What are you most proud of over the course of your career?
I’ve had three careers. I was a biochemist for seven years, a financial analyst for quite a while, and I’ve been in the IR and PR world as my final, and most wonderful, career.
Building this firm and being involved in some of the best deals of all time has been a marvelous opportunity. Everybody should be as happy in their careers as I’ve been in this last one.
Is there a lesson you wish you knew before getting into the PR field?
I didn’t love what I did before. I’m someone who can really say, ‘If you don’t love it, don’t do it.’ I would give that advice to any young person starting their career – do something for two or three years and get the hell out if you don’t love it. If you love it, just throw yourself into it.
What are you most excited about in the next decade for PR?
We have a seat at the table. When I started, one of the things people said to me was, PR is too important to be left to the comms people in our little niche part of the world, which is mainly deals and crisis. Now PR has become determinative to some of the transactions we’re doing.
We have a real opportunity. There are some CEOs who now have IR in their background. IR and PR in particular are becoming more important to the outcome and the perception of a corporation. People are recognizing it, too. So the professionalism required and the respect we’re now able to engender is very different than it was when I began.
What has you the most concerned for its future?
As we become more important, people want what we’ve developed. They want the expertise and want to bring it in-house for themselves. It isn’t just the PR people we’re competing with now. We’re competing with the likes of banks, who want to bring it in-house and lawyers, who have always, to some degree, done PR. It’s ours to lose if we don’t keep the excellence up.
How do you stay so in love with your job when you deal with crisis?
To be honest, the people in crisis are so interesting. I personally get my biggest kick out of the most difficult, smartest, most hard-edge CEOs that I have to deal with. I come in when they’re really impossible – that’s my favorite thing. I’m known to be incredibly blunt, and if they can’t hack it, they can’t hack it but many of them like the fresh perspective. I say what I think and I’m more politics now than I was 20 years ago, but I’m still just as blunt.
Joele Frank is founder and managing partner of Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher. Founded in 2000, the firm has ranked number 1 in M&A since 2013.
For more than 25 years, Frank has counseled executive teams and boards of directors as they manage some of the most complex and delicate situations in their companies’ history.
Having played a major role in more than 1,000 special situations, Frank understands the impact communications has on a corporate reputation and a company’s ability to achieve its overall business objectives.
Frank has advised boards and management on matters of governance and succession, including Phil Knight, co-founder and chairman of Nike, with respect to his ownership and leadership of the sportswear company and his ultimate transition as chairman.
She has also advised on many of the highest-profile friendly and unsolicited M&A campaigns, including: Teva Pharmaceuticals in its offer to acquire Mylan and its subsequent acquisition of Allergan Generics; Allergan with respect to the unsolicited offer from Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Pershing Square; Time Warner in its defense against 21st Century Fox; Verizon in its acquisition of Vodafone's 45% stake in Verizon Wireless; US Airways in its merger with American Airlines; Airgas in its defense against Air Products; Merck in its merger with Schering-Plough; SIRIUS in its merger with XM; PeopleSoft in its defense against Oracle; and the William R. Hewlett Trust in its opposition to the HP/Compaq merger.
In addition, no one has defended more companies against big-name activist shareholders. Frank and her colleagues have defended companies against Carl Icahn more than 30 times, Starboard more than 40 times, Pershing Square more than 10 times, and ValueAct, Elliott, Trian, and others numerous times.
Notable assignments include DuPont, State Street, and Family Dollar against Trian; Allergan, Procter & Gamble, Herbalife, General Growth Properties and Target against Pershing Square; Hertz, Family Dollar, Oshkosh, Clorox, and Lionsgate against Carl Icahn; and Sony, Sotheby's, and Yahoo! against Third Point.
Earlier in her career, Frank served as vice-chairman of Abernathy MacGregor Frank, where she led the firm’s mergers and acquisitions and crisis communications practices, and as an MD at Ogilvy Adams & Rinehart, a corporate and financial PR firm.
She spent seven years in AT&T’s treasury department and worked closely with the investment community during the divestiture of Bell System. She began her corporate career as a senior financial analyst at Allied Chemical. Before that, she specialized in DNA replication as a research biochemist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Frank received an AB in chemistry from Mount Holyoke College and an MBA in finance from Long Island University. She is a member of The Committee of 200, the Financial Women’s Association, The Economic Club of New York, and the Board of The Museum at FIT.