Job Spotlight: Shawn Roberts, Director of Investor Relations at TSYS

Forgive Shawn Roberts if he can't utter a word to you about the financial performance and prospects of TSYS until next Tuesday evening.

That's because as director of Investor Relations at the Columbus-based firm, he's in a so-called "quiet period" until the global credit-card processor makes public its earnings results for the first quarter of this year. He's essentially been silent on company matters since April 1.

That information will be released at 4 p.m. Tuesday, however, followed by a conference call between executive management and Wall Street analysts. Both of those will set up a long night and hectic days during which the Columbus native will be a veritable fountain of knowledge, more than happy to extoll the TSYS story and explain its financial data and outlook.

Roberts, 43, is a critical conduit between the company and investors -- institutional and individuals -- ensuring they have all the information they need to buy, hold or sell the company's stock shares. He has two decades on the job, the last seven with TSYS, 10 years with supplemental insurer Aflac, and three years with Synovus and TSYS when they were one entity before officially separating at the end of 2007.

The Ledger-Enquirer talked last week with Roberts about his job, his interaction with investors, and the challenges he faces carrying out his mission of enlightening people about TSYS.

You enjoy what you're doing?

I do. Some companies view investor relations on a rotational basis. But Aflac, Synovus and TSYS don't, and I'm kind of thankful for that because I view investor relations as a career. When you have investors relations departments for very large companies -- whether it's a large cap or mega-cap company -- sometimes they'll have two or three people who are career-oriented in investor relations. Then you'll have four to six people who are rotational, where they'll come from finance and do investor relations, then go from investor relations to (mergers and acquisitions), then marketing. Being that there's only two of us in investor relations at TSYS, it's more of a career for me.

Describe your job.

In layman's terms, my responsibility is to communicate timely and accurate financial information to the investment world -- institutional investors and retail investors.

How do you go about doing that?

It's a combination of things. A large majority of my week is spent on the phone, talking with either sell-side analysts who are writing research about our company or buy-side investors who are deciding whether to buy shares or not. I talk with them on the phone, I talk with them by email. Sometimes I have to have phone calls with institutional investors who are new to the TSYS story or to our industry. Certainly, that will be a two- to three-call process where we may sit on the phone for an hour and a half just describing to them from bottom up what TSYS is, what we do, where we do it. And then we get kind of down in the weeds on the second and third calls, and maybe they're up and running with understanding the story.

There's plenty of meetings and travel?

The meetings that we have require me and predominantly (Chairman and CEO) Phil Tomlinson to travel to different cities around the U.S. to speak with in person and have meetings with institutional investors and analysts ... like the Fidelities of the world and Goldman Sachs, the bigger players out there. But we'll have meetings with anybody that's interested in our story. Being open and available to communicate with investors is a requirement for investor relations. So I take a lot of pride in always being available to anybody who needs to know more about TSYS.

So there's a lot of information about the company flowing to investors?

One of the more important things to note is I have to make sure that everything that I do and everything that either Phil Tomlinson, (President) Troy Woods or (Chief Financial Officer) Jim Lipham does with me is communicating information about our company that already is in the public domain. We have to make sure that we comply with all of the SEC rules and regulations in talking about our company and our financial performance.

Obviously, right now because of first-quarter earnings release being next Tuesday, we're in a quiet period. So there are four times every year when I have to not talk about our financial performance because of the fact that we're too close to earnings.

Does the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission mandate the quiet period?

There's not an official mandated time. I think the TSYS policy laid out by our group is probably the best one. Our official quiet period begins the first day of the month that we release earnings in, up until the day that we release earnings. We're releasing earnings this month, so on April 1 we began the quiet period and it goes until we release earnings on April 24 at 4 p.m.. At 5 p.m. we have our earnings call, which is in the public domain because of the fact it's webcast. We talk about the first quarter and how well we're doing.

How many people do you talk with after an earnings report is released?

