Ken Gianella has over 25 years of operations and finance experience in the Technology and Communications industries, with the last eight years working with investors in both public and private companies as a CFO, VP of Finance, or as the IRO. Currently serving as the Vice President of Investor Relations and ESG Strategy, Ken joined Itron in January 2018 after the acquisition of Silver Spring Networks (SSNI), where he held several senior finance roles, including serving as interim CFO.
We spoke with Ken to get his insights on challenges facing IROs and the skills needed to be successful.
How have you established your company’s priorities amid the Coronavirus pandemic? Specifically, have you had to answer significant questions from investors around the supply-chain impact?
We needed to quickly evaluate all the factors that were impacting our company and our customers. It was critical we had a framework of not just managing through the pandemic, but what it would take to get “back on track” toward our target operating model.
The number one priority for Itron has always been the health and safety of our employees, our customers, and the communities we serve.
From there, we prioritized how to safely get our operations and supply chain stabilized while navigating through the various global restrictions. We had suppliers locked down in Asia; factories in the EU on mandatory shut down for multiple weeks; shipments and supplies being pulled off of aircraft to prioritize medical and humanitarian aid; there was a lot of moving parts at the beginning of this pandemic that we needed to navigate.
Our team quickly adapted and did a great job of safely getting employees back into the factories, shoring up the supply chain and logistics channels, and making sure our operations were back up and running across all our regions.
The parallel challenge was working with our customers and aligning their demand. With a customer base of utilities and cities, it is imperative we support their evolving needs in this situation. As a global company, the market recovery in many cases has been tied to our customers’ location and their regions’ ability to emerge from the pandemic. This can be different country to country, state to state, city to city.
We are fortunate to be in an industry that supplies critical infrastructure for energy and water utilities and cities around the globe. This pandemic has focused our efforts on helping our customers plan and deploy our solutions during and after this event. We are confident the market will recover, and we will continue working with our customers, so all of us emerge stronger from this unique situation.
How has the spread of COVID-19 affected your strategy as an IRO?
During this pandemic, our strategy has not changed. If anything, it has been reinforced. From the IR perspective, it remains paramount to be as transparent as possible with our stakeholders.
As the primary conduit between investors and our company, being honest, forthright, and consistent is very important as an IRO. Our core tenet is to distill and communicate complex situations into clear, easy to understand information for our investors. The pandemic has not impacted our strategy or the approach to our investors.
How can an IRO best engage the investment community?
An Investor or Capital Market day is the best way to engage your investor base. This is not just one event; if done correctly, this will be the company’s messaging platform over the next 18 to 24 months.
Leading up to the event, it allows IR to engage key stakeholders in various ways. From completing “investor perception studies” to working with the management team on aligning the strategy and messaging, all the efforts that go into creating the event can be leveraged on future investor engagements for quarters to come.
What advice do you have for the next generation of IR leaders?
“Don’t be a mushroom!”
Staying intellectually in the dark, complacent in your efforts, and letting folks feed you “manure” to report on is not a way to “grow” into being a strong leader.
Be engaged! Build strong internal relationships with your operations and finance teams. Learn the key drivers of the industry you are in. Always remember, IR is the primary contact between investors and the company. By being engaged, you will be an effective resource for investors and a valuable partner to your executive team.
What is one important initiative that you’ve championed or experience that you’ve had as an IRO?
Taking on the role of ESG Strategy for Itron has been a very rewarding experience. We have been working for over 40 years to help utilities and cities improve their operations, enhancing how they connect with their customers and providing our customers with the tools to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
However, we have not done a good job of communicating externally these initiatives and showing our investors all the great work that our company has been achieving. With ESG reporting going from “a nice-to-have” 3 years ago to a “must-have” today, we needed to update our approach, and a few areas of focus quickly climbed to the top.
First, ensuring ESG was not a “standalone” mandate, but it was deeply rooted in our operational cadence and strategy; Second, remembering it is about the actions we take and the outcomes we achieve, not just about the reporting. And third, there was a concern that “reporting fatigue” would take time away from executing on the mission by asking our teams to complete all the third-party reporting mandates.
We are very pleased with the early results and the balance the teams have achieved. Working with the board of directors, our executives, and being able to engage a cross-functional team both internally and externally has been a great experience.
What are some benefits you have seen from being an IR Intelligent Client?
As a mid- or small-cap company, you do not always have a large IR team. In some cases, you may have a one or two-person shop. Finding the right partner that can be an extension of your IR team is critical.
Being an IR Intelligent Client allows us to “expand our team” by leveraging the Nasdaq technology along with their surveillance and market insights team. The support from Nasdaq allows us to easily keep a pulse on the buy- and sell-side activity. Combining the people and the technology from Nasdaq has been a huge success in keeping our executive team informed.
While you have been at Itron, can you recall a highlight while working with Nasdaq?
The support from Nasdaq in preparing and hosting our Investor Day at the MarketSite in NYC was the highlight of 2019. We were repositioning the company after the Silver Spring Networks acquisition, and it was important to make not only sure we had the right messaging but also the right target audience and platform to reintroduce the company strategy. From the preparation and analysis for targeting new investors to the support in staging the event, the Nasdaq’s Market Insights team was phenomenal.
Itron enables utilities and cities to deliver critical infrastructure services safely, securely and reliably to communities in more than 100 countries. Itron’s proven portfolio of smart networks, software, services, devices, and sensors helps its customers better manage their operations in the energy, water, and smart city space. Itron is among the leading technology and services companies offering end-to-end device solutions, networked solutions, and outcomes-based products and services to utilities and cities around the globe. Their comprehensive offerings measure, manage and provide data analytics and services that enable their customers to manage resources responsibly and efficiently.
To learn more, please visit their site here.