S2E1 - Rebecca Gardy From Campbell Soup Company on The IRO Blueprint For Leading Through Influence

In this new episode of Winning IR, Mark Fasken sits down with Rebecca Gardy, Senior Vice President and Chief Investor Relations Officer at Campbell Soup Company, to talk about how to lead through influence and foster stronger relationships with external and internal stakeholders. 

Rebecca talks about the three most important skills for a successful IRO, the importance of trusted relationships between IR and internal stakeholders that create value for the whole organization, how IROs can build the skills needed to grow, and more insights from her extensive career in finance and communications. 

In this episode, we cover:

  • The skills you need to be successful in IR
  • How to build more influence as an IRO
  • How to develop your skills
  • Common skill gaps for new IROs
  • How to balance the art and science of an IR role
  • Managing internal stakeholders with different priorities
  • How to build stronger relationships
  • And how to navigate challenging economic environments

About Our Guest

Rebecca Gardy is the Senior Vice President and Chief Investor Relations Officer at Campbell Soup Company. She has extensive IR experience working at companies like Nike, Popeyes, Green Sky, and KPMG.

Episode Transcript

Mark Fasken: This is Winning IR, a podcast exploring the diverse insights within the IR community. Join me, Mark Fasken, as I sit down with IROs and other IR stakeholders to discuss the winning strategies, tactics, and shifts in thinking that are redefining the profession. In our conversations on this podcast, we've talked a lot about how IROs can get a strategic seat at the table and why that's essential to better IR and company outcomes.

Today's guest is a strategic visionary and accomplished leader and can write the playbook on leading through influence. Rebecca Gardy is the Senior Vice President and Chief Investor Relations Officer at Campbell Soup Company and joined the company in March of 2020. She has extensive IR experience working at companies like Nike, Popeyes, Green Sky, and KPMG.

And I'm really excited about the opportunity to share her insights with you on this episode of Winning IR.

The Skills You Need to Be Successful in IR 

Mark Fasken: So Rebecca, I wanted to start off with a somewhat broad question. Which is what are some of the most important qualities or skills that someone has to have in order to be successful in investor relations? 

Rebecca Gardy: Hey Mark, thanks so much for having me on your podcast series. It's a great question. I would say I would put the the qualities or skills into a few different buckets. First, I think there's the technical analytical skills set, including things like financial analysis, having a strong understanding of not just the financial metrics that a company will disclose. But the underlying drivers, right? Super important that you understand what's causing the changes in those metrics so that you can provide and articulate insights into the company's performance, right?

What that requires is that you're constantly probing, asking, you're making intelligent decisions about selecting the right data, drawing the right conclusions. I often say it's like you have to be a little bit of an investigative reporter, really looking at the underlying whys and hows, behind the metrics.

So really having strong analytical skills, super paramount to being successful, looking at trends, finding the trends, anticipating the questions. I love the statement, look around corners, see what's coming next. Those technical skills, I would say also include having a working knowledge of compliance and some of the regulatory issues at hand.

Having a working knowledge of relevant laws and security regulations. disclosure requirements, of course, insider trading laws, all super important. And then I think probably even more important is knowing what you don't know, right? And reaching out to the experts in those fields when you aren't sure, of the answer, or you're not sure how a metric is defined or, where the boundaries are of what you can disclose.

Often, analysts are super savvy, right? And so often they'll take, the two metrics that you do disclose and triangulate the third or the fourth that you didn't intend to disclose. And staying 1 step ahead is super important, but underlying all of that is having really strong kind of technical and analytical skills.

Then there's the kind of bucket of strategic thinking, business acumen, having an understanding of the organization, what the business model is, how the company makes money, what are the drivers of the profitability, being able to really connect the dots between the strategy of the company and how it shows up in the financials.

 It also includes being able to provide value back to the business in the form of peer analysis. Really sharing back some of the analyst perceptions of the company, back to the management team to the division, leadership, et cetera. In this bucket, I'd probably also put strong communication skills.

