Mark Fasken: So Kendra, I wanted to start with a little bit of background on your journey, which has been pretty diverse at FactSet going from product, to being chief of staff, to then spending about two years, most recently in the investor relations department. How do you think that journey has influenced or shaped how you approached investor relations at FactSet?
Kendra Brown: Thanks, Mark. I think that's a really great question. And whenever I talk to people, I can't say it's a journey that I had mapped out for myself. But if you look at the building blocks, those different roles really built on one another really well to come together in a way that I thought was made for a really great turn as IRO.
So if I pick it apart, first of all, when you think about product management really teaches you how to think. So you think about product management, you focus on clients. So client centricity is really important, and desired outcomes. Who are you building for and how do I want to change their behavior? What problem are you trying to solve? And how are you successful? That's really at the heart of product. So that's one thing.
Product really influenced the way that I thought, still does to this day from everything from work, to creating a grocery list or planning vacation. So that's the one thing we're proud of, and also really going into chief of staff, but definitely as IRO, it instilled for me a love for our products. And I sound really geeky when I say this, but I get really excited when I think about FactSet products. I definitely bleed cyan blue, because I really do believe that we create great products. So as IRO, when I have to hand over heart or even as chief of staff, talk about these solutions and how it is going to translate into us winning, I'm able to do it because I believe in our products. And that love really came from product.
Fast forward to chief of staff, you're still focused on the client and you're still focused on delighting that client. But now it's all of FactSet, and it's all of our clients. So now you're thinking about that, still that client centricity and the desired outcome, it's just on a more macro level. So I took what was a very tactical understanding of who we were and what we did. And I leveled it up. You had to level it up to be chief of staff to a more strategic perspective.
So our products, our teams, our users, and allowed that experience to really contribute to these enterprise mandates and strategic initiatives. And also it opened my aperture and gave me a more holistic understanding, when I was chief of staff, of who we were, I always tell people it's like living in a house and discovering there's this really cool secret tunnel to Oz underneath this place because I've been at FactSet for 24 years.
So to get a role that really just turns my understanding of FactSet on its head in a very good way, really prepared me well to have this outside- in perspective that I think investor relations gives you. I think the other thing that was really important that chief of staff gave me is that I partner with senior management, which is really key and I really gained the understanding of the problems that they were trying to solve and the outcomes that were desired.
So it made me a better partner in a very new way. And finally, chief of staff, you learn how to tell the story. You're responsible for board reporting. You're responsible for internal communication. So you've taken a lot of information. I'm invited into a lot of conversations as proxy for the CEO, and I take all that information from different stakeholders, and you're able to synthesize and manage that.
And if you think about what really IR is, it is the intersection of this communications, this strategy, it's finance, and it's relationship building. So it's all of the things that I had worked to perfect over those previous 20 some odd years. So when I think about IR and how it prepared me, I was able to speak to shareholder value that comes from these markets leading solutions and best in class content.
I understood our strategy and our competitive position and how it drove long-term growth and product, like I said, it taught me how to gather, synthesize and convey information. And that was key to being a partner with senior management as IRO.
Mark Fasken: Wow. That's very well summarized. And I mean, I love that idea of being sort of client centric and focusing on a problem to solve.
I think when you talk to a lot of IROs, there's a lot of problems to solve as an IRO, a lot of problems to solve as a public company. And I think one thing I think I've also learned from product management is it's all about prioritization too, right? Like what is most important at this point in time. So that's super helpful.
Mark Fasken: And. You know, the chief of staff experiences is also obviously very interesting because your, to your point, catering to the whole company. I mean, you're engaging with management. You're sort of that proxy for the CEO or CFO at times.
What strategic elements did you incorporate into IR from that chief of staff experience that other IROs can learn from and maybe especially when it relates to engaging with management or other senior stakeholders, because that seems to be a question that comes up a lot is, how do I, as the IRO really add value to the management team? How do I build those strong relationships? So any insights you have to share would be super helpful.
