“We were full of self-confidence, young and enterprising”

Martin Meier-Pfister and Anja Stubenrauch, Founding partners

What induced you back in 2002 to separate IRF from the Wirz Group with a management buy-out?

Anja: On the one hand, the Wirz Group got into difficulties and we were worried that we would also be crushed as a comparatively small company within the Wirz structure. On the other hand, we expected more from docking on to an international financial communications consultancy than from belonging to a communications group with several specialist areas focused on Switzerland. This eventually resulted in the international cooperation still in place with FTI Consulting.
Martin: And we were full of self-confidence, young and enterprising. I’m still happy that Anja launched the idea for the buy-out.

What was the attraction of having your own entrepreneurial responsibility?

Martin: As far as the buy-out was concerned, that wasn’t a relevant trigger for me and it only became clear to me over time. It’s exceptionally motivating to be your own boss when things are going well. However, when times are tough it’s scary when you have nobody behind you. All in all, the plan worked out. However, it was more demanding than we had thought at the time. This is known not least to our external board members, who (thank you!) have accompanied us along the way.

The turn of the millennium was characterised by the dotcom bubble, Swissair grounding and all kinds of economic scandals. And then came political uncertainties such as the threat of terrorism after 9/11. Not exactly the ideal environment to successfully launch IRF…

Anja: The uncertain economic climate and the situation on the stock market were directly reflected in the evaluation. In a rosy environment, we probably couldn’t have afforded the buy-out. In fact, we lost two major mandates shortly after the restart, through no fault of our own – Jomed went bankrupt and Sulzer Medica was taken over. The whole team was stretched to the limit trying to turn the thing around.

Which client mandate do you remember most vividly?

Anja: The US litigation of Sulzer Medica, with a fall in share price from over CHF 500 to CHF 35 in just a few weeks, with numerous hedge funds as shareholders who left no stone unturned to bankrupt the company once and for all. That was very complex with regard to investor relations. The challenge was to once again find shareholders with a longer-term focus to support the company over 12 months. Finally, we succeeded in rescuing the company from Chapter 11, but it was later taken over by Zimmer.
Martin: It wouldn’t do justice to the diversity of our work and our broad client portfolio to select just one mandate from twenty years. That’s why we’ve made a broader selection and shown it on this timeline. We are where we are today because so many customers put their trust in us and recommended us to others. And thanks to the successful cooperation with the media and other stakeholders. I’m grateful for that.

What was your bravest decision in the last 20 years?

Martin: I can’t remember any heroic deeds. It was more that we never lost courage, even in difficult situations or if we didn’t win a hotly contested mandate in a selection process, for example.

What was the biggest mistake in the last 20 years?

Martin: Of course, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Most of the time, I was lucky that nobody noticed them apart from me. One exception was a large insurance company that wanted to issue us a mandate. I asked journalists – I thought discreetly – how they assessed the company. This resulted in a story in a business newspaper reporting that company X wanted to set its reputation straight and was planning to bring in professionals for the purpose. The CEO called me up enraged. He had wanted to hire us to improve his company’s reputation, not to run him into the ground. “Learning the hard way” has been a loyal companion over all the years.

Anja, what’s your best memory of the time with IRF?

Anja: The team spirit. Martin and I were well attuned to each other as managing directors – we were dedicated and had young, professional and ambitious employees who worked hard for the success of the company. It was a good atmosphere, despite the challenging environment.

Martin, what’s your vision for the future of IRF?

Martin: IRF should be a leading reputation and communication consulting firm in Switzerland. We live up to this standard by getting involved in relevant companies and projects in a manner appropriate for a market leader. That’s frequently the case today, but could definitely happen a little more often. We’re an experienced, diverse and dedicated team and I’m confident that we have not yet reached our limits.

IRF Reputation AG
Rämistrasse 4
CH-8024 Zurich
+41 43 244 81 44

IRF Reputation AG

IRF Reputation AG
Rue du Commerce 4
CH-1204 Geneva
+41 22 591 75 55

IRF Reputation AG