S3E3 - Adam Borgatti from Aecon on How to Expand Your Scope of Responsibility as an IRO

One of the topics we often hear within the IR community is how to earn a seat at the strategic table. On this episode of Winning IR, Mark Fasken and Adam Borgatti, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Investor Relations at Aecon Group, talk about what it takes to expand your scope of responsibility as an IRO, and how to take your leadership to the next level. 

Adam has held multiple senior leadership positions in the finance industry. He is currently responsible for leading Aecon’s Investor Relations, Sustainability, Corporate Affairs, Corporate Communications and Marketing functions, as well as supporting the leadership team at Aecon with developing long-term business plans, evaluating strategic initiatives, and leading the assessment and execution of Aecon’s acquisition opportunities. Given his breadth of responsibilities, Adam knows a thing or two about deeply growing your skills to become a multi-disciplinary leader.

Listen to the full episode to learn more about:

  • The natural areas to expand your scope of responsibility as an IRO
  • Scaling a team while managing to escalate responsibilities
  • Understanding team strengths and opportunities for improvement
  • Using rotational programs to build diverse skillsets
  • Why delegating the responsibilities that set you apart helps you to grow
  • How to get a seat at the table

About Our Guest

Adam Borgatti, CFA, CPIR, is Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Investor Relations at Aecon Group. Prior to joining Aecon in 2009, Adam held leadership roles in the financial industry, including Vice President, RBC Capital Markets, Vice President, Investor Relations, at Scotiabank, and Vice President, National Bank Financial.

Episode Transcript

Natural areas to expand your scope of responsibility

Mark Fasken: So Adam, a lot of folks in IR talk about expanding the scope of responsibility. Which is funny, because at the same time, many of them are already so busy, I don't know why they want any more on their plate. But there are a lot of people that are always looking for more, right?

Looking to level up. And so, for those listeners who may find themselves in a standard or, maybe a better word is, a siloed IR role, what are some of the most natural areas where they can expand some of their scope of responsibilities? 

Adam Borgatti: Yeah, great question, Mark and a pleasure to join you today. Looking forward to the discussion.

I think there's probably a few natural fits in my view. And the first few are in no particular order. But strategy comes to mind right off the bat. You're naturally in one of the most strategic roles within a corporation, and you get to see every part of the business and be in this unique spot where you're a conduit between the investor community, the analysts, your company, C suite, your operational executives. And it starts to really work its way into a natural fit where you're able to provide strategic advice, all within that ecosystem. And so I think getting into a more strategic role outside of IR is one area that's helpful. 

Another one that's pretty natural, I think, is this communications, corporate affairs. So that spans both internal and external. And I think the reason why is, it's really important in my view to maintain a very consistent set of a few key messages and strategic themes at your company. And while they may be distilled to different audiences in different ways, your employees are going to get a little bit of a tweak on the message that your investors get, and that your C suite, and that others get in the market, and the media, and your social audience. But at the end of the day, you've got to have these few core messages and they shouldn't stray. If they do, I think that presents risks of diluting your message across the board. And so I think that's another natural area to get hold of some more responsibility. 

Sustainability, for sure.

As these worlds continue to converge, your financial reporting, presenting sustainability targets, working with investors who have ESG mandates, net zero targets for your company, all these things are starting to align with IR and I think these key ESG slash IR themes are becoming pretty natural fits.

So those three for sure are areas that present pretty good opportunities for expansion as you're in the IR role. I'd say another one is corporate development, but I think the sequencing on that one's a bit different because, you've got to have a pretty experienced background in private equity, or investment banking, or some kind of accounting and transaction services role within a big firm as a traditional path.

And I think it's tricky to get that one on the fly. So if you've got that already in your stable and you've got IR as well, I think those are natural fits. But I think if you're coming up to the IRO channel, it may be different or difficult to attack that one on versus the other three that I mentioned.

Mark Fasken: And I mean, you've been pretty successful in this regard, in terms of finding other areas of the business and other responsibilities, and running with those. What are some of the recommendations that you would have for listeners to set themselves up for these opportunities? 

You know, maybe I have an IR, I have an interest in corp comms, how can I prove to the management team that I'm the right person and make sure that if those opportunities arise, I have the opportunity to throw my hat in the ring? 

Adam Borgatti: Yeah, it's, interesting and appreciate the color on getting more responsibility.

Sometimes I just think I've got that face reveal, just kind of throw more stuff at me and I got to start avoiding things. But it's great getting more of a portfolio, and an approach to your career. So I'm happy to take on more things as they come. I think most importantly, you've got to demonstrate your ability to provide strategic advice.

