If you wanted to pick a company less well suited to centralized treasury, you couldn't come up with a better candidate than WinWholesale Inc. in Dayton, Ohio. A $2.6 billion distributor of plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning equipment and supplies, WinWholesale isn't just decentralized–the company is essentially an organization of 452 separate, locally owned and entrepreneurially run businesses. But for Ward Allen, Win's vice president of finance, getting the efficiencies from centralization and automation of treasury processes was important enough to attempt to jump those hurdles. "We want our guys moving merchandise into the back of pick-up trucks, not taking checks to the bank," Allen asserts. "But we have a unique structure, and no off-the-shelf technology would work for us. Everything has to reconcile back to the local level. So we built our own, which gives us the flexibility to build out our corporate structure our way."

At the beginning of its centralization adventure, Win focused on its accounts payable and receivable and its credit syndication–with its initial biggest success stories coming out of A/P. As one might expect, it required extraordinary cooperation with its bankers, inventive approaches to old problems and smart coordination with its information technology department, but its distinctive blend of the innovative with the traditional is creating a buzz in the treasury operations world. "The sales side and customer relationships are very decentralized at Win, which at most companies would mean some loss of efficiency. But Win has been able to use overarching technology and strategic outsourcing to get the efficiencies of centralization with very little loss to their entrepreneurial culture and the growth that it brings," notes consultant Craig Jeffery, head of Atlanta-based Strategic Treasurer LLC.

Observes Diana Faunda, senior vice president for corporate banking at JPMorgan Chase, Win's lead credit and concentration bank, "There are always tradeoffs, but given its business model and its client base, WinWholesale has found the structure they need to operate efficiently and still keep the local owner/operators focused on business growth."

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