Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Take the Time to Say Thank You

I’m going to take a break this week from investor relations and instead talk about personal relations. After all, it’s my blog and I can write about what I want to.

The other day I had one of those “What ever happened to?” moments. In this case, I was wondering what had happened to my old track and cross-country coach. He had only coached me for two years in high school before moving on to a different school, but he was a great coach and had given me a love of running that lasts to this day. The Internet is a wonderful tool that allows you to reach out to people that in the old days you would simply have lost track of, so I gave it a try. I wasn’t real hopeful of finding anything, as it has been forty years since my high school track days, but lo and behold, after about five minutes with Google, I had an email address.

Then I did something that I should have done many years before: I wrote him, thanking him for the time, effort and consideration he had put into coaching a young and inexperienced runner many years ago. A couple of days went by and I was beginning to think perhaps I had a bad email address when I received a short email from my old coach saying “You made my day – I will call you”.

Several hours later, I got a call from him and I must say that it was one of the most enjoyable conversations I have had in a long time. Not only did my old coach remember me all these years later, but he even remembered some of my track times from my sophomore year in high school.

In our lives we all have people who have been important influences on who we are and what we have achieved. They may be teachers, coaches, scoutmasters, professors, relatives or even friends of the family. They are people who have taken the time and effort to help young men and women understand who they are and how to use the talents they have to move forward with their lives. They teach fundamental disciplines, help nurture young talent and often give considerable amounts of their own time.

Because the people being helped are young, they often don’t realize how they are benefiting. I used to think that my track coach was good because he made me a better runner. It was only many years later that I realized that as good as he was at making me a better runner, he was just as good at instilling in me disciplines such as hard work and attention to detail that were to benefit me long after I stopped running competitively. But this realization didn’t come until later. When I was young, I was busy getting on with my life, and so I moved on and didn’t give it, or the influencers in my life, a whole lot of thought.

So here’s the thought for the day: take ten minutes and thank someone who has been an influence on you life. I doesn’t matter if it’s an email or a phone call or you stop and chat when you see them in the grocery store. The important thing is to just say thank you. It’s a simple thing to do, but too often we put it off until it’s too late, so do it now. Not only will it make the day of the person you thank, but I guarantee that you will get a big benefit from it as well.

Friday, March 25, 2011

One Generation’s “Nice to Have” is the Next Generation’s Essential

In our mind’s eye, we never age. We remain slim, dark haired and up to the moment in developments. However, every now and then something happens that reminds us that our view of the world is different than those younger than ourselves.

Just such a moment happened to me the other day when I was teaching my class in investor relations. We were discussing a case in class that revolved around how to improve a company’s visibility with investors. One of my students suggested that one thing the company could do was to improve its web site. As the case occurs in 1993, I said that most companies did not have web sites back then. My student looked at me as if I were from Mars. The concept of a company not having a web site was utterly foreign to her.

The reason I find this interesting is that it points out how quickly something can go from being almost non-existent to becoming an essential part of the information mix of a company. For those of us with a little (or in my case a lot) gray hair, we tend to think of web sites as a secondary means of transmitting information, following real information, which is imparted via pieces of paper and speaking to people. However, if you have grown up in the Internet age, information is first gleaned from the web, and then secondarily refined through other means. For example, if I want to find a good quote for use in writing, I am likely to turn to my trusty volume of Bartlett’s Quotations. My children, on the other hand, would not dream of pulling down a book, but would immediately do an Internet search.

One of the ways this intersects with investor relations is in the way companies treat their IR web sites. Older investor relations officers tend to think of IR sites as “adjunct” or “supplementary” information backing up the annual report, press releases, conference presentations and one-on-one meetings that are the grist of the daily IR mill. Yet with each passing day, more and more analysts are coming out of graduate school with the viewpoint that the Internet is the primary source of information. Just as another data point, it is not unusual for me to see papers from MBA students where all citations are to internet sources, with not a single book cited.

What this means for IR practitioners is that the content of their investor relations web site is increasingly important. The design, information content and logic of the IR site are things that should be given considerable thought. Further, given the pace of change for web sites, the IR site should be thoroughly reviewed at least once a year. This means that delegating maintenance of the IR site to the junior member of the IR department and forgetting about it isn’t an option any longer. Just as the senior member of the IR department wouldn’t dream of letting the junior member of the department do one-on-one meetings with the company’s most important investors, they shouldn’t delegate or outsource the web site. Investor relations sites are rapidly becoming the primary source of information about companies and they need to be accorded a high level of attention.

Otherwise, the likely scenario going forward is that investors, rather than contacting the company, will go elsewhere on the web to get their primary information.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Motive Doesn’t Matter

The insider trading trial of the century has started in Manhattan featuring Raj Rajaratnam, his Galleon hedge fund and a diverse set of characters ranging from a former Goldman Sachs director to consultants and naturally, other hedge fund managers. The trial is providing plenty of grist for the mill, but I wanted to focus on one interesting article that appeared the other day in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Motive for Stock Leak Can Be Respect, Love”. The story looks at the motivations for some of the people that leaked inside information to hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam and others involved with the Galleon hedge fund. It turns out that not all of them did it for the money.

Mind you, the ultimate recipient of the information appears to have been in it for the money, profiting handsomely from the information given to him by his network of informants. And filthy lucre also appears to have been a part of one of the initial witnesses at the trial who testified to being paid $2 million. (As an aside, it’s kind of hard to argue that you don’t know you were doing something wrong when you’re being paid in an offshore account in your housekeeper’s name.)

However, others appear not to have been motivated by money or to even have profited by their leaks. In the case of one Intel executive, friendship appears to be the motivating factor. In the case of an IBM executive, a desire to impress a woman with whom he had become intimate was the reason cited by the executive in explaining himself the judge in his case.

But here’s the thing that any prosecutor worth his salt will tell you when you start to trot out non-monetary motivations: IT DOESN’T MATTER. Knowingly passing along inside information is a crime and it makes not a whit of difference if you made millions as a result of the information or you did it for the love of mankind. There might be some distinction made by the judge between the two when you get sentenced, but make no mistake, if someone has acted on inside information that you knowingly passed along, the government has the obligation to track you down, take you to trial and convict you.

So here’s the point, from an investor relations and compliance viewpoint: A good IR Disclosure Policy and program will drive home the point that it is the disclosure of non-public information that can get you in trouble, not being paid for it. Most people can easily understand that if someone offers to pay them for confidential information, it is probably illegal. Harder for them to understand is that if they pass along the information because they wanted to impress their friend, or were out in a social situation and wanted to appear important, or they had a long standing friendship with the person they gave the information to, they can just as easily get into trouble.

So find a way to get people with access to inside information to understand that they don’t have to profit from passing along inside information in order to break the law. And just to drive the point home, remind them that whatever friend they pass the information to will not be serving jail time for them when everything unravels.