I think too often, IROs feel that they're a vehicle to convey, you know, a company strategy outward to the market. So, one direction to analysts to investors, et cetera. But I think everybody's got to remember that again, you're uniquely in this position where you're at the nexus of all the information coming from the buy side, the sell side, you're analyzing your competitors, you're taking overall feedback within the market and how your stock's trading, not necessarily even on fundamentals, but according to algorithms and other trading mechanisms. And so you actually have a lot to offer that doesn't really flow through other areas of the company.

And be sure that it's known that you can provide that strategic advice to your council and, part of your company, because I think you're the connection between all these different sources of information. And within that ecosystem, it's a pretty valuable role. So, first and foremost, you've got to be present and make sure you've got the ability to provide that advice.

Setting yourself up for success and taking the time to invest in your own career and your own education along the way never hurts, be current on your accreditations and your education opportunities. Most people again, in IR have some kind of degree that they bring to the table, such as a CA, a CFA or, you know, a graduate degree in some kind of communications. But, if you're actually in the role and you want to get more depth within it, or at least justification for what you're doing, CIRI within Canada has a CPIR designation. NIRI in the US has their IRC designation.

Others globally have that available. And so I think making sure you're taking advantage of your industry's accreditation programs is one thing, but there's a whole bunch of other tangents you can get on within your field that position you for success. So take the odd sustainability course or financial reporting things that help you with valuation or studies of the markets, even AI and all those things.

And it doesn't have to be a lot of money. It doesn't have to be a huge investment of time or in some of these latter versions, being able to go to these conferences and lunch and learns, and setting yourselves up to be present and current in these, in these markets, I think helps you. No doubt.

And then the 3rd was just don't be afraid to ask. I mean, volunteer for special assignments, new things that come up, task forces that are studying new things for the company. It's a great way to show your breadth and your diverse capabilities, and putting yourself in a natural choice later down the line, when these things start to take hold within a company, and you've been part of the pilot, you're a natural to take that on.

And I'd say it's rare people say no when others raise their hand to help volunteer for new assignments. So, I think those three things would be helpful. 

Mark Fasken: I think those are great. I mean, I love that idea of just raising your hand for special assignments because obviously going to management and saying, hey, I want to take over corp comms. That's a pretty big ask. If it's like, hey, we have this project where we're rethinking our corporate positioning. Does anybody want to get in on a focus group or talk to people about it? And you raise your hand and get in the process. That's probably a great way to get involved.

I also really like the idea around being an advisor. You mentioned even, doing your ESG credentials or taking some courses on ESG or sustainability. I wonder how many IROs are doing that and then reporting back to the management team to say, here's what I learned. Here are some of the applicable things.

And that seems also to be a great way to demonstrate, you know, I'm becoming an expert in this field, and maybe there's an opportunity to expand my scope as well. 

Adam Borgatti: I think that a lot, and I start to get frustrated if I don't get that, you know, within my own company, which is people just coming forth with ideas saying, hey, I was thinking about something a different way. And what would you think of this? 

I love when people approach and just be proactive rather than just do the task at hand, do extremely well in certain cases, but you've got to come forward with your colleagues, your peers and others just say, you know, I was thinking about something. I decided to invest in it. And here's the output. I think that's tremendous. 

Mark Fasken: Right. Even putting that in the context of Corp comms, an example would be, as an IRO, obviously you're speaking to your investors and you're speaking to, I mean, you're even speaking to customers and suppliers and things, depending on your business.

And, in speaking to them, you're going to start to understand how they perceive the business and think about your positioning. If you feel like that is very disconnected from how the communications department thinks about it, like that's something that you're saying, you could be an advisor and go back to the management team to say there's a disconnect here.

Our investors think one thing, our clients are thinking another, our suppliers are thinking another. That's an opportunity to be that advisor. Is that a good example? 

Adam Borgatti: Absolutely. In many cases, we've come back from conferences, events, client meetings, you name it. And you're out there with a pitch book and a deck and everything that you think is perfect and polished and, something that represents your business.

And it's a surprise to the ultimate client that you're meeting with. It was not as well understood in the meeting that you thought it was going to be. And I think that really does provide a message in a two way flow of information to say, look, I know we think we're great at telling the story, but it turns out we might not actually be.

 It's really, really valuable to be able to use that feedback to continue to tweak and make sure your message is getting across. 

