Sunshine brought Van Bui, the treasurer at Genentech, to South San Francisco from the Windy City, but the challenging treasury work keeps this former actuary motivated. Bui, 37, joined biotech company Genentech in 2000 in computer systems support. A chance meeting with the company’s then-treasurer, Thomas Thomas, who was impressed with her actuarial background, shifted her career path.
“Treasury was so exciting,” she says. “It brought in the financial aspects of an actuary, but it’s a different spin on finance. I was really intrigued by it. The learning curve is almost addictive for me, and it was huge learning curve.”
Bui’s first role in Genentech’s treasury was as a portfolio manager for a $10 billion fixed-income short duration portfolio. When Roche Holding bought Genentech for $46.8 billion two years ago, Bui led the treasury integration, including cash pooling, foreign exchange and investments.
What led you to corporate finance?
I started off in Chicago, and after two years, it was so cold. A recruiter called and said, “How would you like to work in California?” I ended up in San Francisco, and then after four years as an actuary, I got tired of taking exams, so I decided to try something new, and I went to Genentech.
I was on a project where all the systems developers were working in a warehouse. Every day I’d take the shuttle. One day, the treasurer, who also took the shuttle, asked me why I walked into a warehouse every day. I gave him my background, and when he heard the word actuary, he said, “I have an open position in my group.” And I looked at him and asked, “Well, who are you and what do you do?” He told me he was the treasurer and what the treasury group did, and I guess the rest is history.
What did he like about your background?
He had just inherited the insurance group, and he had this whole concept of enterprise risk management that he wanted to kick off. He heard actuary, and he was just so excited. He said, “You’re going to come into my group, you’re going to take the CFA exam, and you’re going to manage a portfolio.” I left the actuary world because I didn’t want to take exams, and the CFA is a three-year exam, so it was pretty funny. But I did it.
What has been your biggest learning experience?
For me, managing change has been a huge challenge, but it’s really good, because it’s allowed me to focus on operational efficiencies for the company. The last couple of years have taught me about working in a global environment, and managing cultural differences as well.
How did you come to manage the huge job of integrating treasury?
Back when I first joined treasury, there were two of us, myself and my manager. You learn everything soup to nuts, and we built the team over the years into a six- or seven-person team. When the treasurer of Roche came in, he met with all of us and we talked about what was needed, and who would be working on these projects. It was so exciting, because yet again it was something new. You think you know treasury, and then it changes for the better. It’s been fantastic.
What has been your most rewarding project?
Integration was one of them. I’ve learned a lot in the last two years. And one of the most important was early on with the enterprise risk management project. It taught me about the treasury and insurance world, but also the Genentech business. I developed my first real Monte Carlo simulation that assessed the ERM identified risk and determined how much cash we should keep on hand. That culminated in our first debt issuance in 2005.
What do you like best about your job?
The culture here facilitates innovation and thinking out of the box, and the people are so smart. You put those together, and you have a fantastic work environment.
How did you get on the career fast track?
It’s about being nimble. It’s the ability to adapt quickly to a changing environment. You also have to be open to taking on new projects. Taking that chance shows you and senior management what you’re capable of accomplishing. For example, I’ve worked on our CFO’s project, Care for Cash, on cash-flow efficiency, and this year, I’ve taken part in a project called the Great Manager Initiative.
What advice would you give to those just starting out?
Create your own opportunities. Don’t wait for management to give you projects, and then be disappointed that you don’t have any. You have to take the bull by the horns, and create your own, and sell your ideas. Don’t wait for projects, go out there and do it.
For the complete 2011 40 Under 40 list, see Ready to Take Charge.
You can find more coverage of the 40 Under 40 list here.