My Experience in Global Financial Communications

Véronique Schyns, photographer: Dorina van der Graaff

I had the privilege to be an in-house advisor on why and how to communicate effectively acquisitions, equity stories, business goals, strategies and related progress for stock listed and global companies for many years.

My extensive experience of directly advising CEOs, CFOs and CMOs, enables me to add value to your management and company.

It was the challenging time of the burst of the internet bubble and the disastrous World Online IPO in which the bank played leading roles. In 2000, it became world news that World Online founder Nina Brink had sold part of her shares, well before the IPO and I had to explain why the prospectus had not clearly mentioned this.

During the time that I was at the Company’s head office, between 2004 and 2011, the company was extremely active on the M&A market and I was fortunate to be right in the middle of it as a member of the core acquisition team, consisting of Business Development, Legal, Finance, Investor Relations and advisor Credit Suisse First Boston. The team was responsible for a number of transformational, multi-billion euro deals, such as Scottish & Newcastle (UK, Portugal, Finland and Belgium), FEMSA (Mexico, Brazil, USA), United Breweries (leading brewer in India), and a string of ‘smaller’ deals in Switzerland, Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa and Asia. I drafted announcements, key messages, expected questions and answers, story lines and media briefings, counseled senior management and organised and actively participated in press conferences and media events in different parts of the world.

One of the most exciting times was when The Wall Street Journal called me about the deal with FEMSA. I was in New York, where the final negotiations with FEMSA took place and it was three days before the planned announcement of the acquisition. The Wall Street Journal had the story already! You can imagine how this resulted in a race against the clock to close the deal and announce it at the start of the next day.
I enjoyed tremendously and learned a lot about the business while speaking to the CEO and the CFO during dinners and long travel schedules, speaking to regional and local top management, such as in the USA and in Africa, speaking to business journalists and financial analysts during interviews, results presentations, analysts and investors roadshows and Capital Markets Days held in New York, London, Paris, Singapore, Miami and Seville.
Quite impressive I found my visit to Nigerian Breweries, the leading brewer in this large country, with a Dutch TV crew for interviews with the local Managing Director.
Of course I will never forget the high standards that had to be met for every Board interview or results press conference. Together with the Director of Investor Relations I prepared all documents and counselled the CEO and CFO in dry runs of the press and analyst conferences. Busy times, because my responsibilities were also the management of the press conference itself and all international media.
A particularly remarkable press conference was the one with CEO Jean-François van Boxmeer and Dr. Vijay Mallya, owner of UBL, regarding the acquisition of a shareholding and partnership in the Indian company. Another remarkable event was being introduced to King Carlos of Spain, during the opening event of the brand new Seville brewery.

Financial communications

During 7 years at Heineken I drafted and edited the company’s financial results press releases, Q&As, messages, presentations and I was the media spokesperson. I was responsible for the press conferences and interviews in Amsterdam, London and New York. In addition, I closely worked with Investor Relations to expand media attention for the company’s results to all key markets as part of the investor roadshows. To prepare the Executive Board for results presentations and interviews, I organised and participated in high-quality media and messaging training sessions under the leadership of an experienced trainer with whom I built a long-standing and trusted relationship over the years.

Equity story

In order to convince the business community of the right strategic goals, I created, managed and executed a pro-active international financial media programme. As part of this programme, I built relations with many global stakeholders and was the spokesperson for the full Executive Committee. On the content side, I helped revealing key marketing, corporate and financial stories, in order to educate influential business media, analysts and investors about the company, equity story, growth strategy, its markets and its brands. It was a challenge and fun to convince and help senior management with training to play their role in the programme. Overall it was extremely rewarding to have been instrumental in the turnaround from being a company communicating reactively to stakeholders towards pro-activively communicating.
As an example, I helped to communicate the launch of Heineken Light beer in the USA, a story to be positioned in a balanced way as a core part of the Heineken corporate and equity story. It was a fantastic experience to work with Board Member Marc Bolland, global and USA marketing teams and bringing business journalists to the launch event on Times Square in NYC.
Examples where I brought financial journalists and corporate marketing and innovation directors together to discuss global sponsoring investments or Innovations are: UEFA Champions League, Rugby World Cup, US Open (tennis), BeerTender and DraughtKeg home dispenser product launches, opening of branded airport bars, and the Culture Bière bar and club on the Avenue des Champs Élysées, Paris.

At Heineken there were issues in different sizes and categories. Apart from product recalls and legal disputes, a large European Commission fine, cost cutting programmes and brewery closures, I was advisor, spokesperson and part of the crisis team of the tragic shooting of a top manager in La Reunión; Another example is managing the impact of a report by the UK broker Cazenove, announcing that the CEO would be forced to step down soon, which was released on the morning of a financial results announcement.
Between 2007 and 2010 there was a CEO change and a complete change of the Group’s leadership. I was privileged to have been trusted in the core advisory team and to execute agreed strategies.

In 2011, I joined asset manager Robeco, amongst others to assist the company to communicate in a more structured and effective way, to be more pro-active, to create more visibility for the Board and to increase the corporate reputation.
I supported Robeco with its corporate and board positioning and thought leadership in responsible investing. Through many tailored individual and group messaging training sessions with my training partner we made every session a success, meeting participants needs. Almost all key investment managers were trained, including a training session with the full board to answer questions such as, what is your desired company perception? We helped to define mismatches and decide about difficult questions. We organised sessions in Rotterdam and at offices abroad.

The process of the sale of Robeco Group by Rabobank was very exciting and I have been fortunate to be part of it. Especially, it was a new challenge to manage alignment of the communication between the owner, the CEO, clients, staff and global and local media. In addition, I came up with a successful strategy to turn unfavourable media sentiment about the company into favourable sentiment.

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