IR Society conference report: capital contest

Jul 23, 2012
<p>The IR Society&rsquo;s annual conference in London focused on the global competition for capital</p>

This year’s IR Society Conference, dubbed ‘The competition for capital’, was back at last year’s venue, King’s Place in London. And once again the weather cooperated, allowing for enjoyment of the canal-side setting during breaks, when delegates could eat, drink and chat with peers in the outdoor areas.

Below that level, in the underground lecture halls and breakout rooms, the IROs and service providers got on with the business of discussing all matters IR. The capital in the conference title dictated the organization of the program by dividing the day into debt and equity-related issues.

Rich Ricci gave the first keynote address, although as co-CEO of both Barclays Capital and corporate and investment banking, his session would arguably have been more diverting had it been six weeks later, when the bank admitted fixing key interbank lending rates.

Ricci’s broad advice to IROs was ‘to think globally, in terms of capital uses and capital opportunities, and to remember they have a role to play in proactively selling their story and helping to establish more confidence.’

There were two other keynote addresses, from Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the UK Treasury; and Luke Johnson, chair of private equity firm Risk Capital Partners.

But most of the rest of the day comprised breakout sessions, covering everything from ratings agencies to debt market players and dealing with debt in a crisis, to topical issues such as the shareholder spring and social media, as well as the perennial dilemmas of dividends versus buybacks and organic growth versus acquisitions.

One breakout session focused on the role of technology in investor relations, posing the question: is the medium changing the message? The panel included Philip Dorgan, a retail analyst at Panmure Gordon and one of the few sell-siders actively using Twitter to discuss his work. ‘Will be at #investorrelationssociety conference on a panel discussing impact of technology at 2.45. #booedoffstage at 2.47,’ he joked in a tweet.

City veteran Ken Olisa enlivened the last panel discussion of the day by recounting his time as a director at Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), the London-listed miner that became embroiled in a governance spat between its Kazakh shareholders and a number of British board members. The row saw Olisa and another director acrimoniously voted off the board last June.

The British directors at ENRC struggled to explain to the owners that although certain practices weren’t banned in the UK – like having a joint CEO and chairman – they were still frowned upon, said Olisa.

‘It’s a huge clash of cultures,’ he explained. ‘When you talk about principles and not rules, the rest of the world is absolutely rule-bound and doesn’t understand the concept. Neither did we 20 years ago.’

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