A World of Opportunity

Daniel Freiman, Treasurer & VP, NII Holdings

At $4.4 billion NII, which markets wireless communications in Latin America, Daniel Freiman has to manage treasury operations across different countries, cultures and time zones. "Coordinating things so they are all aligned is a challenge," Freiman says. "For example, a focus lately is funding our Brazilian operation, so we have to make sure we know who is steering and who is in the passenger seat. We drive the strategy here at home, but in executing some of the tactical issues, the local office takes the lead.

The physical separation from his team can be difficult, he adds. "There can be a lot of barriers to communication, including language. I end up doing a lot of traveling. Face-to-face meetings are important."

Cultural differences also play a role, "not just between the U.S. and Latin American countries, but among the Latin American countries," Freiman adds. "We all have the same goals, but how we go about getting there is different," he says. "Here in the U.S., we like to move fast. But in Brazil, for instance, people are very focused. They can analyze and look at things for a long time before making a decision. Whereas in Mexico, people are willing to work faster and make decisions from their gut."

Freiman, 38, became NII's treasurer in 2008 after serving as its controller. He started his career at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has a B.S. in accounting and an M.B.A. from the University of Maryland.

Daniel Freiman

How did you come to work in finance?
I studied accounting, but even when I began my career at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where I focused on auditing public and non-public companies, I always wanted to do more than accounting. After I came to NII, I went back and got my M.B.A. in finance. When I had that degree, I spent a little time in IR, and then became controller, before becoming treasurer.

What has been your biggest challenge or learning experience?
There have been several big challenges in my career. In accounting, it was going through a restatement about five years ago, involving bookkeeping errors in our Mexico operation and some issues in tax accounting. The stress and the coordination in trying to fix those problems were challenging.

When I was made controller, the challenge became managing people. I suddenly had 50 people under me that I had to manage.

Finally, moving from controller to treasurer was a big change and a big challenge. As controller, you're focused on technical accounting issues, whereas in treasury it's a lot more strategic and relationship-oriented. You are focusing on issues you haven't given a lot of thought to before. After a couple of years, I feel like I've gone through the learning curve here.

What has been your most rewarding project so far?
The financing we did last year--$1.3 billion in high-yield notes--was really rewarding. We did a road show, met with investors and completed what was a crucial funding for us. We're now set to grow in Latin America as we go to a fully 3G platform. It was, as you know, a challenging time in U.S. markets. This was a first for me. My short IR stint was really helpful. It helped me to understand the company from a macro level.

What do you like best about your job?
I like the fast-paced environment here. We're a growth company, which makes for a challenging situation.

How did you get on the career fast track?
By staying committed, dedicated and by making sacrifices, and by not settling for less. It can be tough. Your family has to make sacrifices.

But it's also been a matter of being in the right place at the right time. And I had good leaders who pushed me and gave me chances to demonstrate what I could do.

Did you have a mentor? If so, how important was that?
I've had several mentors. I've really been lucky in having mentors at every step of the way, from PWC on. The previous CFO at NII really took me under his wing and taught me how to be a leader, how to present to an audit committee, and so on. And the current CFO, Gokul Hemmady, has really helped me by putting me in the treasurer position as a developmental challenge. He moved the treasurer to the position of controller at the same time and for the same reason--as a challenge. It was a risk for the CFO to do that, but it's a way of building the team.

What advice would you give newbies starting out in treasury and finance now?
I try to be a mentor as much as I can. I've always enjoyed teaching or mentoring in some capacity. I would say that people should take on as much as they can and also should not be afraid of change. Develop communications skills--the more effective you are at communicating, the better a leader you'll be. And also be a person people can trust. Prioritize their needs and give people good information.

What finance area now offers the most opportunity?
Financial planning and analysis. If you can do that, you really can be a much more valuable player. Develop your analytical skills. I also think, perhaps because it's my own background, that accounting is a great place to start. As an auditor, you learn how companies work. Also, it's pretty intensive and you develop a professional presence.

What skills are the most sought after now?
The skills that are important are thinking critically, strategically and independently, and thinking outside the box. Also the ability to juggle multiple tasks. In an increasingly complex world, that invites more opportunity.

Click here to see the entire 2010 40 Under 40 list, Ready and Able to Fuel Growth.


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