Mark Fasken: I mentioned this at the beginning, but obviously taking on new responsibilities also means more work. And we all know that IR teams are typically pretty small.

Scaling a team while managing escalating responsibilities

Mark Fasken: And so, as an IR team grows and as an IRO, you're taking on these new responsibilities. How do you recommend that an IRO can maintain and ensure that success and really scale the team properly? You know, as you go from a team of one where you're just doing plain vanilla IR, if you will, to suddenly take on Corp Comms and you take on Sustainability ESG, that's obviously a lot more work.

So how do people scale the team? 

Adam Borgatti: Yeah, no doubt. I mean, I think early on, the key is to invest the time right away to really understand your new responsibilities and the opportunities ahead. I think it's rare in your career where you can take on a new set of tasks, and a new mandate and turn up to events and meetings, et cetera, with really, the “I'm not quite sure what I'm doing here, so please help me get through it and explain it.” You've got to be in that no such thing as a dumb question phase for a while early on, and make sure you're understanding things and approaching it from a new person's perspective. I always find people will take the time to help you early on to get up to speed because the more you do, the more you'll get there faster and start to take more responsibility away from those traditionally who you've had to lean on.

So, I think take the time early on to just be extremely, concerned and try and get as much information and feedback as you can. And then I think you've got to be pretty dynamic and trusting as a leader and a partner. And as responsibilities shift, you're going to be taking on new teams and there's inevitably going to be a season and get to know you period.

Understanding team strengths and opportunity for improvement

Adam Borgatti: As you get these direct reporting relationships, I think you've got to make sure you understand that team strengths and the opportunities for improvement under your portfolio that are going to be key. And being informed by just investing the time with them early on, is going to really help you.

And I think you've got to demonstrate the benefit of aligning those teams together and the responsibilities. As you said, IR can be a pretty siloed and can be a lonely spot when you're a team of one. It's tough to get best practices from others in the organization. It's tough to bounce ideas off people if you're in this one stream.

And so it's an excellent opportunity to provide stretch goals, and opportunities, and mandates for emerging leaders and high potential people within your company to give them a more diverse career set and a subset of opportunities within your company. 

What got you here won't get you there

Mark Fasken: Yeah, I think that's great and it leads to the next point because, going back to what you just said, ensuring success. I mean, one is, to your point of constantly asking questions and being very curious, but also recognizing that you're probably going to be inheriting some team members that are very skilled, and being able to hand off some of the responsibility to them. You know, then you start to get into this situation, where your IR team starts to grow. And obviously now it's maybe IR and corp comms and sustainability, a couple of different responsibilities as an example. And obviously just like you or whoever's listening to this episode, the team members also want to grow and develop. And so how do you recommend IROs keep their teams engaged and keep them growing? 

Adam Borgatti: Yeah, great question and a tricky one to navigate for sure, I think first and foremost you have to create that space and the opportunity for people to grow. And It's tough for IROs, in my view, to really let go of what we love to do the most, which is engaging with investors, being that conduit with management, doing all those things that really sets you up for success in your career.

You're going to have to start letting that next generation of leaders come up and take some of those over as you inevitably have to take on more responsibility and strategic oversight for these new parts of your portfolio. So, there's just never an opportunity to do as much as you could before in your role. And you know, it goes out saying, you're going to want to grow into new areas as well. But, I've always found that one part that really sets you apart as a good IRO, is maybe the toughest thing you've got to let go on to the next generation.

So I mean there's probably a pretty light read out there, I think a while back there's a book called What Got You Here Won't Get You There, and I think it touches on some of these elements. Worth a quick review as you're going through that to really create that space for others and yourself to get to that next level.

I think once you've got the team in place, trying to leverage opportunities for rotational programs or special assignments, like we touched on before, as to how you advance your own career. Make sure you're enabling your teams and your various parts of the group with those opportunities going forward.

Because again, we can take for granted as an IRO all the areas that we're plugged into across the company, between operations and executives and within the capital markets. And bringing those nontraditional skill sets together helps to really build bridges, and help with employee retention. And I think it's getting a lot easier, as I said before, those worlds of financial reporting and sustainability and the social side and engagement are all coming together.

So make use of the fact that it's getting easier to bridge between and among different groups within your company, and start to just offer up teams who used to be in several siloed groups the opportunity to get their way around, new ways to access the markets, press releases. How do we integrate this into social media?

What does an investor meeting look like? How can I inform our executives about what's coming as a trend that an IRO might not have seen in the past? All great ways to help people really expand their horizons. 

