Outreach for Better Outcomes

Adam Kokas’s strategy for exceptional shareholder relations at Atlas Air

Last year, it operated more than 28,000 cargo and passenger flights, serving 432 destinations in 123 countries.

At the hub of this activity sits Adam Kokas, Atlas Air’s executive vice president, general counsel, chief human resources officer, and secretary. To say Kokas juggles multiple roles within Atlas Air only begins to describe the challenges he faces.

Kokas’s role is constantly evolving to support the business. A significant portion of his work is devoted to shareholder outreach. Kokas leads the governance side of outreach in partnership with the company’s CFO and head of investor relations, and he has become adept at establishing relationships with many of Atlas Air’s major shareholders. Part of this outreach occurs in what Kokas refers to as “the offseason,” so termed because they reach out to shareholders proactively outside of the proxy filing season. It’s important for Kokas to remain flexible. Some shareholders are more comfortable meeting in-person; others prefer communicating through a call; and some prefer to just receive written materials.

Kokas does his best to be prepared for any meeting and finds that such preparation often makes the difference. Reading and learning all he can about his shareholders and what’s important to them in terms of governance is critical. “After all,” says Kokas, “shareholders are spending significant time learning about Atlas Air, and it’s only appropriate for us to do the same.”

New Destinations, New Rules

In 2014, Atlas Air flew to 432 destinations; many of which were new for the company. These are a few examples of the far-reaching locales and activities that keep the legal team at Atlas Air busy:

Shanghai: This is one of the world’s largest and busiest airports. It is also restrictive when it comes to new air service. Not only are traffic rights required from the Chinese government, but takeoff and landing slots are required. For cargo operations, slots are available only during late-night hours. According to Kokas, that adds an extra layer of detail for the carrier.

Los Angeles: In this metropolitan area, noise issues are a consideration. With the largest fleet of Boeing 747 freighters and a substantial fleet of the newest generation 747-8 freighters, Atlas Air is particularly attentive in addressing these.

Argentina: The entire country has limitations on how much currency can be withdrawn. This is challenging for Atlas Air while using local vendors and working with local customers.

New York City (JFK): This is Atlas’s operational base, and the Federal Aviation Administration has recently proposed slot constraints on unscheduled operations (Atlas’s primary operating mode).

As part of the outreach strategy, Kokas and his team typically provide written materials for shareholders in advance. This could include an agenda, a tear sheet highlighting key points about the company, or a PowerPoint deck. Another significant part of  Kokas’ shareholder outreach involves answering shareholder questions about governance and related matters. “Ultimately, it’s all about what’s important to the shareholders, and it’s the job of the Atlas team to be able to provide them the information and answers they are seeking,” he says.

For other companies looking to strengthen their shareholder outreach, Kokas says it requires a significant amount of time, preparation, focus, and the ability to think on one’s feet to be responsive to tough questions. He maintains that while everyone may have other areas of primary responsibility, shareholder outreach is an important tool that should have significant dedicated resources for public companies.

Kokas believes a commitment to proactive shareholder outreach is an integral part of his job and one that can provide significant value to any company. Shareholder outreach has also given him a new and unique perspective directly from the owners of the business. This perspective compliments his view of the company and makes him a more effective leader.

Shareholder outreach only goes so far, however. Without a strong company culture, outreach efforts fall flat. Atlas Air’s culture of compliance can be seen in the company’s dedication to maintaining best practices in line with global anticorruption laws, in particular the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Since a number of places where Atlas Air does business are deemed “high-risk” by the act, Kokas notes that the legal group is continually assessing risk within the business and making sure the company takes the right precautions.

According to Kokas, Atlas Air has engaged in numerous efforts to ensure an effective compliance program and educate employees about global anticorruption rules, including the FCPA. Recently, Kokas engaged an outside firm to conduct a global risk assessment supported by the company’s legal department, which involved the firm interviewing employees from all around the world. The result was to enhance the company’s compliance policies, procedures, and programs. “Taking steps such as a comprehensive risk assessment is not only prudent in light of the guidance we’ve seen from the Department of Justice,” Kokas says, “but also an important opportunity to engage with employees and promote a culture of compliance through the exercise of the assessment itself.”