Awards: Canada's top teams

May 01, 2010
<p>Interviews with some of the winners of the IR Magazine Canada Awards 2010</p>

Most of the winners of the 13th annual IR Magazine Canada Awards, held in Toronto on February 17, had undergone some kind of test during 2009. They may not have done anything new, and they may not have had a lot of razzle-dazzle, but solid investor relations in the face of tumult won the votes of analysts and investors.

‘Some of my colleagues may wonder whether these awards go to the companies with the best stock price performance over the past year. But let me tell you, we had one of the crappiest years I can remember from my 15 years in IR,’ announced Rogers Communications’ Bruce Mann as he collected the award for best mega-cap IRO.

‘Our CEO Ted Rogers passed away, we had a drawn-out succession process, and one regulatory and competitive issue after another. The fact that we’re being recognized for the job we did when times were hard is really gratifying.’

Quebec’s Cascades, the mid-cap grand prix winner, had touched a 20-year low in 2009. ‘I was really happy analysts and investors recognized the fact that we remained committed and transparent, answering all their questions,’ says Didier Filion, IR director. ‘Even during a tough period, they were able to make decisions with all the information in their hands.’

One of Cascades’ strengths is its ability to nimbly adapt its message to investor concerns. Last year the focus was on leverage and debt, especially given the company’s large exposure in the US high-yield market. Filion believes this concentration on balance sheet issues will remain, at least for the next few years.

ARC Energy Trust had a tough year, too, with its unit price underperforming the sector despite the company outperforming operationally. David Carey, senior vice president of capital markets, refers to 2009 as a ‘transitional’ year, with investors getting prepared for ARC’s conversion from a trust to a corporation at the end of 2010.

‘The conversion is both a challenge and an opportunity,’ says Carey, who is also chairman of CIRI. ‘It will broaden our investor base because some investors were restricted in owning a trust, while others just didn’t understand the sector.’

After the split
EnCana’s main focus in 2009 was splitting itself in two, a process it completed in December with the creation of Cenovus Energy, an integrated oil firm, leaving EnCana as a pure-play natural gas company. ‘The success of the split lay in ensuring that each of the existing shareholders would own a share of each of the two new bodies,’ explains Ryder McRitchie, vice president of investor relations. ‘We had to gain their support – first to back the vote, and then to continue holding their shares.’

The IR team also split up, with Sheila McIntosh, McRitchie’s mentor for five years, going to Cenovus along with Paul Gagne and Susan Grey, leaving McRitchie and Patti Posadowski at EnCana.

Investors and analysts in the awards survey praised EnCana for its ‘key play’ conference calls, which it staged as a cost-effective alternative to an investor day. The first one, in May 2009, focusing on Texas and Louisiana operations, set a record with more than 500 participants. A second call on integrated oil assets took place in October.

One analyst in the awards survey commented that when clients ask about the industry he covers, he directs them to PotashCorp’s website: ‘It is like a one-on-one tutorial on the industry,’ he said. And that was the old site he was talking about, one that was first launched in 1998 and gradually tweaked over the years until it was taken offline and replaced by a brand new site in February this year. ‘More and more, we’ve come to realize the website is the hub of our communications program,’ says Denita Stann, senior director of IR.

As PotashCorp started planning its next-gen site, it studied usage statistics on its old site. In early 2009 it launched a web survey asking for feedback; it got nearly 500 respondents in one month. The number-one wish? Even more data. The result was a data tool that appears prominently throughout the new site.

Golden opportunity
Agnico-Eagle Mines built five of its six gold mines in the last three years – a bout of activity that helped place it at the top of the Canada rankings for the last two years. David Smith, head of IR, attributes much of that success to transparency. For example, Agnico-Eagle issues five-year guidance, which it updates each December.

The other key to Agnico’s success is that senior executives are ‘selfless’ with their time. Smith estimates that CEO Sean Boyd and CFO David Garofalo spend as much as 30 percent of their time on the road – an amazingly high percentage.

It seems fitting that Darren Seed won the award for best small to mid-cap IRO – and not just because he has clearly won the hearts of Westport Innovations’ investors and analysts. He has also won over the IR community as president of CIRI BC and co-chair of last year’s CIRI annual conference.

Seed chalks up his success to the thousands and thousands of miles he has traveled along with his senior management members, who spend about five days a month on the road. He also mentions the variety of platforms used to get Westport’s message out, with an RSS feed, Twitter stream and YouTube videos stemming from a social media campaign launched in mid-2009.

‘As a small upstart in the clean-tech sector, we’re always challenged to help investors understand both why we’re a good company in the space, and why the space is good in general,’ Seed says.

Look for it in 2010

EnCana
has been working for approximately four years to increase awareness in the US, and the impetus is now even stronger since the split with Cenovus. ‘We’re lumped into Canadian energy stocks but, as a pure-play gas company, most of our peers are US-based, so we need to change that perception,’ says Ryder McRitchie, vice president of investor relations. That IR push will build on a wider branding initiative this year.

Cascades is usually associated with Canada’s beleagured paper and forest products sector even though its main products are tissue paper and packaging, which are more consumer-driven. With no real comparables in Canada, IRO Didier Filion is focused in 2010 on lifting valuation by building Cascades’ US ownership.

Early in 2010 Agnico-Eagle Mines launched a new website with more multimedia and extensive financial and operating databases. ‘We provide more financial and operating data than any other company,’ maintains David Smith, head of IR.

ARC Energy Trust is making a point this year of going to investment centers it hasn’t visited before. In March, David Carey, senior vice president of capital markets, led a trip to Baltimore, Wilmington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Columbus – all in just three days. ‘We’re spending more time on the road and going to as many conferences as we’re invited to,’ he says. Another new ARC initiative was to buy an HD video camera and shoot a video of a Q&A session about year-end results with the CEO, which was posted on the web. Carey plans to do it every quarter.

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