Kay Bommer looks back on his time in DIRK
Why did you decide to leave DIRK?
I get a lot of energy through doing things from scratch. When I started at DIRK, we had only DM9,500 ($6,400) in annual revenue. I had the opportunity to build a lot of things from the ground up. Naturally, after 10 years, the momentum has gone.
I don’t think IR has reached its peak, but it certainly won’t continue to grow naturally the way it did over the last few years, so I decided that this was the right moment to go. It sounds shallow to say, ‘You should quit while you’re ahead’, but that really is the case. The organization needs someone with fresh ideas to give it his or her take on how to move forward because the role that DIRK plays is changing.
Given your close association with DIRK, are you worried your departure may have some adverse effects?
I’ll advise DIRK until a successor has been found. It’s still my baby and I want to ensure there’s a seamless transition for whoever follows in my footsteps. But it’s also important that this conflation of DIRK with Kay Bommer comes to an end. Dirk is a German first name, and people here call me Dirk Bommer. As much as I recognize the appreciation for what I’ve done, that isn’t good for the association, the profession or me.
Simply put, a profession cannot be linked to one person. I want to see the association flourish. I think it’s good for everybody that DIRK and I look one another in the eye and say, ‘Well mate, we had a brilliant time, but now it’s time to move on’.
How did you come to join DIRK in the first place?
In the late 1990s I moved to a small software company in Hamburg as IR manager. I was new to IR and had no idea what to do. After searching for guidance I quickly found DIRK. After attending a few meetings, I realized I wasn’t alone in my confusion.
There were perhaps only 30 IR managers in the whole of Germany at that time. The basic idea of DIRK when it was founded in 1994 was that the older chaps would show the younger lads the ropes. I joined DIRK and was later elected onto the board in January 2000. In 2001 the company I worked for became insolvent and I wondered whether I could become general manager of DIRK, a position that at the time didn’t exist.
In the beginning, we all thought that it would be a two-days-a-week job. But we quickly realized it wasn’t, that building up an association is a full-time job, and that was when I agreed to do it full time. We’ve grown, slowly but steadily, ever since.
How has the IR profession changed since you joined DIRK?
It has changed immensely. When I joined DIRK in 1999, for many people IR was simply serving hot food at the AGM. It really took off when T-shares went public in 1996; that was the first time the average German actually owned a share. Then with the Neuer Markt lots of people thought they were experts and bought shares, expecting to become millionaires overnight.
Companies were employing PR guys as IR managers; they thought all you had to do was get into the media and things would take care of themselves. We at DIRK knew better. After the bubble burst it became apparent that those IR strategies based on PR and marketing models had failed miserably. We decided not to bury our heads in the sand, but to move on and define good IR.
The foundation was really laid between late 2001 and 2005 when companies and investors realized where IR was going. With all humility, I can say DIRK played a major role in getting that far. Looking at where IR stands today, it’s still a young discipline, but it’s now a highly professional one.
So how do you see the relationship between IR and PR?
Eight years ago, PR guys saw their field as the mother of all communications disciplines, with IR as their daughter. I see us more as a sister than a daughter. The younger sister, perhaps, though I’d claim we’re the more beautiful.
We are our own profession, and in fact there are things PR guys can learn from us – for example, what you say now will be remembered in three months’ time! In Germany we still debate whether IR is a financial or a communications discipline. My answer is that it’s both; that’s what makes it so unique.
You successfully pushed for DIRK membership to be opened up to IR consultants and other non-corporates. What was the thinking behind this decision?
I don’t think there’s enough of a difference between IR consultants and corporate IR managers to justify a discriminatory policy. The reason we didn’t do this earlier is that most corporate members had seen DIRK and its services as a closed shop in which they could talk among themselves about service provides and IR consultants. They felt reluctant to admit consultants because they felt they would come to sell services and would end open discussion.
It hasn’t worked out that way. Ultimately we’re all in the same boat and we all want to evolve IR as a profession, and therefore it is vital to include service providers.
Which achievements are you particularly proud of?
Establishing the certified IR officer (CIRO) program, a half-year course undertaken by more than 150 people to date. There was nothing there when we started and now when you look at ads for IR managers, they say ‘CIROs preferred’ or ‘CIRO education necessary’ – all that in eight years.
The second thing is really to broaden the acceptance of IR, not only in the corporate world but also beyond. In terms of lobbying we know we’re still a small wheel in the vast machinery of how regulation comes about, but occasionally we get feedback and we feel the impact of what we’ve said.
What have you most enjoyed about your time at DIRK?
Being my own boss. I got my feedback not by making some boss happy but by making my members happy. It was always my goal to find out what they wanted. It was great to guide the whole process, from inception to delivery. I drew most of my motivation from seeing things through from beginning to end.
Which aspect of the job have you enjoyed the least?
This is probably the most difficult question of the lot! At the beginning of the whole process, when we started out, we met some people who quite arrogantly dismissed DIRK. When they realized we were growing and becoming more influential they started to be less arrogant and more modest. But I guess that’s life; you just have to cope with things like that.
Finally, can you tell us a bit about your future plans?
I made the decision to leave DIRK without any future plans in mind. It would be great if I could combine my legal background with my knowledge of finance.
Whatever my main role is in the future, one thing I’m pursuing is the area of supervisory board development. Funnily enough there’s no association for supervisory board members, and it’s an area that’s about to grow. It’s not unlike IR 10 years ago; the profession is still developing. That’s something I find extremely interesting.
It’s fascinating to see when you throw a stone into the water of life where the ripples touch the shore. I’m confident that, by the middle of next year, I’ll have found my place, but if it happens later and I have time to go sailing for two months, I wouldn’t mind at all!