Kendra Brown: One of the projects that I worked on as chief of staff is that I helped to reset our strategy, and that definitely helped me. And then going forward to articulating that strategy. But I don't think you have to be that in the weeds, actually helping to formulate it, to really be able to think in strategic pillars.
As IRO, before you go and talk to a senior investor, you have to understand strategically what makes your company tick. And everything you're aligning when you're talking, whether it's to your CEO, the CFO, you know, your large investors, internal teams, you need to make sure it's aligning with your strategic narrative.
And when it's not, it really is your job to be the voice in the room, to point that out. And it may be okay. Do we need to revisit our strategic narrative? But you really need to hold that really tight to the vest, to your vest, because that really is what should drive what you're saying and how you're partnering with your leadership team.
We talked about before, because if once you understand those pillars, then you're able to take everything you're getting. Cause as you said, IROs are getting a lot of information, but if you have your North star of your strategy, you're able to make sense of it. And a lot of what we do in IR, is to take a lot of different viewpoints, and data sources, and just information, and you make sense of it. You create a narrative, you tell a story, and so that understanding those strategic pillars makes that a lot easier, and it kind of makes sure we're all marching in the same direction.
I think the other thing that, it really helps with honing that outside in perspective in my new role, I think that's really important, being able to understand what's happening outside of these four walls. And being able to be the ambassador to bring that back into the organization to drive alignment, but also strategic decision making.
It's funny when I look at my career at FactSet, for a long time, it was the one thing I'd never done was sales. I've touched a lot of things and, but I'd never been in a sales role. And I can say definitively that IR is probably the highest level of selling, because you're selling every single day. You talk to hundreds of people every quarter, so you really understand what's driving decision making, what's driving investments, and you have a really great opportunity to bring that back home, to make sure that you're arming your senior leadership team with the information that they need.
Mark Fasken: That's a great point. I want to ask a follow up question on that because, you know, you're out there talking to investors and talking to the market. I mean, all sorts of different stakeholders constantly. And you mentioned one of the really important things is understanding the strategy and being able to provide feedback on whether what we're saying aligns with the strategies, what we're doing, alignis with that strategy.
Mark Fasken: How would you provide or relay that feedback to management? Was that ongoing by email? Was there a weekly meeting? Because, you know, we hear a lot of IROs that do perception studies as an example. That's one great way to get feedback, but typically that's only kind of once a year. How did you communicate with the management team to provide that feedback?
Kendra Brown: It was definitely on multiple fronts. It was on all fronts. I think it's imperative that as an IRO, you're developing your own relationship with your management team. I was very fortunate FactSet, our management team is very open at all levels of the organization. So I always had access.
I could always pick up a phone and call. I could always, I had quarterly meetings. We always had a quarterly meeting before earnings to talk thematically about what we were saying. We sent out a monthly newsletter that we talked about all the meetings we've had thematically. What were they saying? How did it align with what we were trying to convey to our investors? Different opportunities for engagement.
But I think the main, even if you don't have that level of access, because I think a lot of that for me came because I was chief of staff. And I had kind of created some of those in rows, but I don't think it's impossible to start those different channels.
Most IROs report to a CFO. Your CFO should be your partner in crime. How can you inform them to be your proxy in maybe the rooms that you're not in? Make sure you have something to say, so that you're consuming information, so that people are seeking you out. So the more you're able to anchor yourself in the narrative for your company, the narrative for the space you can create, the information that you're able to provide. And you're able to proactively push that out, whether it's newsletters or ad hoc meetings or bringing more of your bench on to different shareholder meetings and conferences, so they can see what you do and they're very excited about it. However, you need to do that, I think, figuring out how to form that really close relationship with your senior leadership team is pretty critical.
Mark Fasken: Yeah, I totally agree. And we hear that a lot of just having those strong relationships. Having the ability to provide feedback in real time is so important.
You really emphasize the need for IR professionals being strategists, you mentioned being part of the strategy, being, being involved in the creation of a strategy and providing feedback on it. And that's also how you build these strong relationships with the C suite and investors. But so 1 question I asked you is, I mean, you've been at FactSet for quite a while.
