Dirk 2016: Crisis management with a criminal psychologist

Jun 09, 2016
<p>Core IR issues meet psychology and industry 4.0 in Frankfurt</p>

‘We had 150 people in the room and for an hour and a half you could have heard a pin drop. I’ve been doing this conference for 19 years and this was the most brilliant speech we’ve had in Dirk’s history.’

What Kay Bommer, general manager of German IR society Dirk, is talking about is the first of two keynote speeches at this year’s conference, held in Frankfurt on May 23-24. So what was the topic? Shareholder activism? Strategic IR? Crisis communications? While those and other core IR issues certainly featured on the schedule, Bommer and his fellow organizers tried something a little different for this year’s Dirk conference: criminal psychology. And it appears to have gone down very well.

‘The presentation by Dr Thomas Müller on ‘crisis situations and their psychological rules’ was a masterpiece in looking beyond your own nose,’ says attendee Tobias Erfurth, head of IR at flavor and fragrance producer Symrise. ‘Müller talked about fear and crisis, about work/life balance – which in investor relations is definitely not the best – and what we should change, and how, to live better. I would say his was the most thought-provoking presentation [I’ve attended] at Dirk.’

While that might seem a tough act to follow, Erfurth also cites the panel discussion ‘How strategic is IR?’ as giving him some new ideas to put to use ‘as arguments for internal discussion’, while the workshop on investor targeting offered tips on how to ‘better allocate my time with investors’ – something he says he’s already used to kick off a new project.

‘I also enjoyed the keynote from Stephan Reimelt, president and CEO at GE’s power conversion business,’ continues Erfurth, though he says this is perhaps because it was again not a ‘typical’ IR topic. ‘In IR, visibility of topics outside your company and industry is usually limited. Reimelt broadened the space to topics far beyond the daily norm – like industry 4.0, its impact on our companies, on us and on our work.

‘My lesson learned: never stop learning and never stop asking questions – especially if someone says, Don’t question it, it’s always been like this.’

Another element of the conference both Bommer and Erfurth say is enjoying growing success is the MDAX roundtable. This invitation-only roundtable, with slots open to IR chiefs at MDAX companies, has grown to ‘a regular meeting where 20 or more people from these firms meet to exchange important thoughts and ideas about their daily work,’ says Bommer. On the table at Dirk this year? Everything from consensus estimates to the new reporting standards and prepping for Mifid II.

The number of overall conference attendees remained almost exactly the same as last year at 420 but, interestingly, Bommer notes that a relatively large percentage of them were there for the first time. That’s obviously good news in terms of Dirk newbies, but it also means the same number of regulars decided to skip a year. ‘It’s our task now to create new elements for people who have been before and at the same time keep the momentum up for new visitors,’ he says.

It certainly seems that when it comes to keynote speeches, at least, trying something new and opting for non-IR issues has been a success for Dirk this year. But what are Bommer’s plans for Dirk 2017? With the date already set (June 12-13), he says the structure will largely remain the same – with something possibly a ‘little more revolutionary’ in a few years’ time.

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