Using rotational programs to build diverse skillsets

Mark Fasken: And you've also mentioned, I believe, on our call we were prepping for, was a rotation program.

So how do you think about a rotation program and maybe getting people to join your team from other parts of the business, but also potentially having people leave your team for other parts of the business? 

Adam Borgatti: Yeah, exactly. The key is cooperation, right? Like it's got to work from all sides here.

You invest so much time in people, and you gain such an ability to work well together, and to cut off any inefficiencies, and you get so good and fine tuned at it, that it's tough to let that person go somewhere else and inherit a new one and have to go through the same thing. 

But, I think you just have to play the long game. And you look at it from a corporation's perspective to say, we've got this incredible person within the finance team that just needs a bit more perspective across the company, because they're super good at auditing or reporting or all these sorts of things, but need to get that access elsewhere because, who knows they could be a controller or a treasurer or CFO one day.

But, you within IR have to give those opportunities up for people to get that kind of access. And some companies do this very well where they have IR as, as truly a rotational program for executives that they have to run through in order to get up to that C suite level, and some it's a bit more ad hoc, and it's a bit less structured, but I think, key in the corporation, is everybody has to agree and acknowledge that for the benefit of a company, you've got to be able to give people the chance to move around, and give them that same level of attention and care and investment in their career, knowing that at some point down the road, you may have to do the same thing with somebody else, but you're ultimately building a pretty strong base for people that once changes happen down the road, you're going to have lots more options for internal advancement, rather than having to go to market every time.

Give away your legos

Mark Fasken: Yeah, that's great. And I just want to also mention again the book that you mentioned earlier "What got you here won't get you there". Is that what it's called? Yep. Awesome. 

There's also a Blog post I think it's also turned into a YouTube video somewhere, but it's called give away your Legos. It's written by a woman named Molly Graham who worked at Google and Facebook and experienced this incredible amount of growth in terms of the size of her team.

And she talks about exactly that, which is what you mentioned: you have to start giving away some of these responsibilities if you want to grow as an individual. Yeah, you can't run for different divisions, and still be doing all the investor meetings and all that type of stuff.

Eventually you have to start to give things up. I think that's a really great point. And probably one of the things that sounds really easy, but it's actually in practice very difficult. 

Adam Borgatti: Yeah. You know, that's the relationships, you've spent the time you've built up a program that's been recognized, and then you've got to hand off the reins and you hope the next person's going to do that and more.

That's the key. 

Mark Fasken: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So your career, I didn't really talk about this specifically, but your career has brought you through mergers and acquisitions, then into IR, you've taken over communications, and sustainability. I asked this question a little in a way earlier, which is, how do you get up to speed on some of these tasks or departments where you haven't necessarily had prior experience? 

Adam Borgatti: Yeah, no, no question. That's a tricky one. I guess the short answer 

Mark Fasken: being humble and asking a lot of questions, as you said earlier. 

Adam Borgatti: Yeah. Aside for that, it's as quickly as you can.

You've got to get the playing field that you're part of now. And as I said before. You know, in a different way, like you're inheriting and leveraging a team that may be super high performing. Maybe it's got some opportunities for improvement, but you're inheriting a team that's already doing that role, probably knows a lot about that and more so than yourself.

And so you have to find a way early on to have a bit of a light touch, in my view, if you can, if something doesn't need a radical shift right out of the gate, to really learn from them and see what drives them and what might be missing, and start to really plug in those strategic and cross functioning and cross company things that you can offer.

And I found that to be pretty effective just to make sure your first set of meetings and discussions and learnings are listening a lot, asking questions and, ultimately coming out of all these meetings with saying, okay, how can I help and how can we continue to help your career grow?

How can we make sure that what your expertise is, and you're bringing to the company gets filtered elsewhere? I think those are pretty key, is make sure you trust in as much as you can, and use the skills and capabilities of the team you're inheriting. Right off the bat, recognize you're going to know fewer things than they do, and start to grow that capability together.

How to get a seat at the table

Mark Fasken: My final question, and this is one that tends to come up often in the IR community, I think, in general, what is some advice that you would give to a listener who's trying to get that seat at the table, if you will, you know, they're looking to get more involved in those strategic discussions. And more face time with management, et cetera. 

Adam Borgatti: Yeah, no, I mean, it's super important to recognize again, like I talked about a little bit earlier is, what you bring in the actual materials that you have within your disposal, are necessary for good corporate governance. So, any IR function should be presenting in regular cadence, whether it's annually, or quarterly, or as required, but, making sure that they're part of the flow of information to the board, an annual stakeholder engagement report. How have you done? What are your targets? What can you report on? What's the feedback from the market?

