February 15, 2017
From Analyst to Investor Relations: Interview with Lisa M. Gregory, Anixter
As a past equity research analyst and now VP of investor relations at Anixter, Lisa M. Gregory, CFA, has been on both sides of the investment table. We caught up with Lisa, based in Glenview, IL, to talk about challenges, trends, and the one piece of advice she would give to any IR professional entering the field today.
Tiffany Regaudie (Q4): When did you first become an IRO?
Lisa M. Gregory (Anixter): I started my career as an equity research analyst, and then I left capital markets to stay home with my children for a time. I re-entered the industry through investor relations because I wanted to transition into the corporate side instead of the analyst side. You’re seeing a lot more of that now — analysts who are switching sides of the table.
TR: That’s really interesting, why do you think that is?
LG: I think the corporate world is perceived as more stable, as there has been a shift within the sell-side caused in part by the proliferation of ETFs and algorithm-driven investing. You’re also seeing huge growth in index funds and passive versus active management. This has caused some pressure on the sell-side, and investor relations may be a natural transition of skills and knowledge for some analysts.
TR: What were some of your early challenges as an IRO?
LG: Can I say everything? There is so much to learn, in part because the investor relations function touches so many parts of the business, from finance to communications to strategy to governance. IROs help shape the story, distilling an enormous amount of financial information into the most important drivers of the business. It’s essential to understand the metrics that really matter to investors. It’s a challenge, but it’s also the most interesting and, honestly, the most rewarding parts of the role.
TR: What was your first success as an IRO? And what was your first moment of anxiety?
LG: You know, I think the answer to both questions is the same, and it’s constant: the quarterly earnings call. Every detail in the financial reporting, messaging, and also logistics needs to be flawless, and every mistake has the potential to become very high profile. When you get it right, it is very rewarding!
TR: How have the challenges you’ve faced evolved over the years?
LG: Each year there are certain overarching themes, outside of your own company, that impact investor relations. One topic that has become very pervasive in recent years is activist investing. It’s important to understand and address your vulnerabilities, know who owns your stock, and — most importantly — understand the issues that matter to them. It’s critical to make sure your CEO, CFO and, when appropriate, your board of directors are all aware of your investors’ concerns.
TR: We’ve been hearing this a lot from IROs — can you share why you think there has been such an increase in activist trading?
LG: I think it’s simple: it’s been demonstrated to be profitable. Activists have been very successful in effecting change, for example, with respect to proxy access, getting board seats, and influencing strategies.
TR: In what other ways have you seen the industry change since you started?
LG: Social media is definitely raising a lot of questions in IR; we are still trying to figure out its place in the industry. It’s been a challenge to figure out how to remain compliant while communicating with investors on social media, and it’s a grey area that presents several communications challenges. There are also a lot of players involved in a social media strategy: you need to collaborate with your communications, legal, and finance teams. For instance, what’s considered “broad dissemination” on social media is still unclear. This may be why some IROs tend to stay away from social media for the time being, although I’m sure use of social varies from company to company.
TR: Thinking even further into the future, what are some of the trends you’re seeing now as an IRO that are going to affect the field?
LG: The first thing that comes to mind is the increasing role of technology and data in supporting IR. I can use data to tell what types of investors are buying my stock, and really what’s going on at the trade level. Technology is being used to provide corporate access. There is an enormous amount of information available through service providers, and it’s becoming increasingly actionable for functions like investor targeting.
TR: If you had to give one piece of advice to a new IRO just entering the field, what would it be?
LG: IR tends to be a very small role in a company, and you often aren’t working with other IR colleagues within your own company. I think it’s really important for every IRO to develop a healthy external network of IR professionals. You need to be able to call another IRO and ask questions about new issues. New issues and trends are constantly emerging! Being a part of a wide professional network is especially important in investor relations because we’re often the only ones who know what we know within our own companies. There’s a great IR community out there, so make sure to reach out.
Lisa M. Gregory (CFA) is the vice-president of investor relations at Anixter, a leading global supplier of communications and security products and electrical and electronic wire and cable.