The first Future Leaders in Treasury Middle East Meeting took place in Abu Dhabi on 20 June. An intimate group of treasurers listened to Matthew Hurn (ACT Chair of the Middle East Advisory Panel and CFO, Alternative Investments and Infrastructure at Mubadala) talk about his career in treasury and the skills he felt were desirable in the industry to succeed.
How treasury has evolved
The discussion began with Matthew giving us insights into his career in both the public and private sector and explaining how the profession has evolved over the years. Treasury was previously known as back office and essentially cash management but in the last decade or so has moved to a more strategic role within organisations. He believes the treasurer should be the owner of all financial risks putting together the financial strategy that supports the business’ strategy.
Treasury looks forward and is always thinking about the consequences of possible situations on the business. As the Board looks to no one other than the treasurer during a liquidity crisis this has earned the position a seat at the table as strategic financial advisors. This in turn has led to more treasurers becoming CFOs as the skillsets necessary for a CFO are now more about understanding the risks of the organisation, drivers of financial success and articulating to a broad range of external stakeholders what the business is about.
Matthew highlighted that in every business he has worked in he was able to identify financial risks that needed managing centrally by treasury which resulted in cost savings for the company. In addition, business continuity and disaster recovery are other major risks that could affect a business and a vital part of a business plan – they should be on a treasurer’s radar.
Enterprise risk management, which encompasses strategic, financial and operational risks, should essentially sit within the treasury function. To every risk there is a financial consequence. He explained how he took control of enterprise risk and how this broadened his exposure each time there was an event and increased his profile, thereby helping to shape his career.
You also need a little bit of luck. Matthew accredits being the youngest ever treasurer of a FTSE 100 company at the age of 28 to luck. However, it is very clear that hard work, continuous learning and a sincere passion for the profession are also needed!
Professional qualifications are essential
Matthew emphasized that exams were important to acquiring technical skills giving the analogy that you would not get medical advice from anyone other than a doctor so why would you obtain strategic financial advice from someone who was not a qualified treasurer. When hiring someone who is qualified he knows they have got the technical skills so he now focuses on their personal competencies. When he is recruiting he would assess whether the candidate possesses similar values and whether there would be a good organisational fit. Essentially, he is looking to see if they can grow with the company. He stressed that he felt those who did exams fast tracked into roles of seniority.
In addition to technical skills you also need to learn personal skills which will help you to really stand out. One of the most important of these is resilience and you have to be confident enough in your abilities and resilient in the face of challenges. A key skill is to think about how you strategically influence the people that need to understand what you are doing and your financial language.
Top tips for a successful career
Matthew gave us some very insightful and key thoughts to keep in mind for shaping a career.
- Challenge yourself personally and professionally, do not get used to doing the same thing for too long.
- Do not always choose the easy option.
- Always ask why and assess the value and purpose of doing something and if there is a different way of doing it. If people cannot articulate why it means it is done out of process and not because it is the best way of doing it.
- Believe in yourself and be your biggest supporter. At some stage you will, hopefully, get a lucky break and you need to be confident and believe in yourself to take that chance to succeed.
- Manage your career and think about when it is appropriate to move companies. An organisation usually has succession planning in place and so from the position of Treasury Manager upwards it gets more difficult to move organisations. Keep in mind when you may need to leave and be as flexible as you can to get where you want to be.
- Do not ever chase money by picking jobs just because the salary is better. Instead, pick opportunities especially where you work for someone who inspires you and gives you the confidence to grow and develop.
- Always think about the ways in which you can grow your role and add value. Sell yourself but with enough humility that you are thinking about the benefits of the company rather than yourself as the company should always come first.
Bring out the best in your team
One of the most difficult aspects of leadership is team management but it is also one of the most important as people are very different with diverse ideas and skill sets. You need to discover how to bring out the best in teams. Matthew advised that, in order to be a successful treasurer, one important quality to have is gravitas which to him meant when someone walks in a room they possess this ability, confidence and aura that they know what they are doing. It resonates when trying to make first impressions. If you do get the interview it is up to you to understand the company, grab the opportunity to demonstrate that with your experience and understanding of the challenges of the organisation and the specific sector from a treasury perspective, you can add real value. You might be wrong but having an opinion and having the confidence with humility and not arrogance goes a long way.
The final take home message
If you are serious about a career in treasury:
- Focus on exams and think about your career path because you need to manage the process.
- Look at the ideal treasury skills set and honestly assess where you are and how you can bridge the gap. If there is an opportunity to develop yourself outside your day job and within your organisation then do not hesitate to go for it or someone else will.
My thanks go to Matthew Hurn for such an inspiring talk. I would also like to thank Mubadala Development Company for hosting the event.
Guest author: Anissa Teemul, Treasury & Investment Analyst, National Investment Corporation