Several years ago, at the ServiceMaster Co., a stressed-out treasury operations staff finally had had enough of putting out fires, running from one ASAP project to the next–only to find at times that what seemed so desperately mission critical to one division might not really have been needed at all. It was time to develop defensible, consistent priorities when it came to projects. Treasury ops was "working a ton of hours trying to complete projects helter-skelter for whichever business unit screamed the loudest," recalls Brian J. Qualizza Jr., director of treasury operations. "We were reactive. We were frustrated.We decided we had to make a change."

To Qualizza, the answer was simple to say, hard to accomplish: Develop a more orderly process and maintain control over it. The four-person treasury operations team was undaunted. After fewer than a dozen meetings, it issued an ambitious annual agenda for project selection and prioritization, putting itself at the center as each project's manager. "We wanted to take the stress off the business units," Qualizza observes. "And we have a better completion rate when we are in charge." Another key advantage of having treasury call the shots, Qualizza points out: Treasury can look beyond the needs of one division and select projects that can be replicated across multiple business units.

The process was straightforward: Each of the nine business units owned by the Downers Grove, Ill.-based conglomerate would choose four to six projects that they most wanted to see accomplished. Treasury ops would then review the proposals, looking for how much time the project would take, its payback and whether it could be used in other business units. "All projects are evaluated with appropriate metrics," Qualizza emphasizes. "Some are chosen because they represent high dollar value, while others are more qualitative, but all are measured in the best ways we can devise. The emphasis is on measurable results."Once an agenda is set, tentative assignments are made within treasury ops, and the collective project proposals for the coming year are presented to the treasurer for approval. Having the treasury ops resources to call upon proved very useful to units with limited resources. Treasury ops would even be measuring results and preparing all reports on the completed projects. "We feel like we're valued customers, getting excellent customer service," says Patty Turbak, controller of ServiceMaster Acceptance Co., a finance captive that lends to franchisees. "Their attitude is that they're here to help us. They don't dictate; they listen. And they take responsibility for making things happen."Music to any treasurer's ears? Definitely. But how many can even hum the tune? Unfortunately, according to treasury pros, not that many.

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