I mean, it's, I think you're at 20 something years now.
Kendra Brown: Twenty four years now. Yeah.
Mark Fasken: So for everybody listening, Kendra may know more about FactSet than anybody at FactSet. It's possible. I don't know more, more all the history. And you know, obviously not a lot of IROs have that level of understanding of the business and how it's grown up over time.
And so what are some steps or what advice would you have for an IRO who's trying to get to that level? Maybe that has only been at the company for six months, 12 months. How can you get up to speed?
Kendra Brown: That's a great question. I don't think my journey is a typical one. And a lot of times people have to get to that same level of partnership and understanding in a much shorter time.
So advice that I would give, or things that I think about. One, be curious. I can say, even though I was in product, I was in product in a very specific part of our business. So there was still a lot of learning as chief of staff and then as IRO, so, the first hour of my day was always about consumption.
So this can be understanding what was going on in a larger market and how that affects our performance. This can be listening to a recording of a town hall that I didn't attend, but figuring out a way to engage with someone externally or internally, but make time to be curious. I think that that's really important so that you can arm yourself with information. Related to that, be a student of your competitive landscape, you know, read transcripts, research reports, news stories, press releases. FactSet. I mean, shameless plug, it was really great for me to do this as a tool. I had alerts that before I started my day when I was eating breakfast, it would tell me the information I needed to know on us, on our competitors, and I could use that to really get informed and understand how to go about my day before I started a single meeting or spoke to anyone.
Something that I spent, you know, when I first got into the role, a lot of understanding the way I learned is by doing, I'm a tinkerer. So look at models, but also try to build your own try to build valuation up for yourself. Rely on your finance team if there's questions, and it's not just the numbers our investors can come up with the numbers, they see the different the 10 K's and the 10 Q's and the different filings that you may have.
They read your research reports, they talk to analysts, they want to know the why. So build those models up yourself, and then really be able to understand what's driving it. And I think spending time in that exercise makes you more well informed, but also makes you a better partner. Look at consensus estimates, know how the street expects you to perform, and how does that align with how you expect yourself to perform and the narrative that you are creating for your company.
It's really important that you understand the space you compete in and why you're a better long term investment than your peers. And that is something that is valuable for management, and you're really the only one in the organization that's looking at it in a holistic way.
Related to that, understand what's important for your senior leadership team. What makes them tick? One thing I did when I started in this role, because I'd never worked with the, I mean, I did this as chief of staff, I never worked with our executive leadership team in that way. I scheduled one on ones with all of them to understand what's top of mind for you? What's working? What's not working? And how can we be better partners? It was just four questions that allowed me to do my own internal perception study of sorts, but it allowed me to be a better partner, and then I used that to understand how do I work with them, and who do I need to collaborate with going further.
I think the last thing I would say is find your tribe, and that can be internally and externally. One of the first things I did was join NIRI, because I'd never been in IR, and I needed to know what good looked like. So find different professional organizations or even other IROs. You will be surprised.
IROs like to talk to one another. Even IROs that you may consider competitors. They're very open with, this is what works, and these are questions that I have. So seek those relationships out and use them accordingly.
And internally, I engaged with a lot of people. I looked at demos. I talked to salespeople. I really tapped into our internal network to understand how we were innovating. So I wanted to constantly evolve my understanding. So it's really about constantly having a fresh understanding of your business, and the strategy and how that's driving performance.
Mark Fasken: Those are great suggestions. I really like the one of sitting down with members of the management team and understanding what's working, what's not, what should we be doing moving forward.
I feel that's a classic product manager approach, find what's broken and fix it. %he internal relationships piece gets touched on a lot, just having those strong internal relationships. So those are, those are all great points. I want to go back just for a second to relationships with management.
