"Where Can An IR Career Take You?" with guest speaker Rich Boehne, Executive Vice President, E.W. Scripps
NIRI SW Ohio Meeting – December 3, 2003 Rich Boehne, Executive Vice President, The E.W. Scripps Company
We were pleased to welcome back one of the founding members of our chapter. From our point of view, Rich Boehne is the poster child for career advancement for investor relations professionals, having moved from being Scripps' first IRO to his current position as executive vice president and second in command of the $1.9 billion (revenues) communications company.
It was clear from Boehne's opening remarks that part of his success is a sense of humor – as he described himself as the poster boy for the “Peter Principle” – Rich, we don't agree!
Boehne discussed his “bi-polar” background as first a journalist and then a corporate executive. A graduate of Northern Kentucky University, he covered public companies and Wall Street for Scripps' Cincinnati Post until 1998, when he caught the attention of headquarters, which was planning an IPO and needed someone to handle PR and IR. He joined NIRI and relied heavily on the organization for information and advice on building an IR program. He has also worked on NIRI's national conference, served as a national speaker and networked with a group of “IR buddies” in the communications industry.
Boehne said his IR experience was somewhat unique. He said very few people had public-company experience at Scripps prior to the IPO, so he had to educate them as well as himself about what IR was all about. He bought several books from NIRI and got some advice from peers, then told his bosses what he ought to be doing. "They just said, 'That sounds pretty good.'"
He had another advantage: Scripps is a communications company, run by former journalists, who gave him full access to information and supported his efforts to be very open with investors, giving them broad access to people deep in the Scripps organization.
He remained in IR for more than 10 years, and Scripps' stock price rose from about $10 to $50 during that span. He was planning to leave Scripps for a new challenge when CEO Bill Burleigh, approaching retirement age, tapped him and current CEO Ken Lowe to run the company.
Some Scripps executives resist the degree of openness that he continues to champion, Boehne said. "My response to them is, which would you rather have, secrets or valuable stock options? That usually settles the issue."
Boehne said he learned in IR to remain both disciplined and very flexible, because Scripps runs a far-flung set of businesses with a very small corporate staff and few outside resources. For example, Tim Stautberg, his successor as VP-IR, is also in charge of Scripps' signature event, the National Spelling Bee.
Boehne doesn't believe in corporate image advertising, preferring to let the company's brands take the spotlight. IR at Scripps is largely retail, with frequent trips and lots of one-on-one contact. The entire senior management team has been trained to talk to the Street, and many of them go out on roadshows.
Still, there's is a premium on entertainment and fun. Tim Stautberg, who took over the IR role from Boehne in 1999, is a frequent target of corporate-suite banter. Tim, Boehne said, is a city boy with a fancy University of Chicago MBA, while senior management at Scripps is mainly "farm boys" with rather undistinguished academic credentials.
Evidently there's a tape out there of several of Scripps' major shareholders doing the Electric Slide at an investor conference. Road shows have a “rock tour” flair, including the music.
"We tell stories. We don't really talk numbers," Boehne said. "I go to conferences and see guys just reading numbers off slides, and think to myself, what a wasted opportunity."
Boehne is very proud of the Scripps story. It includes great strategic decisions, such divesting its cable TV systems to concentrate on content, including the creation and development of HGTV and the Food Channel as major cable properties. HGTV is a multi-billion property, he said, and shareholders have been well rewarded.
One blemish on his track record was his decision to announce the launch of Home and Garden Television in New York City, where the national media is concentrated, instead of a more pastoral setting. One investor who chided him on the selection said that "In New York, a garden is a weed growing though a crack in the sidewalk."
By way of career advice, Boehne urged IR people to seek the trust and respect of senior management. The easiest way to do that, he said, is to get out and be part of your company and industry, rather than just an IR professional; focus on operations, not finance; stay in touch with the operators of the business; and communicate by telling stories.