CEO in motion: NIRI’s new chief executive
Why do you think the NIRI executive search team chose you to be the association’s new CEO?
Certainly the advent of NIRI’s certification program was something that was weighing particularly heavily on the team’s mind when it went through the search process. I think my background at the Court Reporters’ Association – and prior to that at CFA Institute – in terms of running and being part of the certification program, positioning the certification programs and being familiar overall with how they are operated was certainly something NIRI was interested in from my background.
[Also] I’ve had a lot of experience working with local chapters both at my last position and at CFA Institute. I’m of the mind-set that we could be working a bit more collaboratively with our chapters and finding ways to deliver [greater] value to our members by working together.
People have often asked me why I want this job. I think this is an exciting time at NIRI; the certification program in particular makes the job a real challenge but if we can make a success of it – and I know we can – it’s really going to change the dynamic in the profession and within the association.
It’s not enough just to build [the certification program]; you’ve then got to figure out how you get people into it, how to market it and encourage those who employ IROs to look at the designation as something people should have in their portfolio, so to speak.
NIRI CEO Jim Cudahy chats with former chief executive Lou Thompson at a Capital Area chapter event
What are your plans for NIRI over the coming year?
It’s interesting that everyone has asked what my priorities are as CEO [because], frankly, the priorities already exist in the form of the association’s ‘One NIRI’ strategic plan. From a priorities standpoint as an organization, I think those are laid out pretty well in that plan.
I was familiar in general with the role [of IR] and with NIRI through projects we worked on with the organization while I was at CFA Institute, but certainly I’ve learned a lot in my first 90 days in the job. It’s been quite a whirlwind couple of months.
That said, I need to use my first year to get better oriented to the profession and to meet as many members as I can, just to get an idea of what’s on people’s minds. And not just the members but also people who don’t belong to the organization, [such as] the vendor community, the academic community and people outside the US. [Then I need to] figure out what we can all do together to advance the profession of investor relations.
Where is the NIRI IR certification program at the moment? What’s the timeframe for that being rolled out?
Right now we’re looking at a March 2016 rollout, but that could change based on how things develop. We’re currently finalizing the body of knowledge around which the program will revolve. We’re in the process of populating committees that will very soon begin writing sample questions that will become the first exam.
The first part of the certification process was to try to identify the content, the body of knowledge, around which the exam will be based. The second part was to determine whether we have a critical mass of topics and concepts that actually define the profession – and the answer, in the opinion of the committee that worked on it and in the opinion of our board, was yes.
From there, [we asked ourselves whether] the information was something that was testable. Is it possible for us to go out and verify somebody’s competency in IR using a test? And the answer there is yes as well.
This will be a program based on US laws and regulations but we do see strong interest in our certification outside the US. And if you think about it in parallel to the CFA program, that ultimately happened there as well: people were drawn to the certification program even though it was based in the US and ultimately [CFA] looked at it on a more global basis.
When the CFA program launched in 1963, one of the challenges the institute faced was finding people to sit the exam because the analysts out there were already presumed to be experts in the field, and they risked failing an exam. [That’s also a challenge here] so I think we’ll be asking a few courageous IR practitioners to step forward and take that risk!
The theme of this year’s NIRI conference is ‘IR in motion’ – can you expand on the idea behind that?
The theme existed before I arrived but the concept is that IR practitioners need to have a command of many different disciplines, so they’re constantly in motion. It’s not so much a play on words as the reality of what life is like as an IRO.
Finally, what do you see as the key challenges facing US IROs in 2015?
Having been out on the road extensively over my first three months, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a whole lot of IR practitioners and then be part of a number of educational programs at the chapter level. Certainly what I’m hearing the most about is shareholder activism, both from the buy side and from IR panels. That’s really what’s most on people’s minds these days.
From what I’m hearing, there might have been a time when the best understanding of how to deal with activists was to ignore them. That won’t help things now: if you engage activists on a proactive basis, you’re more likely to find areas of commonality, find ways to work together and potentially head off any problems.
The related topic of proxy access is also something we’re hearing a lot about and is certainly something we’ll be working on with the SEC [in the future].
The 2015 NIRI Annual Conference will be held on June 14-17 at the Hyatt Regency, Chicago.