Archive for the ‘My two cents’ worth’ Category

Thanksgiving thoughts

November 26, 2009

In the USA, we celebrate Thanksgiving today. The tradition has less to do with thanking each other for kindnesses extended than it has to do with thanking our Maker for the grace and mercies He extends. It’s a time for counting our blessings.

Avi Ifergan, an asset manager in Israel, shared good thoughts on thanksgiving a couple of years ago in a post called “The Relationship between Gratitude & Value Investing” in his Israel Value blog. (The blog went dormant after Ifergan got a gig with a bank in 2008, but it’s still interesting to browse for comments on investing.)

The point on value investing is that appreciating value in an asset that others don’t appreciate springs from a habit of gratitude in all areas. So investing meets life. He cites examples of humility and gratitude from Warren Buffett and other investors.

Ivergan offers these thoughts on reasons each of us should feel grateful:

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.

If you can attend a church / synagogue meeting without fear of harrassment, arrest, torture or death, you are more blessed than 3 billion people in the world.

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

If you have ever made a phone call, you are ahead of 50% of the world population that never has.

And if you are reading this blog – and have access to the internet then you are ahead of 90% of the world population that does not have access to the internet.

We have more than ample reasons to be grateful. So, whether you’re in America or a place with other holiday traditions, happy Thanksgiving!

Advertisements

Anthropology of Wall Street

September 24, 2009

If you’ve worked on stock offerings or M&A transactions, you have probably noticed that the smartest guy in the room is always the investment banker. At least in the investment banker’s opinion. (And I say this without any envy or doubts.)

So I perked up when I saw a piece in my college alumni magazine about a new book. In Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street, Karen Ho explores the culture of investment banks. She says the i-bank tribe’s most revered value is “smartness.”

Ms. Ho started researching the culture of Wall Street as a Princeton grad student in Anthropology. Usually, talk of Anthropology conjures images of going to a rain forest to study strange customs. But Ms. Ho, now an Anthropology prof, finds her cultural oddities in the jungle of downtown Manhattan.

At one point she decided field interviews were not enough – she needed to get inside Wall Street by working there. She recalls a Goldman Sachs recruiting session:

“So why should you work here?” asked the recent white male alumnus from Harvard. “Because if you hang out with dumb people, you’ll learn dumb things. In investment banking, the people are very smart; that’s why they got the job. It’s very fast, very challenging, and they’ll teach as quickly as you can learn.”

Sound a little elitist? Repeatedly, Ms. Ho says, Wall Streeters told Ivy League prospects in recruiting sessions for i-banks things like, “We hire only superstars” and “You are the cream of the crop” and “You are all so smart!” (A few years ago, recall, Wall Streeters had jobs – and even needed to hire more.)

Once inside, of course, the oh-so-smart bankers reinforce the self-image. Ms. Ho says that feeling of smartness is what the Wall Street culture is all about.

Now fast forward to the financial meltdown of 2007-09. The article notes Ms. Ho’s conclusion that Wall Street’s latest downfall resulted not so much from greed or stupidity as from the smartest-guy-in-the-room syndrome:

The crash is the natural result of a Wall Street culture in which the self-proclaimed smartest people in the world came to believe that high share prices trumped all other corporate values and, in doing so, imposed their ethos of live-for-today risk-taking on the economy at large.

Not everyone on Wall Street, of course, embraces an elitist culture. I have worked with i-bankers who are humble, down-to-earth and friendly. And some investor relations and corporate execs play know-it-all. On the other hand, as a stereotype for i-bankers, there is some truth to the image of “smartest guy in the room.”

[Disclosure: I have not read Ms. Ho’s book. The magazine version was fine, but I don’t think I’m up for an Anthropology tome published by a university press. Her bottom-line conclusion is interesting. Let me know if you read the ethnography.]