The ability to not just deliver the results, but also deliver bad news, right? Or to navigate a crisis by providing clear and timely communication. So I think that's another big bucket of skills that are super important. And then I think finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the the leadership skills, and the ability to influence IROs are unique in that either were sole contributors. Not fortunate to have, 300 people on my team. I'm thrilled that I have two plus an admin. We lead not through direct lines of reporting, but rather through influence.

And in my opinion, that's a lot harder to get done effectively. Because it requires that we build really strong, deep relationships and connections again, externally. Yes, but internally to o. that ability to lead through influence and build really tight cross functional relationships is, I think, probably one of the skills that I see most frequently missing when I meet some candidates.

Mark Fasken: And that it's a great answer. And it speaks to also just the sheer amount of things that investor relations professionals are responsible for and the level of expectation in terms of, to your point, like technical and interpersonal skills. It's just, it's so broad. 

Rebecca Gardy: I think that's why we're often really viewed as advisors or counsel to the CFO in particular, but also to, division or business unit management or, obviously the CEO. 

How IROs Can Build More Influence

Mark Fasken: When that you mentioned the use the term influence and it gets actually used a fair bit on the podcast, people talk about influence and being a trusted advisor and you hear the term getting a seat at the table.

You've mentioned it a couple of things, but how can an IRO build more influence? What are some of the things that, that you can do to get that seat at the table that people talk about? 

Rebecca Gardy: Yeah, I think, we have relations in the title. So building those relationships is what's going to allow you to have influence over the direction and the direction of the company, but also, influence over how IR is viewed.

I think probably the most important thing for me, as I have worked in different companies in the lead IR seat is to really demonstrate value back to the organization. It's, I think the more you prove that you're adding value the more influence that you'll have and people begin to look to you for that influence really.

So I mentioned it a minute ago. It's the idea of, we listen closely to all of our peer reports sometimes we have customers that are public. So we'll listen to their calls and we'll review their earnings materials. And, I think it's really quite additive to the business units to be able to have of all of that information distilled synthesized and mapped against our corporate strategy when we give it back to the organization. You're also dealing a lot of times with folks that aren't innately financially savvy. While the marketing team may be incredibly adept at their field, they may not quite appreciate the nuance and some of the words choices that are made on peer transcripts or the way that data is provided or presented on investor presentations, and so having the IR team decipher and interpret the data for them really is added value. And so I think you create this influence by being valuable to the teams internally. 

How to Develop Your Skills

Mark Fasken: I think that's great. And so we've covered all these different skills that someone has to have. For somebody who maybe listens to this and says those are actually some of those skills maybe I don't currently possess or I need to work on those areas. How do you go about developing some of these skills? What would your recommendations be? 

Rebecca Gardy: Again, I think that there are different ways, all of which serve a purpose and a function. I think I really do subscribe to the notion of 70/20/10, 70% coming from experience that on the job learning, just being immersed in the business.

And, as IROs and IR professionals, we have a little, a lot, really, a license to probe and ask questions across the entire organization. And it's very unique. There is no kind of stay in your lane when you're in IR, because your lane is, 360 degrees around. While I may report the company's, performance one inch deep, I need to know it, several feet deep.

So that gives me a lot of license to learn from experiencing the company. I think the other, the 20%, I would say comes really from others. And that's where the IR community has proven to be invaluable to me. NIRI, fellow IROs, partners like Irwin really instrumental in helping to understand what other IROs are doing.

Understanding some of the macro, the backdrop just a ton of knowledge comes from networking and sharing best practices. And I don't necessarily mean just within the space. For me, and CPG currently, it isn't just reaching out to the IROs of other CPG companies, 

I think it's across industries. We are always learning from each other. And then the other 10%, I would say comes from education, right? And I would I'm like a fanatic about having my team take whether it's formal classes, studying transcripts and presentations again, not just of our direct peers, but other companies attending conferences, listening to webinars, listening to podcasts like this one watching videos, all of that, I would say falls into the 10%.

A nice, kind of balance of those 3 is how I would say best to develop those skills. 

I would add one more thing. And that's, I think on the softer skills, the leadership piece, I think a lot of that comes from emulating people within the company and others.

I think we all have worked for some great leaders. You learn a lot from watching how other folks handle themselves and how they have created influence for themselves. I was saying earlier that when you and I were talking about this, you'll see in a meeting.

