Intro To An IRO: Selim Freiha, eBay Inc.

Selim Freiha is the Vice President of Investor Relations at eBay Inc., based in San Jose, California. Selim joined the company in 2003 after working for a number of Silicon Valley start-up companies. He has had a variety of finance roles at eBay, including two years on the Investor Relations team in 2006 and 2007. Selim has been in his current role since March 2015, bringing broad-based finance expertise together with his deep knowledge of the eBay business and investor community.

1. What are your top priorities and biggest challenges?

In 2015, when I became the Head of Investor Relations, eBay and PayPal were about to become independent companies. At the time, my top priority was supporting the process of separating out these two businesses, which I believe is the largest technology sector spinoff at the time. We had two platforms with very different characteristics. PayPal was seen as more of a growth asset, while eBay was seen as more of a value asset. We knew that with the separation we would see a significant shift in the investor base of both companies. As part of that shift, it was incumbent upon the IR team to manage communications and expectations over that period in an effort to avoid dislocation or disruption in the value of the company. Post separation, my responsibility transitioned to communicating the new stand-alone eBay story which had changed from the historical narrative of the combined company. It was important to me to ensure that the investment community understood where eBay was headed strategically as a stand-alone company and what success looked like financially for the business over the long term.

One of the biggest challenges we have today is attracting new investors to eBay. We are in the midst of executing on a strategy intended to drive growth re-acceleration over the long term, and it is imperative that our key stakeholders understand our narrative and the outlook for our business. Today, we are a company that has characteristics similar to that of a value company, but we are investing significantly to drive future growth. During this transitional period, it has been somewhat challenging to find investors who are comfortable with that dynamic. We are focused on finding investors who are willing to make an investment now, rather than wait and see what happens, which is what we tend to hear from a decent number of people that we speak with.

2. How have you seen the role and expectations of the IRO evolve in the past few years?

When I compare my time in Investor Relations in ‘06 and ‘07 to what I've been doing over the last couple of years, I feel that IR has become much more of a strategic finance function within the organization versus a more tactical function ten years ago. I find myself more involved in a broad spectrum of initiatives and decisions that are being made within the company. Our input on key external considerations plays a valuable role in business decisions, which is why I believe the role of the IRO has really evolved to become a lot more of a strategic advisor rather than a tactical day-to-day executor.

3. How can the IRO best engage the investment community?

I believe an open and engaging dialogue with investors of all types fosters good investor engagement. At eBay, we will not say "no" to anybody who wants to have a conversation and we appreciate hearing a broad range of investor perspectives. It is important in Investor Relations to be as helpful as possible to an investment manager who is trying to make the best decision possible for their portfolio. Oftentimes, our stakeholders don’t necessarily have the time or bandwidth to go really deep in one specific area of the company, which is where Investor Relations plays a valuable role in the decision making process. We try to frame our conversations around enabling a succinct understanding of our business, where we are today, and where we are heading, through a clear and open dialogue.

4. What is one important initiative that you’ve championed or experience that you’ve had as an IRO?

The separation from PayPal was one of the most important initiatives that I have experienced with eBay. The process of spinning off PayPal was similar to an IPO in terms of the amount of complexity, work and preparation involved, affecting a broad subset of the company. At the same time, we had to redefine the eBay story post-separation and pitch that to the investment community. It was a lot of hard work, but ultimately successful.

5. What resources do you rely on to stay up to date on the capital markets?

I rely on a fairly broad set of information and sources. Our relationship with Nasdaq is very helpful. Nasdaq IR Insight provides us a lot of good information on what's going on in the market, not just on a daily basis, but also from a longer-term trend perspective. The white papers on key topics of importance are very informative. I'm a also member of NIRI and there is a ton of great information that they put out. They foster many opportunities for IR leaders to get together to discuss what's going on in their businesses, to share best practices, and provide valuable input on what's going on in the broader investor landscape. I also try to network as much as I can with other IROs in the area, while keeping up with the news by reading publications like the Wall Street Journal to stay up to date on global events and change that could ultimately impact the eBay business.

6. What advice do you have for the next generation of IRO?

I am a big believer in being as integrated as possible in what is going on in your business. That might be a bit easier in a smaller company versus a large enterprise where there are more moving parts, but fostering relationships with key business operators is very important. Go beyond what you think your mandate is by pushing the boundaries of your role. Ask to get involved in areas outside of what you normally might consider relevant for an Investor Relations Officer because it will help you get a better understanding of what's really going on under the covers of the business and, at the end of the day, make you a better resource for the buy-side and the sell-side. The better business understanding you have, the more helpful you can be with investors. While you may not be able to answer specific questions, you can give better context around the questions that you get. And of course, keep a close eye on what's going on in the market and what could be relevant to you and your business.



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