New feature: ‘Browse by topic’

July 27, 2009

Over the weekend I tinkered with this blog a bit to add an index by subjects – under the heading “Browse by topic” in the right-hand column.

Not a big change and not sexy looking, just a small enhancement aiming to make IR Café more useful and easier to navigate. The idea is that if you’re interested in, say, M&A communications you can click on that and get an archive of posts relating to that subject – without a whole lot of clicking around.

In the process, I made subject names more specific for all past posts. Of course, you can still use the search box in the upper right to search by key word – for example, earnings guidance or conference calls, which aren’t separate subjects.

Two goals for anyone with influence over a website are to make it useful and usable. As investor relations professionals, we should regularly look at our company websites to see if we can improve the IR sections against those standards.

Please let me know if this minor change helps you – or certainly if it causes any unintended problems. By all means, pass along any ideas for improvements.

I’ll drink to that

June 20, 2009

IMG_0917 (2)Ya gotta love that Harvard Business Review! And Thomas H. Lee, MD, a prof at Harvard Medical School who writes the magazine’s Health & Well-Being column among other accomplishments. In the June issue, the good doctor tells us what we want to hear in “Good News for Coffee Addicts”:

What’s the engine that drives American business? Innovation? Perspiration? Capital? Try coffee. From the shop floor to the boardroom, java – and I don’t mean the software – fuels workers and shapes office culture. What’s more, a steaming cup of joe may be as good for your health as it is for the bottom line.

Despite some early knocks from medical studies in the Fifties and Sixties that didn’t realize the health effects they were seeing came from smoking, which used to go hand-in-hand with coffee drinking, Dr. Lee says recent science is trending strongly in favor of coffee. Doesn’t cause cancer – may help prevent some kinds. Not bad for your heart – may help prevent heart attack or stroke. Other conditions like diabetes, gallstones … well, the stuff is practically a magic elixir. 

Full disclosure: You may have guessed I am one of those coffee addicts, and Dr. Lee sounds happily caffeine-buzzed. So it’s self-justifying. But I’m not on the Maxwell House payroll, and he didn’t cite any sinister funding from Big Coffee either.

To be even more balanced in my scientific reporting, Dr. Lee keeps mentioning “a cup or two” – he’s not measuring intake in pots a day. He warns against too much caffeine making you shaky, raising blood pressure and dehydrating you. And adding sugar, cream, whipped cream, caramel, chocolate …? Don’t go there. Probably the best health aspect of coffee is that it starts with zero calories.

So, as investor relations people who often are powered by a cup of coffee (or tea or something in a can), maybe we don’t need to feel guilty anymore. Thanks, HBR.

IR Café: one year & counting

June 12, 2009

iStock_8241130_CupcakeToday marks one year since I began writing IR Café. The blog is a way to contribute to the conversation in the investor relations profession, exchange ideas with colleagues, clarify my own thoughts, and reach out to IR people I might not otherwise meet.

How very gratifying! Among the results:

  • Experimenting with social media – and the interrelationships among blogs, search engines, Twitter, websites and so on – is an exciting learning experience.
  • Just over 9,000 visitors have looked at IR Café to date. It’s averaging 30 a day in 2009. Not big numbers by web standards – but a lot more people than I normally see in a day or a year.
  • I’ve spoken or traded emails with IR people across the US and Europe – as well as Brazil, India, Israel and Russia. And I’ve met some in person, a warm affirmation that “the network” actually consists of real people.
  • While I’m still a newbie, I am having some fun.

Thanks to each of you for reading, commenting or reaching out to get in touch.

And now I’m going to sip on a mug of coffee and think about what’s next. Please send me your thoughts or suggestions for IR Café.

Headline of the day

June 1, 2009

Headline on the General Motors news release today:

GM ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH U.S. TREASURY AND CANADIAN GOVERNMENTS PROVIDING FAST TRACK TO COMPETITIVE FUTURE FOR ‘NEW GM’

Translation: GM filed bankruptcy today. 