I remember being much more junior in my career and watching somebody raise their hand, propose, propose an idea and it being essentially shot down and then someone else presents the same idea and it's brilliant, and you wonder like what was the difference, and I think those are really important learning moments for us to watch how, influence is really, I think the, a key ingredient to being successful.

Common Skill Gaps for New IROs

Mark Fasken: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I know that you've been going through a hiring process over the last few months as you've built out your team,and so this is fresh in your mind as you think about qualities and gaps and everything. You mentioned earlier that one of the things that you feel is really important is those interpersonal skills that emotional intelligence is there, are there, or maybe one gap that you've come across commonly that you feel is something that maybe IROs earlier in their career should really focus on to be effective.

Rebecca Gardy: Yeah, I would I would say having a really strong foundation in finance is not something that you can skip over. I think that eventually you'll do yourself a disservice if you're, if you don't have a good grounding in the language and the vocabulary of finance, and, I definitely have moved around from industry to industry there's a whole other language of the industry that you need to learn but having a strong finance background is really important.

It's You have to be conversational enough and then the most compelling reason is because you're speaking with folks who are financially literate and you want to be able to demonstrate fluency in their language when you're speaking to them. 

Mark Fasken: I think it's a good point. And so the 2 big overarching qualities that we've touched on a fair bit is are those technical analytical skills mixed with the communication and interpersonal skills.

How to Balance the Art and the Science of an IR Role

Mark Fasken: It seems like you can't if you're not strong in one, it's hard to be effective. So how do you balance those two things? 

Rebecca Gardy: Yeah, for me, this is what I find so incredibly attractive about this role. It really gets to the heart of why I've made this my career. I think IR sits just right at the center, the intersection of finance and communication.

It's very much it's very unique because it's a whole brain kind of role, right? It requires, you know, pretty much equal parts, technical expertise and communication skills. I think one of the most important ways to balance the two is by really understanding your audience. So whether it's understanding that the investor is, a high turnover hedge fund or a long only growth oriented investor or a specialist versus a generalist, tailoring your message, using the right vocabulary, the right tone, making sure it's clear and relevant to the audience. Super important. Essential to doing this well is having great listening skills. So Mark, I'm a mom and although my son is now, a grown adult and on, working on his own I'll never forget what he said to me one day.

He was, I think he was like seven and he said, mom, you can hear me, but you're not listening. And I thought it was so profound coming from a child. But I think he was right. And it stayed with me, it's so relevant to what we do in our day to day and not just an IR, it's not enough to hear the question.

What you really need to do is listen. Listen to why that analyst is asking you what or what he or she is asking. What are they really trying to understand? Have they asked the same question 16 different times? Cause that's a big clue that you're not answering what they're looking for. You don't just have to answer the question.

I think you need to listen to what's being said. Really understanding what's under the surface and being dialed into whether. It's been asked of other peers, right? And how have your peers answered the question? And how does it connect to the other 10 questions that they've asked?

And, is it part of a larger narrative that they're trying to get underneath? And that as you answer the question, you got to stick to your own messaging points. You want to make sure that you weave in your message while you're answering their question.

And sometimes, frankly, we don't want to answer their question. But you want to make sure that they feel like you're doing your best to answer their question. So it is this idea of actively listening. And again, that really comes from having the technical expertise to decipher what they're really asking.

And then strong communication and interpersonal skills. So you feel like, or they feel that you're connecting with them, that you're listening to them. While, also mentally running the trap so that you don't get sidetracked or taken down a rabbit hole, or, you can stick to your messaging. 

Mark Fasken: Absolutely. And I think that probably also goes back to that idea of how do you become an advisor, right? Are you sitting in those meetings and just going through the motions of answering the questions that are asked of you? Or are you, to your point, thinking about the questions that are being asked?

Why are they being asked? Connecting them to the other meetings that you're having. And then sitting down with your management team or whatever and saying, there are themes or questions that are coming up consistently. And maybe we don't have a great answer for them, or we need to think about how we're answering it a little bit more.

I feel like that's really where some of that advisory work comes together and you start to add that value that you talked about. Is that kind of a good summary? 

