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Develop your skill set

Building your IR career requires a firm foundation – and for Vincenzo Leporiere this was in finance. Here he offers valuable tips.

Nowadays, getting into IR is a seriously competitive business. With IROs coming from a wide range of backgrounds, how do you make it into IR and what do you have to do to stand out?

I don’t often use clichés, but it’s only fair to say that I found myself in the right place at the right time. Having just qualified as a chartered accountant I was working in the Group Internal Audit department of Hays, the FTSE 250 specialist recruiter. Saying that I knew precious little about the world of IR is probably an understatement. I was starting from scratch – which quickly leads me to my first point: people. Surround yourself with the best people in the field: this could be within your own IR team or for example by building relationships with other IROs. After all, the ability you have to do a good job is very often dependent on the calibre of the people around you.

I was lucky to be given the opportunity to join an award-winning IR team at Hays, willing to teach me the ropes and to invest in my development. Being part of a small IR team gave me literally instant access to the C-suite: my first roadshow was an overwhelming, fascinating learning experience. Equally, I have been able to build strong relationships with other IROs through various IR Society networking events and by joining the IR Society finance committee, a great way of learning from the very best. 

Financial knowledge
Of course having good people around you may help you to keep building and furthering your career in IR; however it may prove difficult to do that without having strong foundations in place already. As we know, there are various routes into IR, each with their varying strengths. It is common for IR professionals to have a financial background either in accounting or banking or both, as generally in most companies the IR role is much closer to the finance function than to corporate communications.

It is not uncommon though to come across research articles that point out that some CEOs and CFOs value IROs more for their communication skills than for their breadth of financial knowledge, the latter often taken as a given. Being a chartered accountant definitely gave me a head start and made it easier for me to navigate around analysts’ models or to identify and link various financial drivers of Hays’ performance. For those without a financial background or with limited financial knowledge, this gap can be filled with an array of courses, not least the IR Society’s CIR qualification.

However, even with a financial background, I had to quickly develop a series of ‘softer skills’ to ensure that I could communicate my technical findings and analysis in a simple, coherent and effective way to a very well educated audience. You need to be both credible and confident when dealing with and being challenged by various stakeholders, especially when, like in my case, you’re part of a very small, hands-on team. A combination of technical knowledge and softer skills definitely puts you in good stead.

So, you have a sound technical knowledge, have developed a good set of softer skills and have surrounded yourself with the best people in the profession, but you feel like you’re still not standing out? If that’s the case, then the last point I’m going to make is very simple: put your hand up.

Sense of initiative
Standing out among your own colleagues or the wider IR community does not just happen by chance. It’s such a competitive environment with so many talented individuals that your personal brand may sometimes go unnoticed. So make yourself more visible and put your hand up.

Yes, we all think we’re busy (and sometimes we really are), but can you spare a couple of hours a week to help out on a corporate development project or maybe to assess the impact of the latest technology on your company’s business model or simply use your own initiative to re-assess your company’s competitive landscape? If you’re not already in an IR team, then offer to help out during busier times, around results for example, or ask to sit in investor meetings or conference calls. Still, if opportunities are scarce in your own organisation, there are various ways of getting involved with committees and steering groups at the IR Society – just put your hand up.

Sometimes, as it has happened before to me, someone will put their hand up for you and when that happens (after accepting the fact that more work is coming your way) you should embrace the opportunity and make sure that there are some clear learning points and takeaways from that exercise – not least building/nurturing good relationships (back to my first point).
Clearly everyone will have their own way of operating in a professional environment, however I do believe that sound technical knowledge, complemented by softer skills, good people and a strong sense of initiative can make your IR journey much more enjoyable and rewarding. 

Published: 13 October, 2016