Mark Fasken: And we sort of touched on this a little bit when we were talking about providing feedback. But I mentioned earlier, it comes up a lot. People use that phrase seat at the table often, in investor relations because at FactSet, I think it, from what I've understood, investor relations is a very strategic part of the organization.
In some organizations, IR hasn't quite got to that level, right? The management team is still trying to figure out where it fits. Any advice that you would have for IROs who are trying to secure attention and time with management, or just trying to sort of raise the bar as it relates to investor relations within their organization.
Kendra Brown: Yeah, I think 1 thing and it may sound really simple. And I think I said it earlier have something to say. So an opinion, an idea, an opportunity, some way that they can engage with investors. If you think about is one of the few roles where you actually get to be out and travel with senior members of management.
So how are you using that to your advantage to show the value of your program? So definitely have a few things in your pocket that when you're between meetings or you're having dinner or coffee that you can have a conversation that really promotes the value of your program and elevates it in that way.
I think one thing that's really important, it goes back to staying prepared and being prepared, and this comes the more you partner with your leadership team, but anticipate what's needed before, and then offer that proactively. We would create Q and A documents, every single quarter that go through what we expect to be asked on our earnings call, but we were able to see a lot of that before we walked into a senior room because we go to these meetings, you see the themes, you understand where questions are being asked, and you should be able to proactively push that information out.
I'll say that, you know, we talked about the fact that we did a monthly newsletter. That was the best thing we did because it gave people a new understanding, even though I think, the IR position is very strategic at FactSet. I think it became more strategic when we started proactively pushing information.
This is the benefit of you going to this conference with us. This is why I think you should talk to this analyst because we are really leaning into this strategy and we need to talk more boldly about it. This is what I probably need to tell our chief marketing officer because this is resonating and this isn't resonating.
So the more you proactively put yourself out there. These pieces start to fall in place that organically make you a better partner. And I think also establishing opportunities for engagement. You should speak about a month before earnings and what you're going to talk about. You should speak after earnings to disseminate feedback.
And then you use touch points in between to make sure that there's an understanding of how your message is resonating in the market, and how investors are seeing your long term value.
Mark Fasken: That's great. And that monthly newsletter that you were sending out, so it sounds that was going to the entire management team, it wasn't just going to say the board or the CEO, CFO, that was going to heads of sales, heads of marketing, all sorts of heads of product, I imagine. And that was feedback across analyst meetings, investor meetings, client meetings. I imagine that gets almost people get a little bit hooked on it, right?
Like, they want to hear what the market is saying that becomes very valuable.
Kendra Brown: Absolutely. So it went to our entire executive leadership team and went to our finance leadership team because I think it's also you have a really great opportunity to kind of bring up the organization and understanding the why what makes us tick.
So our finance team really wanted to understand. We work with you so closely to make sure we report every quarter. We look at these schedules. We make sure these numbers are accurate. But what do they mean? What are they driving? So we're sending that commentary so they understand how that quantitative story is really speaking to a qualitative story.
And then there were other stakeholders we would send it to. But you're right. There became we would get feedback like, Oh, that's great. I had never thought about that. Or actually, I'm talking to this partner. Do you have any feedback? Have you heard about them? So it just really opens the opportunities for engagement as we started to proactively push that information out.
Mark Fasken: And so the other question is around metrics. I think this is common. A lot of roles, but in IR specifically, people talk about the ROI of investor relations and how do we measure ourselves? And is it the share price? Or is it the number of meetings and all these different things and metrics that people can track. What metrics matter most to management or maybe what were some of the more important ones at FactSet specifically, and how did you engage with management to decide on those metrics? So I'm thinking about like an IRO who's maybe listening to this and they're kind of like, how do I measure the program? How do I demonstrate value? How should somebody go about that?
Kendra Brown: Absolutely. And for me, I would have to, because I do come from a product background, I'm always thinking about KPIs.
So if anything, I had to hold myself back, because there's so many ways to measure what you're doing. I think the one thing, and I think every IRO thinks, you know, has this is stock price and valuation. You get calls and the price is going up and down and they're asking you why. We know a lot of that is like tea leaves and you really can't explain, but you should try as much as possible to correlate your IR activities with price movement. And that you'd be able to have some level of understanding how those two things may be impacted.