Rebecca Gardy: Yeah, I think often, the story has to hang together, right? You're one deliverable, the press release and another, the prepared remarks and the 3rd, the presentation, it all has to hang together.

And then, as you progress through the quarter with calls with analysts and investors, the story that you're telling has to hang together. With especially with what other peers are saying against the general macro background the macro environment, it, it just literally has to make sense.

Because if it doesn't, that's when you get called out and it reduces your credibility and you lose influence. Yeah. 

Managing Internal Stakeholders With Different Priorities

Mark Fasken: For sure. And you mentioned a, you use a term sort of emotional intelligence being a good listener. We've talked a fair bit about emotional intelligence and its role in investor relations, communication.

I feel like communications and emotional intelligence are obviously very closely tied together, but they're also very different things.

How do you manage relationships with stakeholders who may have those different perspectives? Or priorities. 

Rebecca Gardy: Yeah, again, I would go back to how vital active listening is. And I, and but I do think that you need, pretty high EQ to build the kind of trust in the relationships you have with investors and analysts, but also internally.

You need to be self aware enough to adapt your communication style and your tone to make sure that you're understanding the other person's perspective to provide clear responses that address their concerns. I think, the component or what I kind of anchor on is this idea of give and get, especially with the internal audience.

I don't think that you can swoop in 3 weeks before the quarter ask for all this analysis and then disappear back into your cave until the next earnings call. So, I give a lot back to my constituents whether they're internal or external. I keep the dialogue going throughout the quarter.

And, with investors and with analysts, for example, right before we go into our quiet period, I do one last round of touch base with with each of our analysts to just to make sure that, I know what , what they've been hearing over the last couple of weeks since we reported.

What should I make sure I include in our next quarter's report with internal stakeholders? Same kind of thing. How can I provide value? During the quarter, not just right before when I need stuff, how can I give back to you? So I physically sit in the communications department, even though I am in the finance team.

And I do that because I'm so vital to the to the internal communications piece. So whether it's communications with employees, with customers, with our distributors, with our consumers, the story, like I said earlier, has to hang together.

And I'm a big believer in kind of, holistic communication strategies. And I think that's another way of managing those relationships is to be present and and to provide value. 

Mark Fasken: It's another interesting point of this idea of building those internal relationships. 

I, my gut is that some IROs possibly over index on external relationships, I think probably easy to get wrapped up in your investor calls and your analyst calls. And of course, you need to do all those things, but then balancing that with the internal. Because I to your point, I think it's probably nearly impossible to be successful in the role without having that strong internal network.

And one of the things you talked about was learning from others. You didn't use the term, but it's almost like mentorship, right? Not only learning from others inside the business who work in other business lines and know that part of the business better than you do, but also having people that can help work on certain skills that you're trying to work on.

How to Build Stronger Relationships

Mark Fasken: As my question is, how would someone know, like you're, you're talking to an IRO and maybe they're struggling a little bit and it's like, how, what would you suggest to them to either build stronger relationships or how to identify whether that's an area that they need to focus? 

Rebecca Gardy: Yeah, I think when you realize that you as an IRO are getting highly curated messages from the business teams, where they're practically writing the scripts for you. I think the alarm bells go off for me. I have often said let me do the messaging and the positioning and the filtering. What I need from you is like the good, the bad and the ugly, because we all I, like I said earlier, I need to know a foot deep or a couple yards deep. Even though I, but I will curate the inch deep that I'm reporting out. It's when you start to feel that, you're getting highly curated messages from the teams, that you should feel like there's not a lot of trust there.

And it happens because they know that, my connection with the CEO and CFO, is very very open and very strong. And so I think unless you build really strong relationships throughout the company, and they know that you'll manage the message for on their behalf. As well as on the company's behalf externally, I think that, that, that's where you need to focus. 

Mark Fasken: You want that unfiltered, transparent line of communication.

Rebecca Gardy: Yeah, and I think it's, and you need to prove to them that you are capable of filtering it. Otherwise, if they don't have that trust, then they will. And I think that's not a good recipe for success, because you're gonna miss something 

Mark Fasken: for sure. Oh, and then you don't want to get me caught flatfooted in a conversation with an external stakeholder cause you didn't have some information that you needed.

