From the first investor relations role Greg Klaben took on at Seagate Technology, it was clear that the field was a good fit. The gregarious, personable, well-spoken New York native could move from phone call to phone call, in-person meeting to meeting, communicating the vital information to investors and working closely with leadership, all with a sense of purpose and dignity. “You have to give everyone the same access to information and treat them with respect,” he says. “You don’t really last in the industry if you’re not completely honest, open, and credible.” But little did he know that the earpiece he was using to make all of those telephone calls would one day prove just as vital to his career as the deep interpersonal analytical skill sets he’d developed.
“When I was spending all of that time on the phone, I started out with the Plantronics headset,” Klaben says. “I loved the product and thought I’d really love to work for the company.” Now, a decade and a half later, Klaben is the vice president of investor relations for the electronics company and has been a guiding hand for the company over the past ten years.
The connection to the headset, however, wasn’t the start of Klaben’s interest in technology. He started his career on the other side of the investment relationship, working for a money management firm and calling investor relations employees to invest in their companies. But as he observed the quickly changing pace of technology and business, he knew he wanted to be a part of the movement and relocated to California to attend business school at Santa Clara University.
After earning his MBA, Klaben quickly took on a new role at Seagate Technology and made a quick connection with the CEO. “He hired me on the spot, and a few weeks later, I was on his private jet with him,” Klaben recalls. “I was really lucky to have that inside access. It really taught me a great deal.” The process of looking at the investment relationship from the other side was a challenge, but one that he relished. “It’s a very tough industry, but Seagate offered me a great opportunity,” he explains. “Even though I’ve done a hundred quarters of earnings releases, every quarter is different and offers a new challenge. It keeps me engaged.”
After positions in investor relations for companies focusing on everything from telephony to software and hardware, Klaben found the opportunity to make a major impact at Plantronics. Former CEO Ken Kannappan immediately recognized that the skill set Klaben offered could be of essential use to the company and investors alike. “Greg took principal responsibility for a singularly broad scope of activities,” Kannappan recalls. “He is an extraordinary talent. He generated all of our quarterly communications from the CEO and CFO. He took the lead in developing the financial model and our investment story. He organized event showcases for the company and the team. And uniquely, investors were entirely content to speak with him.” And unlike any investor relations person that Kannappan had ever worked with, Klaben dug into the business so deeply that he became an active member of strategic planning, referring to him as the company’s “librarian source.”
Klaben’s background and history as an investor himself prepared Klaben for many of the key challenges. He could, in a sense, think from an investor’s perspective and then change to the CFO’s mind-set at the drop of a hat. For that reason, he sees his value, in large part, as adding value to the stock price, for the benefit of all parties involved. For that to transpire, Klaben needs to be sure to communicate the direction of the company clearly and frequently with investors and then contribute information from investors back to the leadership team. More over, he needs to represent the company to investors from a variety of leadership viewpoints, from the CEO to the CFO, depending on their question.
Additionally, Klaben has developed quite a massive scope of work. He works closely with investment bankers, offers guidance on capital allocation and acquisition strategies, works on incorporating marketing methods into messaging, works closely with manufacturing to track quality and potential issues, and keeps in constant contact with departments ranging from legal to finance. “When I interviewed for roles, I always wanted the keys to the company,” Klaben says. “I need to have the same access that the CEO does in order to have the entire framework to tell the story to investors.”
To amass that necessary information, Klaben extends his network at every opportunity and communicates in person whenever possible. “I have a ‘friend of a friend’ program,” he says. “I always ask if institutional investors know someone else who I should be talking to that might be interested in investing in Plantronics. Things have moved toward email, but people are most interested in meeting you in person and looking you in the eye for those conversations. That’s important to build credibility over time.”
People who work closely with a business’ customers get an abundance of feedback, but as the investor relations executive, Klaben gets feedback from each of Plantronics’ owners. In addition to his one-on-one phone calls, Klaben distributes a survey every two years to ask for constructive criticism and then shares anonymized results with leadership. And although the results are overwhelmingly positive when it comes to his work with investors, Klaben is sure to dig through the masses of data for every opportunity to improve the company he can find. “We both have to be successful,” he says. “I want them to be successful, to make money in owning the company, and I want the company to succeed as well.”
That long-term view is informed by the fact that Klaben has provided a consistency in the face of massive change in both the organization and the industry at large. As Plantronics changed strategies and entered new markets, listening to investors proved essential. “We’ve changed enormously over the past ten years, including new products and categories that I’ve helped launch, as well as helping investors understand them,” Klaben says. That was even more true, he says, when Kannappan, the long-tenured CEO of Plantronics, retired in 2016. Yet again, Klaben’s experience prepared him to help lead through the transition to new CEO Joe Burton. “I’ve been through every kind of crisis that you could think of,” Klaben says.
Once again, Klaben’s regular conversations proved essential in the transition. By meeting as frequently with Plantronics leaders as with investors, he was able to assure the company’s blue-chip investment base of Burton’s perfect fit and leadership’s strategy from firsthand experience. “When I meet with investors, I’m trying to replicate the experience of an investor meeting with the CEO,” Klaben says. “It’s a big responsibility, but it’s something that I love.”
Photo: Bart Nagel