PROFILE: Passion and persistence make Aaron Tiffany's IR jewel

An equal enthusiasm for teaching people about his company and learning new skills has not only led Mark Aaron to Tiffany & Co.'s top IR spot, it's earned him a seat as NIRI's chairman as well.

An equal enthusiasm for teaching people about his company and learning new skills has not only led Mark Aaron to Tiffany & Co.'s top IR spot, it's earned him a seat as NIRI's chairman as well.

When Mark Aaron stepped to the podium to open this year's annual NIRI Conference, he couldn't resist indulging an impish impulse. He kicked off the event by riffing a note on his harmonica. Yet, as if quickly catching himself, Aaron pauses, greets his peers, and then announces to the hundreds assembled, "I'm sure you didn't travel all this way to hear me play the harmonica." Perhaps there is no more fitting place for Aaron than at the head of a room packed with IR pros. The head of IR for Tiffany & Co. loves his work. His other passion is music. In his spare time he "plays around" with his harmonica to unwind. Who could blame him for taking the opportunity to combine both of his passions, if only for a brief instant? "I took a one-day course about five years ago on how to play the harmonica correctly," explains Aaron sheepishly. "I find it easy to travel with, and it's a great way to reduce stress." Yet if music is his sometimes passion, his all-the-time passion is IR. "A few years ago, an analyst asked me what I would to do next after Tiffany," explains Aaron with a bit of an ironic smile. "I said I was happy where I was. I actually found his question funny because it assumed you couldn't be happy doing what you were doing. I'm passionate about IR. I'm not sure you could do this job well without [feeling that way] about your company's story and about IR. You can't fake that. People will see right through it if you try." Fresh out of Boston University's MBA program, Aaron took a job as assistant secretary for profit planning at Irving Trust Company. About four years later, he decided that he wanted to move from banking to the corporate side of finance, and took a job as a financial analyst at diversified manufacturer American Standard. After a promotion that saw him become the company's manager of corporate finance, he took a position with Tiffany as manager of financial analysis. It was 1985, and Tiffany was a company in transition. The firm had just undergone a management buyout which severed it from beauty-care giant Avon, its former parent company. Over the next year-and-a-half, Aaron saw the company, which had been ailing financially, begin to turn around. Tiffany's financial condition improved so much that management began to contemplate an IPO, and Aaron was asked to join the IPO team that would help prepare Tiffany to go public. "It was a fascinating process," says Aaron. "It was extremely long hours, but it was dealing with every element from developing the IPO prospectus, to meeting with the bankers, to selecting the company's transfer agent." It was during the IPO process that Aaron got his first exposure to IR, as he accompanied Tiffany's management team on some IPO road shows, where they met with some potential investors. "During the road show, I was struck by how little people knew about our business," says Aaron. "Most people knew we had a store on 5th Avenue, and others said that they'd seen Breakfast at Tiffany's, but people had very little knowledge of our business. I saw this as a great opportunity to build awareness." That road-show experience left such an impression on Aaron that he jumped at the opportunity to start Tiffany's IR program from scratch. "One day during the IPO process, Tiffany's CFO said it was time we considered hiring an IR person," he says. "I said that I'd like to take a shot at it. "Although I knew I had the necessary ingredients to set up our initial IR program," Aaron continues, "I obviously didn't know where to find research analysts. I'd also never written a press release, so there were some aspects I knew I needed to learn." After convincing management he had what it took to build the company's IR program, Aaron began to focus on improving in the areas of IR where he had the least experience. He quickly joined NIRI and found the professional organization had a vast knowledge base from which he could draw. He has remained an active member ever since, and was named chairman of NIRI earlier this year. Those who know Aaron and his work say it's his high ethical standards that help set him apart. "Mark exudes integrity in everything he does," says NIRI CEO Lou Thompson. "For instance, when we put out our guidelines for earnings releases, there was never a question that Tiffany - in all of its practices - was already in step with all of the guidelines from the get-go." Aaron says that NIRI has managed to establish itself as a credible force by continuing to keep its members up to date on the latest IR trends. "NIRI has kept its focus on providing members with relevant information about what's going on," says Aaron. "It's not good enough anymore to buy someone lunch or play a round of golf with them and think they'll walk away feeling you're a great guy and then they'll buy your stock. It's all about sophisticated communications now, and NIRI provides the knowledge for people to do just that. NIRI is not just about trying to keep on top of developments, but also about keeping one step ahead." One thing that Aaron has learned over the years is that in IR you can never assume that you've done all you can. "I once thought you could just get the word out and everyone would get it right away," says Aaron. "Instead, I've learned that good IR means repeating your message over and over, and then backing it up with results. I still focus on building awareness. An IR person should never think that they can just tell the story for six months or a year and then spend some time on automatic pilot. That's the biggest danger. In IR, you can never be on auto pilot because there's always more people to reach." ----- Mark Aaron 1992-present Tiffany & Co., VP of investor relations; NIRI chairman of the board of directors (2003-2004 term) 1987-1992 Tiffany & Co., investor relations director 1985-1987 Tiffany & Co., financial analysis manager 1979-1985 American Standard, manager of corporate finance and treasury operations 1975-1979 Irving Trust Company, assistant secretary of profit planning 1975 MBA, Boston University 1973 BA Economics, Alfred (NY) University

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