Cross-over careers: The skills that impress

Apr 15th 2015 |

From guitarist in a rock band to art history student or from running a corporate sustainability programme to working for a global consultancy: what are the experiences that broaden your horizons and give you a different perspective on treasury?

For sure, training, exams and on-the-job experience are all crucial ways of honing treasury skills. However, those who come to treasury from another profession or sector have the benefit of a broader perspective and may have had the opportunity to develop other valuable, transferable expertise.

Financial consultancy and treasury are two careers that go hand-in-hand, with many professionals considering a move from one to the other at some point. David Dunkerley, former group treasurer, UK, at Cable & Wireless, has held several roles during his 18-year financial career.

Although he gave up playing guitar in a rock band years ago, he gained valuable experience as a consultant at the business process outsourcing firm Capita, advising public sector clients on investment portfolios. So how did that experience shape him as a treasurer? “Investors need to strike a balance and as an adviser, you can show them aspects of the market they might not have thought of or seen before,” he says.

Experience and perspective are undoubted assets, but with the group treasurer position also comes responsibility. One crucial aspect of this, Dunkerley emphasises, is leadership and being able to present your vision to the board. He adds: “When you reach treasurer level, you have to take responsibility for developing policies. You have to take a view because you’re going to be developing risk frameworks and presenting to the board. This has to be supported with sound business strategies that enhance the organisation as a whole – that’s fundamental if you want to roll out a policy across the business.” Elena Silkina, head of finance at Northern Capital Gateway is another treasurer who gained valuable skills and experience in consultancy and banking before entering corporate treasury. She joined the operator of Pulkovo Airport in St Petersburg, Russia, in 2010 as director of finance. Silkina started her career as an auditor at E&Y before moving to a Russian bank to work in the equity and capital markets divisions.

Silkina’s experience as a consultant at E&Y highlighted two different approaches to projects: “You have to think of the long-term strategy in treasury, but in consultancy it’s a different style of work, you have to work on projects in the minimum time, with maximum efficiency and work independently. However, the project culture in consulting prepares you for a more dynamic approach.”

But it’s not just those who move between different professions who bring new skills and focus to treasury. Even moving between two different industries brings an opportunity to re-focus your skills and develop broader experience.

Andrew Mills worked at consumer retailer MultiChoice in South Africa as treasury manager and was previously a financial director at a trade and manufacturing company. “It’s a good idea to broaden one’s range of experience with access to various systems, countries and move around within the company,” he says. “I always enjoyed working in the banking environment and that’s why I moved into treasury. But the door is always open to move back to financial management. I thoroughly enjoy my role now and I would say that aspects of my job that involve pleasure – and pain – are demonstrating and creating value within the company.”

One of the obvious next steps for any ambitious group treasurer is to aim to become CFO. However, Mills says there are a lot of potential career moves for treasurers: “Banking is one option. Treasurers also have the scope of moving to a more consultative role. However, it’s not necessarily every treasurer’s ambition to become CFO – this role requires a lot of experience and a broad skill set.”

So if becoming CFO isn’t the ultimate goal, what lies beyond treasury? With skills honed in treasury, the world could be your oyster.

Treasury proved to be a useful resource in the career trajectory of Kathryn Campbell, who made the leap to become director of corporate relations at Brady Corporation, an identity and security solutions company based in the US. She spent some seven years in treasury, rising to assistant treasurer, and feels that her background has given her valuable insight. “Anything you’re trying to get done within the business, you have to justify it with value and how to fund it. You understand how critical cash flow is to managing the business. If you don’t stop off in treasury, you don’t get this perspective.”

Campbell moved on to her current role in April 2013. Why? “I saw it as an opportunity to grow as a leader. I had already accomplished many of the things I wanted to do in treasury. In my current trajectory, I’ve covered a lot of ground, particularly working directly with the CEO. I wouldn’t have done that from treasury,” she says. Her current role has been high-octane, with a focus on how to position employees for the future, how to drive the organisation and promote change. She has also been leading the company’s corporate sustainability programme. “If you think you’re going to be a high contributor to an organisation and drive value, then being a continuous learner is a must,” she says.

There is no limit to what you can do after a career in treasury. Following 16 years as group treasurer at Vodafone in the UK, then another year as president of the UK’s Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT) and a year as CFO at Indian power and oil company Essar Energy, Gerry Bacon retired aged 47 and is now studying a degree in History of Art and History at Reading University. He also lectures in corporate finance part-time.

“Skills from treasury are useful in a broad sense,” Bacon says. “They develop your analytical skills and your communication skills. A good treasurer can turn complex financial issues into simple ones. They also need to analyse well and know when they are taking a risk.”

Taking a measured risk is what set Bacon on the road to treasury while he was still working at Merrill Lynch in London in the financial projects/ internal audit department more than 20 years ago. He turned down a job at the bank trading Japanese equity warrants in order to travel and then study an MBA at Cranfield as well as take his MCT exams. He says: “I took the MBA/MCT route – it was a good call, though risky as I had turned down a lucrative position just after ‘Big Bang’ [the 1986 deregulation of the UK financial markets] in one of the world’s top financial institutions.” It was a risk that certainly paid off.

Prolong your sell-by date

As a treasurer if you’re not on top of the latest developments in regulation and technology, you’re losing out, both in terms of contributing value to your organisation, as well as making yourself an attractive proposition for promotions and future employers.

Tobias Westermaier, treasury consultant at Zanders Treasury & Finance Solutions (who used to work in treasury for Daimler and BMW), says that staying on top of regulation is one of the three core tasks for any treasurer who wants to add value. The other two are technology and bank relationship management. “You should structure your team in a way so that everyone is aware of regulatory developments – not just the corporate treasurer – and you have initiatives to adapt accordingly,” he suggests.

Regulation means additional tasks for corporate treasurers everywhere. Dunkerley notes that some regulation can be hard to implement. “For example, EMIR – the reporting of derivative instruments – we worked hard to comply with this and signed up to a repository. There are some companies that aren’t reporting, some facing sheer volume issues, and yet there appears to be no oversight or end result to the process. However, the risk of not complying and not being up to speed is too great.”

The time invested in keeping fully up to date with compliance also has other implications for your career. As you become more expert in your field, you’ll become more valuable to employers. But is there a risk of being pigeonholed for your expertise? “When people become specialised, they’re sought after because of that. You become very invested in that but it becomes a comfort thing too,” says Campbell. “This was a key consideration when I took my new role because I had spent six to seven years on building a treasury network and considerable knowledge of the systems, legislation and compliance.”

PREDICTIONS FROM THE PROS: TREASURY IN 10 YEARS

“The corporate treasurer will be fully integrated with other business units (such as procurement and sales)”

“The treasurer will be an even more important adviser to management”

“We’ll see streamlined and improved technology but they will still wrestle with security.”

“There will be much more data interoperability and integration between banks and companies.”

“Everything will be run sustainably and electronically. We’ll see the end of presentations on paper and we’ll have moved more towards electronic transactions… All relevant data/information/reports will be available on tablet.”

“There will be further disintermediation. Larger companies won’t need banks to help them reach the external pension and insurance company investor as there will be sufficient information, disclosure and technology around for direct issuance to occur.”

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