Making sure you have a review of proxy considerations around your AGM. What trends are coming up? Where are you vulnerable? What do you have to consider as you enter into, your circular in the AGM season? Other things in the market that are impacting the stock, the economy, what you can glean from economists, and analysts out there that you can actually bring through.

These things should be part of every board meeting, and if they're not, you need to at least get them into the mix. Once that's there and established, you should be in the room where it happens. And they say in Hamilton, I guess, like, these have to be presented and you're ideally suited to lead these sessions.

But you need to earn that, you know, your CFO is usually the natural one to start presenting this. He's got the trust of the board, or she, your CEO may weigh in, but at the end of the day, you should be co presenting to start if you will, and then gaining that trust and experience, and sequencing and how you work with the board, such that, it becomes a natural for the IRO to gain that strategic seat within the board setting.

And start to present these materials, which are necessary for companies to have and to present to the board so that they're informed on a regular basis. I think, lastly, is be a trusted voice. I mean, once you've got what you bring to the table into the room and that you're starting to present it, make sure that you're talking about all the touch points you have from the buy and sell side, your capital markets, generally. It's so unique, I think, and boards are all sophisticated folks, for the most part, they're going to get this from other boards they're on, they're going to be interwoven within public company dynamics, et cetera, but you really have that unique voice that connects all these areas together.

And I think if you're able to bring that, they're going to want to hear from you as a key leader each time they show up in the boardroom. 

Mark Fasken: And this topic or this idea of becoming an advisor is one that's really jumped out on this call. Question for you that's a little bit off script.

Adam Borgatti: That's all right. 

Mark Fasken: You talk about being an advisor and providing feedback to the management team. Obviously, sometimes that feedback is good. It's very positive. And sometimes it's not, right? Sometimes it's negative feedback about the story or people's understanding, or how a meeting went or it could be any number of things. 

Any advice for IROs on how to communicate some of that negative feedback in a way that is effective, and maybe doesn't go down a rabbit hole of starting an argument or offending anybody on the management team?

Adam Borgatti: Yeah, no, excellent question. I think you have to depersonalize it as much as you can, and make it just a function of how the interactions typically go with buy and sell side, and what that flow of information looks like. And it's not necessarily a question of right or wrong or, who knows things best, if you have a message and it's not getting filtered through properly. Taking some of the responsibility among the group I think is key. It's never a personal trade unless it truly is somebody going way off script and being inconsistent with messaging and all those sorts of areas where I think you can be a little stronger on it. 

For the most part, it's often a misunderstanding. It's a critique on company performance, or where you are in the mix, or your strategic outlook that you have to make sure it's not a personal affront to them, but it's more a key feedback loop that we talked about a little earlier, which is, look, the market is telling us that it's either not understanding or thinks we should go in a different direction.

If we're really convinced, then we've got to make sure we're getting ahead of this. We're describing our strategy differently, and we are taking the steps that are going to make them understand. Or if it truly is getting challenged, everywhere across the spectrum, maybe that is a chance to look a little bit inward and say, Are we sure this is actually the right strategy here?

Maybe we've not thought about this with a full market perspective, and these folks have seen it elsewhere not go well. And if so, are we destined for that path? Are we or are we doing something differently that we can tweak the messaging on and as to why that's different. I think all those areas where using as much market precedent and as much third party commentary as you can without making it an attack on somebody's views or vision is how I've done it.

Mark Fasken: Well, Adam, this has been super helpful. And there's a couple key snippets that I wanted to just summarize the call with a couple things that you've brought up around how to expand your scope of responsibility. 

The one that I really like was don't be afraid to ask. I think a lot of people sometimes are afraid to ask or raise their hand.

We touched on the idea of being an advisor a number of different times, whether that's identifying trends, providing feedback. I think that piece is super important. I'll use my own term for this, it was learning how to give away your Legos, and give these responsibilities to other people and teams so that everybody can grow.

Asking lots of questions, and you use the phrase, there's no such thing as a dumb question, which, I love cause I asked lots of dumb questions. 

And the other one is trusting the team around you. And I think that one is huge. You can't grow without the team. So for sure. Thank you again.bReally appreciate your time andbhope everybody enjoyed this episode. Thank you. 

Adam Borgatti: My pleasure. Take care.

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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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S1E01 - The Most Frequently Asked Questions About ESG with Victoria Sivrais, Clermont Partners

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