recognizes contributions.

Courage. Jeff Henderson, CFO of Cardinal Health, says IR people can earn respect from their CFOs and CEOs by displaying the courage of their convictions:

Perhaps more than most positions in the organization, the IRO must have a certain level of courage – the courage to disagree with senior leaders and challenge their thinking and to say no to constituents at the appropriate time.

IR people can be confident in bringing investors’ feedback to management -after all, saying what will or won’t fly with the owners ought to carry some weight. In addition, the IR professional often brings counsel based on experience and training in communication skills more specific to IR than to the CEO or CFO’s backgrounds.

Credibility. This one, admittedly, is circular. IROs need access to the corner office to build credibility with investors. And IROs need to earn respect among investors to be credible with CEOs and CFOs – because word gets back on how IR is doing.

Charles Strauzer, an independent small cap analyst, suggests IROs have a heart-to-heart talk with their CEOs if they’re not getting ample access. If an IR person has to say “I don’t know” too often, he says, the IRO loses credibility:

Credibility comes from IROs’ access and their willingness to communicate. If they can’t get the access and information, they can’t communicate, and they won’t get the credibility.

A little self-evaluation is a good thing for the IR professional. Do I contribute to the business? Do I have the courage to speak my convictions? Have I built credibility with my main stakeholders, internally and externally? How can I get there?

Recently I heard an institutional investor ask a CEO on a conference call for a self-evaluation of his performance after one year on the job. Then the investor asked the Chairman for his assessment of the CEO and his team. An interesting – and positive – discussion ensued.

Comparing where we are today with where we need to be is how we grow.

© 2011 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

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