Climbing the IR Career Ladder – How Did I Get Here and Where am I Going?

NIRI Boston’s February event featured:

  • Anthony Takazawa, Vice President, Investor Relations and Corporate Communications, Acushnet Holdings Corp.
  • Matt Osborne, Head of Investors Relations and Corporate Communications, Voyager Therapeutics, Inc.
  • Smooch Reynolds, Executive Vice President, Global Investor Relations and Communications Practice Leader, DHR International

The panel had a lively and interactive discussion focused on their individual backgrounds, IR career progression, industry trends and general advice for IROs.

Moderator Josh Brodsky, Associate Director, Investor Relations & Corporate Communications at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, kicked off the event by asking the panelists to introduce themselves and briefly discuss how they came to IR.

Smooch, an experienced executive recruiter specializing in Investor Relations and Communications, began with the observation that as the capital markets have changed, so have the needs of management teams. Across industries, she is seeing more CFOs asking for IROs with finance backgrounds in addition to IR experience. She also noted that in her work with executive teams, strong writing skills, the ability to make fact-based recommendations and intellectual curiosity are common prerequisites for the role. From an IRO’s point of view, she believes that one of the most exciting things about developing an IR career is that “there is no playbook.”

Matt began his career as a sell-side analyst and then transitioned to IR. He shared with the group his opinion that 60% of any company’s stock price is due to its products and competitive position, 20-25% are things beyond your control and 10-15% is what you say and when you say it. This 10% is where it’s possible to have a rewarding impact on the business and the stock price.

Like Matt, Tony also started on Wall Street, serving as a buy-side analyst and ending up in IR “by accident.” He recounted the story of when he and his wife had recently moved to the Boston area and his wife, also a buy-side analyst, met with EMC’s management team. The EMC executives mentioned that they were looking for an IR person, and Tony’s wife suggested that he pursue the role. Tony was hired for the position and spent seventeen years with EMC.  After EMC was acquired, he successfully transitioned from the technology industry to the consumer products industry at Acushnet.

The discussion turned to Matt and Tony’s transition from Wall Street. Josh asked what aspects of their Wall Street careers helped in their IR roles and what most surprised them in their transition to IR. Matt’s analyst experience gave him perspective and trained him to think two to three years ahead and anticipate what investors and analysts would be expecting to see down the road. Tony said that early on in his IR career he realized he needed to earn the respect of Wall Street. He said that he accomplished this by becoming an expert on the company. Tony also noted that he was surprised that his innate curiosity was an asset in his transition to IR, his curiosity pushed him to learn about the company and helped build his credibility.

This conversation prompted a question from the audience about what to do if you don’t have a Wall Street or finance background. Both Matt and Tony responded that it is possible to learn enough finance on your own to be successful in IR. Tony shared that he successfully trained several members of his IR team who did not have any Wall Street or finance experience. Smooch reiterated that she continues to see a trend where management teams are looking for IROs with finance backgrounds.  For those that want to boost their finance knowledge, she recommends the finance course offered by NIRI.

The panel took another audience question regarding how they see the IR role changing as a result of more passive money management styles.  Smooch said that it’s possible to transition into strategic planning, and that the key to changing careers is your aptitude to learn, evaluating your interests and keeping an open mind. Tony added that it is possible to expand what you provide for the company. For example, he expanded his role into competitive intelligence. He also said to look for internal communication opportunities.

The panelists concluded with general advice for IROs.

Matt suggested that at investor meetings, ask the question “what does Wall Street think of the stock?”. He also recommended mastering the answer to the “tricky question” that comes up during investor meetings. Additionally, he underscored the importance of building relationships within the organization and taking advantage of exposure to internal and external resources.

Smooch views the IRO as the “corporate athlete” because IROs bring functional expertise and they have the ability to contribute across the organization. And, if your boss asks you to take on a responsibility outside your wheelhouse, she recommends that you always say “yes” because it can lead to great opportunities.