Lesson: Spin doesn’t really make it happy news.

Also, four words say more than 18 words.

“Investor Relations” the song

January 31, 2009

sisterhood-albumThis is too weird not to share: Searching for a book on Amazon I ran across an MP3 for a song called “Investor Relations.” Well, I had to plunk down my 89 cents and latch onto this professionally relevant tune. Turns out “Investor Relations” is 10 years old. Somehow I missed it back in ’99. Here’s the album cover.

The band is the Sisterhood of Convoluted Thinkers. OK, they’re not on my regular playlist … a bit too loud-and-indie for a mellow-oldies guy.

Strangely enough, the Sisterhood’s singer on this track is male. His whiny nasal voice sounds like something from Dylan in the Sixties – appropriately, since “Investor Relations” is sort of a protest song.

Listen to a clip … Or a sample of the lyrics will give you the flavor:

I’ll make a bet that we all own something
That disagrees with our politics …

So you’re buying stock in a corporation
That’s cutting off your nose.
Don’t you dare look shocked
When they come to take it 
And they say that’s how it goes.
And now, I can’t breathe.

The words are eccentric but evoke darkness and doom in all things corporate. Taking swipes at Nike, Wal-Mart and other companies, the song could offer a provocative lead-in to a discussion on socially responsible investing. Or just comic relief. “Now, I can’t breathe … la-la-la-la-la” is a recurring refrain. (The “la-la-la-la-la” keeps it from getting too heavy.)

This musical oddity is not about to be adopted as an anthem for NIRI – though you have to wonder, why isn’t there more singing at NIRI meetings?

The Obama era begins

January 20, 2009

In President Barack Obama we have a new chief executive, a fresh cheerleader, a change agent, a commander-in-chief with different strategies and (as Bloomberg points out) a “banker-in-chief” for  an economy that has become much more interventionist.

Inauguration Day 2009 was, as previous ones have been, all pageantry and historical symbolism. But once again America achieved a peaceful transition of power to a new leader, with a different take on what the nation needs. I voted for the other guy – but wish our President well.

Observers note that Obama’s inaugural address seemed to lack that single memorable line (the only thing we have to fear is fear itselfask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country). You can read the text here, or hear talking heads discuss the speech here. Writing a speech for a million and a half people – and billions worldwide – must be horribly difficult. Inspiration is hard to manufacture. Investor presentations are way easy by comparison.

Obama seems to have eschewed poetry and passion to speak fairly bluntly about the gravity of our economic and geopolitical woes. I do think his ending is evocative – both sobering and encouraging:

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

After the parades and the balls, the President’s work begins. Everyone hopes he succeeds, because we all need the benefits of that success.

Resolutions for 2009

January 5, 2009

In the spirit of new beginnings, I’ll share a few of my resolutions for 2009. Don’t worry, nothing on weight or exercise to engender any guilt feelings. These all touch on the business of investor relations:

  • I hope to speak more clearly and write more clearly. Creating a message that is well-understood by each person in our audience – clarity – is the measure of success in investor relations and corporate communication.
  • I plan to expand my own network of relationships. Personally, I favor business relationships that grow into mutually supportive friendships.
  • I want to give away more, and also bring in more.
  • I hope to surprise people with the quality of our work on every project. This little firm, Johnson Strategic, is a calling – not just a job.
  • I strive to continue learning new ways to communicate. Interactive tools are transforming the way people seek and find information, but in the corporate world we are not yet very good at connecting via Web 2.0.
  • I want to write this IR Café blog for the benefit of investor relations professionals – and stimulate conversation to build up all of our skills.

What are your resolutions for 2009? Care to share?

Warmest wishes for the holiday

December 24, 2008

The harsh winds of the ’08 market have pretty much chilled us all to the bone, but we wish you a warm, secure, happy time with family and friends as the year winds down to a close. And all the best for a bright 2009!