That's right. Let's talk about challenges, challenging time all around. Yep. Doing more with less seems to be a common Yes. Term in every department it seems, but always has been in IR. What are some of the challenges that you think IROs are faced with today? And recommendations for people who are trying to not only stay up to date, but I think even really stay ahead of the curve.

You talked about leveraging network and things like NIRI and whatnot, but any recommendations that that you think will help people stay on their game. 

How to Navigate Challenging Economic Environments 

Rebecca Gardy: Yeah, I think there's lots of challenges that range from, the changing regulatory environment to changing market conditions to just a diverse set of stakeholders that we're messaging to. I think that probably the most important thing that we learned over the last couple of years is that the bar kept moving. So it was COVID that a lot of choppiness, right? Then it was supply chain disruptions, then commodity inflation, now unprecedented pricing, causing unprecedented pressure on consumers.

The narrative keeps moving. And I think you have to learn how to stay the course, like you do address the short term, but you've got to stay focused on the long term. And I think you do that by leveraging what you've said in past quarters, but keep looking ahead. Otherwise, I think the challenge is you'll not be able to manage the expectations.

And that's a huge part of, especially over the last couple of years to manage the expectations. And I, again, I, it's not just manage those expectations externally, but also internally. I think that, providing insight to the internal team as to how the company is navigating the external perceptions is incredibly valuable.

So I'll give you an example, and I know many IROs do this, but I at the all hands meeting every quarter, I'll present a slide or 2 that says, everybody in the universe heard the same information, but yet we end up with very different headlines. So it's a matter of perception.

That's the name of my title. The name of my slide is a matter of perception. People have. predisposed narratives, and they're going to take the same set of information and adjust it or interpret it based on their underlying bias. So I think, that's a challenge that's probably been amplified over the last several years.

So I would say the challenge externally is to hold steadfast and communicating our long term strategy, in a time where everybody is focused on the short term or near term volatility. Internally, I think, it's the challenge is to continue to find ways to stay relevant among your peers.

And, again, provide that value back. 

Mark Fasken: Totally agree. I love that idea. Everybody heard the same message, but they all have different headlines. My final question, and this is trying to summarize. There's so much good stuff here, but trying to summarize a few key points.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in their career? We've touched on a couple things if I can summarize and you tell me whether I've missed anything. One of the things is developing that core the core financial skills. Yeah. I feel like it's like you're gonna, if you're gonna tap out at some point, you're gonna top out.

If you don't have those skills, you can learn the company story. You can learn how to talk to investors. But, eventually you're gonna get into that conversation with an analyst who is gonna ask you a bunch of questions that maybe you can't answer. The second one was balancing the emotional intelligence with that strong understanding of the financial, so you can't be too far in, in one direction or the other.

You also talked about picking strong leaders within the organization to be mentors or role models, which I think is great. Anything else that I missed? 

Rebecca Gardy: No, I think that's pretty much, I think, captures my thoughts, I think super important, like you said, to be fluent in the underlying language of our role.

So the finance piece but really activating the other side of your brain. To be a really strong communicator to adapt your message to the various audiences. The EQ part, I can't understate or overstate that I think, really dialed into what it takes to build relationships, being accessible throughout the quarter, being involved.

I raised my hand for all sorts of things internally. I lead the women of finance team internally, trying to elevate younger female talent, I sponsor two ERGs. I help on the internal communications, I'm part of the HR team on some of the major initiatives around leadership development, I run our finance curriculum. So  lots of ways where I like step up. And the that gets me relationships throughout the nooks and crannies of the organization. And so I think super important to build those relationships. Awesome. 

Mark Fasken: Rebecca, this has been great.

Thank you so much for your time. And hopefully we'll get to do it again soon. 

Rebecca Gardy: Thank you. It's been fun. 

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About Winning IR

Winning IR is a podcast exploring the diverse insights within the investor relations community. Join host Mark Fasken as he discusses the winning strategies, tactics, and shifts in thinking with innovative investor relations professionals who are redefining the profession.

Each episode features a different challenge, innovation, or perspective on the ever-evolving role of IR, giving you real, actionable insight you’ll be able to use to build a better investor relations program. 

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