Client spotlight: Insights and advice from Isabelle Adjahi of Lion Electric Co.

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Working in Investor Relations is as demanding as it is rewarding, and developing resilience is crucial for success. With the introduction of AI, evolving ESG regulations, and the current economic climate, both novice and experienced IROs are facing new challenges and uncertainty.

We interviewed Lion Electric Co.’s (NYSE: LEV) (TSX: LEV) Isabelle Adjahi, a seasoned Investor Relations Officer (IRO) with over 25 years of experience driving issuer-investor connections. In our conversation, she shared her experiences and offered valuable advice for professionals—whether they are just starting out or have been in the field for some time.

Strategies for resilience and success in IR

Not many IROs stay the course in this industry for as long as you have. Realizing how stressful the role can be, many get burnt out and leave the field for roles requiring similar skills but with lower stakes. How do you think you’ve been able to stay focused and dedicated to IR?

“I agree with you that IR can sometimes be a roller coaster. I think that what kept me going is finding the sweet spot between the passion and the perspective. I’ve been in IR for over 25 years, and I believe it requires a blend of resilience, passion, and commitment.

Yes, the stakes can be high, and sometimes it does get stressful. Over time, though, I have learned to appreciate the fight and derive satisfaction from every challenge.”

Throughout your career, you’ve received countless awards and recognitions for your work in the IR field. What are some of the differences in your approach that have led to your success?

“I would be lying if I said it’s not been rewarding to receive the recognition I have. 

I think that one of the main principles for me is that IR is not about selling; it’s about being connected, transparent, and protecting our company’s reputation, especially when things go bad. It’s about being able to adapt and build genuine relationships. 

For me, IR is not about the numbers as much as it is the people. If you cannot quickly adapt and be proactive when things change, you will have issues working in IR. IR is about being trusted, visible, transparent, and proactive in good and bad times. Yes, it’s about knowing the company and the industry, but it’s really about cultivating authentic connections.

Behind the numbers, IR, for me is about my capacity to take the information you have access to and turn it into trust with the investment community. I think this approach is what has been contributing to my trajectory.”

I think that’s true of many roles. It is easy to be honest when it is positive information you’re sharing, but strong, trusted brands are honest with their challenges, too.

“Most of the awards I’ve received, I got them in tough years for the company. I remember the very first one I received was in a year when the company missed results, the CEO left, and we failed a clinical study, in addition to running out of cash. But that’s the year I got my first award!”

Such an important lesson: hard times for your company will put more pressure on your role, but they will also be your best opportunity to show what you are capable of. What is your advice for novice IROs who are navigating their company through an economic downturn for the first time?

“For people new to IR, or new at facing an economic downturn, my advice is simple. You need to breathe, and you need to embrace the change. It’s like surfing! You cannot control the waves, but you can learn to ride them. So you need the information and know both your company and your industry. 

But beyond that, you need to be curious. You need to know the macro of what’s happening and understand the impact the downturn will have on your company.

To do so, you first and foremost need to interact with everyone internally and externally. It’s about keeping open communication, being transparent, and not being afraid of explaining again and again. You need to keep trying new ways of explaining until the message goes through. 

In the last few years, a lot has happened that we could not control, be that COVID, inflation, supply chain challenges, or an economic downturn. The only thing I could do was to focus on what I do control and be visible. Tough times are the worst ones to hide from analysts and investors!”

Strategies for small teams and communicating on the Street

In this conversation, you’ve used analogies to explain your point several times. Do you find this method effective in your communications with the Street?

“Yes, I am always trying to find analogies and other ways to make sure everyone can understand my point easily. Who we are on Zoom or in a meeting room is just an extension of who we are as a person in our daily lives.

My approach to communication is to use analogies, a language that is easily understandable and plain, and I have found that helpful in communicating with investors and shareholders as well. Yes, we have to be serious in what we do, but at the end of the day, it is about clarity”

What are some unique challenges faced by smaller IR teams, and how have you overcome those?

“The last time we spoke, I had a team of 2. Today, this team has been reduced to myself and the support of a part-time associate. 

Sometimes, when I look at my team, it can feel like David and Goliath. We have to do more with less. The thing about David, though, is that his strength was in his tools, and he won his fight with only a sling and stones.

When you have a small team, you have to efficiently use all the tools you have and be creative. It’s the only way you will be able to succeed. It’s about being nimble, thinking outside of the box, and leveraging the technology and partners that you have. It takes agility and an innovative, problem-solving mindset. That’s what I do with the partners I have, including Q4. 

When I work with partners, I use their team to the fullest. That’s the only way I can leverage the expertise of everyone around me and focus my time connecting with investors.”

In the last few years, we’ve seen more obligations around ESG reporting come into play. How do you see these changes impacting professionals on all sides of the market in the coming years?

“I think it is great news. ESG is not just another acronym, it is a game changer, for everyone, everywhere. It has taken a long time, but now no company can avoid it. IROs and C-suites need to be ready because it is not just about profits anymore. Now, companies need to be clear and strategic about showing their impact beyond the numbers.

It’s not just about generating profits. It’s about the impact that companies have on society, the impact they will have in the communities where they operate and on their employees, and so much more. It’s a new way for managers and execs to build their strategy, and for us in IR, it is a new way of telling the story of the company.”

What would you say to IROs that are hesitant and concerned about the new ESG reporting policies coming into play, maybe those would work at companies with minimal ESG initiatives to report?

“Very often people tend to believe that ESG reporting is complicated, and they have no idea where to start. You would nevertheless be surprised to realize how much companies are actually doing for the environment, their employees, and from a governance perspective. Even more astonishing is that often, companies doing the most are the ones we would believe are less inclined to focus, for example, on the environment (i.e. oil and gas companies).

My recommendation would be to, again, start by looking at the basics. I am convinced that there is no company not doing anything. Every company is doing something from an E-perspective, small things even, be that a recycling program or eco-friendly office lighting. So start listing. From an S-perspective, look at employee benefits, training programs, volunteer programs, etc. Look at simple initiatives already in place and from there, you can choose what to focus on.”

Impact of AI on IR

How do you see the insurgence of AI impacting IR and your peers? How have you taken advantage of new AI tools becoming available? 

“AI currently is the big buzzword! The question is whether AI is crashing the IR party. So right now, yes and no, because it is still the guest coming to the party trying to find its seat at the table, but in my case I’m willing to welcome the guests to the table. The trick is not to see this guest AI as a risk, but as a partner. AI can crunch numbers faster than I can do, of course, so why not let AI do it? Why not leverage it to take my strategy to the next level? 

I can use the help of AI to provide the numbers, while I focus on explaining the story and the strategy behind the digit. AI is not going to be able to do that, AI is going to help me to do it. So, rather than perceiving AI as an adversary, we need to learn about the tools. And yes, there are risks, but in time, there will also be many rewards. So for the moment, I am willing to give AI a chance.”

Learn more about Isabelle’s award-winning IR program at Lion Electric Co.

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