I think that is the number one thing, to really look at your price after IR events. Look at your price after certain press releases. Look at your price after press releases or certain events from your competitors so that you can really see, understand how your stock moves on a monthly basis, and understand those things so that when you're asked, you can provide an answer, or you can offer an answer when no one is asking. I think that that's really probably the one thing. I know it's not the easiest thing, but having some type of point of view on that. How does the street think we're doing and how does that compare with how we think we will do or we are doing?
So understanding your analyst estimates and their sentiment. And understanding where that can change, where that is accurate and constructive and other areas like, you know what, you're missing the mark, and maybe there's an opportunity for me to market more with you, or to travel with you, or to be able to have opportunities for you to engage with my management team to give you a better understanding of our company and our drivers.
I think change in investor base is really important, and that's one of the top stories I always like to tell. I wanted to understand who was in my stock, who was not in my stock, and that that consisted with who I wanted. So on an annual basis, we developed our target list of investors, and then we'd be able to measure success of engagement by, with that firm.
How often we engage with them, the sentiment of that engagement over time. And then eventually, if they took a position, that's always a time for celebration when you've targeted someone, and then they understand your value and take a position in your stock.
Shareholder engagement, how often are you speaking with investors?
This was an area where we really grew this during my tenure as IR, because one thing was that we saw is that, Hey, we're pretty well known in the US. Outside the US, there's work to do there. So we really targeted certain regional areas that we wanted to show up and make sure our story was understood.
And make sure we were selling a little stock. One thing that you said earlier, there was a little not a kind of a caveat or a way that you position the question, where it was what's important for FactSet. So, you know, these KPIs I gave before, they're very generic, like you can take any type of IRO and you should know these things.
But you also need to know the KPIs that drive your business, because that's really is going to get to the heart of how you can be a better partner strategically, internally and externally. So for example, FactSet, we consider ourselves a platform company, and that means workstations, so people who are logging into a terminal, as well as off platform solutions like Feeds and APIs and other services.
So I wanted to understand both and how they were contributing to performance, and then be able to help partnering with telling that story. From a cadence perspective, we reported out quarterly to the CEO and it was in a line with when we reported out to the board and also when we had our earnings call.
And then we gave monthly updates as I talked about before. But then, the IR role should be something where the CEO should call you, or senior manager should call you, and I really appreciate it being that partner that someone could pick up the phone and just ask me what was going on or invite me to a conversation.
So there's a lot of ad hoc conversations based on these KPIs as well.
Mark Fasken: Awesome. And so speaking of data collection, you just made the point that you had to hold back on KPIs and data collection, you know, as of product manager, because I really feel like that is how you, how you define yourself over time.
Kendra Brown: It's a really badly held secret, but I think it is.
Mark Fasken: I think it's great. You know, so, and you're wired for, for data collection, right? And so I'm curious, you talked about FactSet and we'll talk about that a little bit, but what are some unique channels or data sources that you leveraged in the IR role for data gathering and intelligence, like when you think about a better understanding peers and better understanding the market, what are some of those channels and how did they factor into some of the decision making of the management team?
Kendra Brown: I think we talked about previously I mentioned my internal networks.
So definitely by benefit of being in FactSet for so long, but it was also something I actively cultivated. If there was a new product I didn't understand, if there was a new opportunity as our strategy changed, I made sure I embedded myself with leaders in those areas so I could have conversations across the organization on development, and what that sentiment was that we're seeing with our investors. And that really helped to give me data that may not be what the qualitative quantitative data that you're accustomed to. So definitely my internal networks, my little sparrows that I would go have conversations with.
That was very helpful. FactSet was unique and is unique. I don't think is this that unique. And I'll get to that in a second, is that our investors were in large part our clients. So I was able to get very actionable feedback when I walked into these investor conversations. So I can go into a meeting and I can ask how a product launch is resonating.
