My Life in Treasury
Sarah-Jane Chilver-Stainer, Group Treasurer, GSK
In the 2012 TMI Awards for Excellence and Innovation, GSK was the winner of the corporate award for Cash Management. In this feature, Sarah-Jane Chilver-Stainer, Senior Vice President and Group Treasurer of GSK, talks about her career so far and shares some insights on pursuing a career in treasury.
How did you first get into treasury, and what attracted you to the profession?
Like many people, I didn’t know what career direction I wanted to follow when I left university. I travelled, sailed across the Atlantic, worked in Antigua and then spent a year working in Australia as a photographer. After two years away, I came back to the UK and decided to take on temporary roles to gain experience of different professions. One of these roles was to work for a company in London that had been recently established to securitise UK residential mortgages. I became involved with the company and liked the entrepreneurial working environment. When I was offered a full-time position, I took it on the condition that I would work in their treasury department. In particular, I was attracted to treasury as I have a maths bias, but I also saw it as a dynamic profession that offered the ability to add value to an organisation.
How did your career progress to the role you hold now at GSK?
Having made the decision to join treasury, I was determined that I would develop this opportunity into a career, so I signed up for the AMCT and then MCT qualifications with the Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT) in the UK. While it was not easy to combine full-time work with the study required over a three year period, I recognised the importance of a professional qualification to support my career progression.
In 1995, I decided to move on from my first company to develop more international experience. I became the Treasury Manager at SmithKline Beecham, and later an Assistant Treasurer. These roles gave me insights into a number of different areas of treasury including international cash management, funding and investment. In 2000, I went on maternity leave just before the merger of SmithKline Beecham with Glaxo Wellcome to form GSK. When I returned to work, I was appointed Deputy Treasurer of GSK and Group Treasurer shortly afterwards in 2001. Since then, the treasury function at GSK has changed and expanded dramatically, which has given me great career development. I am a member of the Finance Leadership Team at GSK and in 2011 I re-organised my team, assumed responsibility for GSK’s insurance operations and set up a pensions risk management team.
How do you think demands on treasurers have changed during your career so far, and what additional skills are required to meet these demands?
The business environment has become more demanding, as employers’ expectations of their employees have grown. Treasurers need to be versatile and adaptable in their approach to work. It has also become more important to ensure that the function takes full advantage of IT changes. For example, GSK was the first UK corporate to implement ‘Continuous Linked Settlement’, an IT platform that enables the net settlement of foreign exchange transactions. This reduced our external cash flows by around 80%.
What has been your greatest personal achievement so far, and why?
Like many others, the credit crisis was probably the most challenging period of my career so far. As a senior management team, we already had stringent investment and credit risk policies in place, which proved the right approach during a period of extreme volatility. Consequently, with only one cross-currency swap and only AAA-rated investments, we managed our portfolio successfully throughout. Although a period of extreme stress, we took a proactive approach to managing our risks throughout the period and GSK was able to avoid many of the problems of that time.
What attributes do you look for when employing people into your department?
We look for intellectual capacity, as we have a small team relative to other companies of a similar size, so we need people who can handle a range of challenges, particularly as we deal with a large volume of high-value transactions. Secondly, professional qualifications such as the MCT provide a good grounding in treasury issues, and demonstrate commitment to the profession. Cultural fit is also important as we work closely together as a team and it is important that people get on well. Finally, a sense of humour is also essential in a treasury role.
One responsibility that I take very seriously is supporting my team on a proper career path, whether they pursue this within or outside GSK. We have very few leavers, which is good for the stability of the team, but results in relatively few opportunities to pursue more senior roles. As a Finance Leadership Team, we have been proactive in creating new opportunities in other parts of the business to give people a wider range of experience, but some people will inevitably move on to other organisations. Three people formerly in my team are now treasurers of other companies which is very fulfilling, and it is always very encouraging to witness and support upcoming talent.
How important do you think a formal treasury education is, as opposed to (or as well as) more general finance qualifications?
I think specific treasury qualifications, such as those offered by the ACT, are essential for any professional seeking to build a career in treasury. Not only do these qualifications provide an excellent grounding in core treasury concepts, but by committing the time and effort to complete them, treasury professionals demonstrate that they are serious about their careers.
‘Softer’ skills are just as important, such as people management, leadership abilities and teamwork. These are typically outside the scope of financial qualifications, so as a Finance Leadership Team, we have put together a leadership agenda to enable people to develop a variety of capabilities, such as communication and enterprise thinking. We encourage team members to engage in this programme whether or not they are doing, or have done treasury qualifications. As a large multinational corporation, we have the advantage that there are normally training courses available to support personal development to enable our employees to become effective leaders.