Moneyball has come to corporate treasuries as executives learn to win big games with small budgets by leveraging the talent they have and shrewdly drafting young players. The “velocity of change” is moving treasuries farther and farther away from “what worked yesterday” in hiring, says Brian Kalish, finance practice lead at the Association for Financial Professionals.
Microsoft’s Shruti Kulkarni is a good example of how treasuries recruit and deploy new skills. Kulkarni, 33, graduated from India’s University of Mumbai in 1999 with a degree in computer science and worked three years at Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai, creating software solutions for financial firms and polishing her skills in computer modeling and quantitative analysis. After completing an M.B.A. in finance at Seattle University’s Albers School of Business, she joined Microsoft as a risk analyst in 2005, working under Doug Hoch, a statistical modeling expert with a Ph.D. in chemistry. Microsoft’s quantitative risk analysis at that point focused on the company’s multibillion-dollar investment portfolio.
Having a risk modeling scientist on staff was a smart move in 2005 and looked even smarter in 2008 when the economy tanked and risk modeling became vital for activities beyond investing.
Kulkarni backed up Hoch, and when he left Microsoft in 2009, she took over the award-winning “360 degrees of risk” project, which provides a view of Microsoft’s total counterparty exposure: investment securities, derivatives deals, bank balances and accounts receivable. Kulkarni is now senior quantitative risk manager.
Exotic treasury experts might come out of innovative academic offerings like the master’s program in quantitative finance at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., which turns out a small number of financial engineers steeped in higher math and computer modeling.
“Our students need a deep understanding of the financial markets and financial instruments as well as corporate financial dynamics,” says Philip Horvath, director of the program.
“Our market has grown beyond hedge fund operators,” Horvath adds. “One of our recent graduates is being considered for a corporate treasury position at a Fortune 50 company. Treasurers are starting to realize that their survival depends on math skills and sophisticated, data-based analysis of their exposures and opportunities.”
Still, Horvath worries that his graduates might be underused in corporate treasuries and lose their specialized skills.
Treasury staffers with exotic skills remain the exception, though, not the rule. Some treasuries are hiring mathematicians to build complex models around cash forecasting, but the vast majority of new treasury employees are still accounting and economics majors, reports Chris Kearney, partner and practice leader at professional services firm Tatum.
Treasury competency now emphasizes comfort with technology and greater analytical skills. IT specialists can be cross-trained and dedicated to treasury, but they seldom become a company’s treasurer, Kearney notes.
In Honeywell’s large treasury, the emphasis is on hiring people based on ambition, attitude and high general ability and letting them “evolve into functional experts,” says treasurer John Tus.
The ladder up is not built exclusively on technical expertise, Tus points out. “As you advance, your role changes from contributor to leader, and your success depends more and more on the performance of people under you.”
Because today’s treasuries need more managers than workers, there’s a premium on presentation skills.
“You have to be able to talk to the business units, to senior management or even the board, to investors, to trading partners,” AFP’s Kalish says. “Inarticulate people don’t inspire confidence.”
Treasury employees are joining Toastmaster clubs and asking their communications people for help improving their speaking skills or even getting over a fear of public speaking, he reports.
Project management skills are also critical, but “that is tough to teach,” Kalish observes. “You have to find a mentor and then get your hands dirty doing it.”
Project management requires organization and discipline but also people skills, he notes. “You need to get buy-in from people who don’t work for treasury or finance.”
Those looking for an example of the role of project management skills should consider Axel Martinez, Google’s assistant treasurer. From Honduras and the South Bronx, Martinez went to Columbia University and then to Harvard for his M.B.A. He joined Merrill Lynch as an investment banker in 2000.
By the time he joined Merrill, Martinez had spent a summer advising the president of the Central Bank of Honduras and had worked in mergers and acquisitions at Chase Manhattan.
Most successful investment bankers weren’t looking for greener pastures in 2003 but Martinez was, and joined the financial planning and analysis department at a young, still-private Google.
“I was never transaction-driven,” he notes. “To me, what was most interesting was what could happen after the deal closed.” Martinez says he does not recall whether he took a pay cut, but admits he had no idea the company would be so successful.
In 2004, Google’s controller needed someone to rebuild the company’s chart of accounts and drafted Martinez. It was a tough project but Martinez’s flawless execution won him a reputation as a shrewd project manager.
The head of sales finance recruited Martinez to set up sales operations in emerging markets, and he became the financial point man for Google’s expansion into Latin America, partnering with regional sales managers to build business units and hire country controllers.
When Brent Callinicos joined Google as treasurer in 2007, he and Martinez met for lunch and found they had a lot in common. They shook hands and Callinicos got an assistant treasurer who was an accomplished investment banker with polished presentation skills, a former FP&A guy and a tested project manager at 35.
But Martinez was ready. He led Google’s debt IPO and set up a commercial paper program. He designed a state-of-the-art foreign exchange management and hedging program, built a financing program for Google’s ad customers and set up investment portfolios for renewable energy holdings and low-income housing. He overhauled and rationalized Google’s banking relationships.
No one questions Martinez’s technical skills, but he didn’t get as far as he has by being a technical expert. He flourishes—and has helped Google flourish—by being an expert project manager and marshaling and directing the skills of technical experts.
If you want to build something complex, have it work and get it finished on time and within budget, give it to Axel—that would seem to be what Google has discovered.
His formula: “Recruit a good team, set goals and then get out of the way.”
To read about Gen Y’s entrance into corporate treasuries, see Plugged-In Treasury.
For a look at how treasurers can reach out to other departments to improve areas like working capital management and FX risk management, see Bridging the Business