I can ask them how they feel about during the bay. I can ask. You know, remember, they're investing in you. They want you to do well. I can say who's getting it right. And how are we not? How can we improve? And what would they like to see with from us? And we get, I would get very actionable feedback that I can bring into the organization.
And FactSet is unique because of the tools that we create. The investment community uses them, but I don't think, I was unique as an IRO and being able to get that feedback from our investors. One of the best examples I have is that I sat in this conference and there was an IRO of an egg company.
This meant he was all about eggs. He had eggs in his social media feed. And he talked about eggs and how wonderful eggs were. And he really reminded me of my passion for FactSet, that it was just about eggs. So how can you connect with your investor base based on the tools and the services that you have to gather information to drive growth?
I think that that's a challenge that any IRO can take on.
Mark Fasken: I love that. I recently met with a former IRO from Crocs and he said that he used to show up to his meetings with a croc and he was like, how many people do you know who have crocs? I was like, it's amazing. No, I think that's a really good point.
And to your point, there are a lot of IROs who are probably regularly meeting with investors and probably not talking to them about their experience with the company and their feedback on their products and services. And so I think, that's that valuable insight that you can come back and say, Hey, we talked to them about stock and how it's performing and everything and questions about the strategy.
But we also got some really helpful product feedback and that's the stuff that you can start to relay in those, in those monthly newsletters. So I think that's a great idea. Also this is my final question and a bit of a plug because I'm really excited about Irwin's partnership with FactSet.
Mark Fasken: Were you more effective at investor relations because you had access to FactSet?
Kendra Brown: Absolutely.
Mark Fasken: Okay. Unequivocally. Yes.
Kendra Brown: Yes. And I think that I hand over heart, I always say that, I can say that even if I wasn't IRO for FactSet, if I didn't have FactSet, I would have asked for FactSet. One of my, one thing, and in the seat, we get pitched a lot of tools and I've sat in some of these conversations and I let them go and I say, you know, I have FactSet right?
And that was not being grandiose or rude. It was just, when you think about the value proposition of being able to use FactSet every day in this role, it was definitely a big boon for me. So I had dashboards at my fingertips that allowed me to start my day with real time news and intelligence.
And that will allow me to know how to be most impactful. So if there's something going in the market, what conversations do I need to have? What investors that may be moved or they're kind of waiting to take a position that now they may be able to act on if I reach out to them because of what I've seen that's going on.
How can I reach out to my senior leadership tool? And I had real time intelligence at my fingertips every single day. If you just look at our content, the value, really our competitive moat comes from our connected content. So it allowed me to stay on top of our performance of us FactSet as well as our peers.
And then with things like supply chain data, and other more niche data sets, I could drill in to tell a different story. So from a data standpoint, I was always covered. Something very new and near and dear to me in my new role is that we have a productivity suite. So I've built really robust models, then I could press a button and update every single quarter.
So even if it wasn't a quarter, if I get that call at 5 49, where, you know, Phil Snow, our CEO is asking a question. I have a model that I can push a button and now I am prepared and that productivity suite allowed me to do that. And then the final thing I would say is that and you know, you’re making me excited, Mark.
I feel like I'm giving my IR pitch again.
Mark Fasken: I can tell. The passion is bleeding through.
Kendra Brown: When I think about our open ecosystem, it makes it very easy. And it gives us the ability, if there are gaps or areas where I need more, I can connect them very easily. So it's really, that is the power of FactSet that I'm able to use what I have in my workstation, but I'm able to be broader and bring in other solutions as needed, which also like you were talking about, as far as a plug, where things like Irwin come into account, products like Irwin come into account where it allows you to create a complete strong IR ecosystem. And that's really the value that FactSet afforded.
Mark Fasken: Awesome, Kendra. This has been super interesting. I love the idea of thinking about investor relations from a product management standpoint. I think it's really interesting and really appreciate all of your insights.
So thank you very much for your time.
Kendra Brown: Oh, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
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.