There's anywhere from 50 to 100 people calling in and/or listening to the presentation via webcast. After the call is finished at 6 p.m., my day has really almost just begun. I never get home before midnight on the night of an earnings release due to the fact that we have a lot of shareholders that want more one-on-one time, that have questions that maybe were not asked on the call ... just more information about the industry and our opportunities for new business and things like that.

That evening is really the roughest evening. But the next morning begins about 7:30 and it's a full, jam-packed day of nothing but phone calls with interested investors or shareholders.

Are there lots of individuals calling?

The fact that every publicly traded company has to webcast presentations, like an earnings call, I think individual retail investors are relying more today on information they can get via the Internet. So, you don't get as many calls from retail or individual investors.

What do you do when an earnings period isn't imminent?

A typical day is a combination of talking with institutional investors and analysts, either communicating to Wall Street what our company is doing or communicating to my executive committee what Wall Street expects us to do. It's two lines of communication there. We need to know what they're thinking, what they're doing. They need to know what we're thinking and what we're doing.

In addition to that, it's understanding changes that may be occurring on a daily to weekly basis with regulatory change, competitive intelligence, understanding what our competition is doing or is not doing. Communicating that kind of information to my executive committee and, in some cases, the board of directors, is another part of my everyday business.

An investor relations person absorbs knowledge constantly?

You do. Every time as a company that we decide to do something or we're thinking about doing something, from my perspective I have to think: What are investors and shareholders going to think about this decision? What do they want? If the decision was to get into a new market, geographically speaking, I have to think: What would investors think about this? Are they going to like it, or not going to like it? How are we going to communicate it so they will better understand that this is a good thing in our eyes to do.

So you're simply laying out the facts or do you sway them at times?

In large part, investor relations officers are conveyors of fact. We have to talk about the factional information about our company -- usually on a financial basis -- and have to make sure that information, those facts, are in the public domain and that we're complying with SEC rules and regulations. I really don't want to try to be influential. But I'm hoping what I do influences them to better understand the facts. I'm not trying to make something that might not look good, look good. If it's ugly, if it's something we haven't done well, I have to say that.

What's your biggest challenge?

I think the biggest difficulty would have to be satisfying shareholder and investor requests for personal meetings. Because when you think about our quiet period policy, that alone tells you that there's four months out of every year that I cannot travel. I can't go and talk to investors, I can't answer the phone. I can't go to meet with them in New York, Boston, San Francisco or Chicago. So there's four months out of the year, which leaves eight months. And within those eight months you have months like May coming up, which are going to be extremely busy from our perspective.

Everyone is clamoring for your attention?

When you have a story like we have right now, where everybody's interested in wanting to learn more about us, and you have a lot of investor requests for meetings either on the phone or in person, it's just really hard for me to expect Phil Tomlinson to travel with me as often as I need him to travel with me. I have to keep in mind that he has another job that doesn't involve investor relations. So managing the executives' calendar in order to get on the road to meet with big investors is really big.

That travel schedule is growing?

As we become more and more of an international company, I've got four or five or six investors in London right now that want us to meet with them. I've got two or three in Tokyo. I've got some in Denmark. Try to coordinate all of that. It really gets tough.

How are things different from Aflac to TSYS?

It's very similar from an investor relations perspective. But when I first came on at TSYS, the rumor out there already was there was going to be a spinoff of TSYS from Synovus. So when that happened, it was the biggest change to investor relations that TSYS has ever witnessed. Prior to that change we had maybe 10 sell-side analysts with coverage of TSYS. Today, we're up to 24 and could probably add a few more before the end of this year.

When you only have 19 percent of your outstanding shares on the public market, then go from 19 percent to 100 percent, it's like going from the minor leagues to the major leagues. From the investor perspective, all of a sudden the road shows -- the investor conferences, the UBS, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley conferences that you get invited to -- they suddenly quadruple. The number of investors that hold your shares gets bigger and bigger. So now the travel with the executive committee in and around investor relations is three to four times what it used to be.