My Life in Treasury
An Interview with Katja Zimmermann, Head of Corporate Treasury, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG
In this edition, we are delighted to feature Katja Zimmermann, Head of Corporate Treasury, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG, who describes her career so far and offers advice to finance professionals considering how best to develop their careers in treasury.
How did you come into treasury and what attracted you to that profession?
I did my degree at Berufsakademie Mannheim (now Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg), specialising in banking, on a structured programme combining both study and work. This was a great opportunity to study whilst gaining practical workplace experience. It was only after doing a Master’s degree in London that I decided to pursue a role in treasury. Before then, I had not been aware of corporate treasury, but recognised that it offered more variety than banking, with responsibility for FX, derivatives, capital market, loans etc. rather than a single product line.
How did your career progress through to the role that you hold today?
My first treasury role was with Escom AG as assistant treasurer, and I then moved to Asta Medica AG, part of former Degussa AG, which is now part of the Evonik Industries group. In 1997, I moved to Heidelberg where I have spent the past eighteen years. Spending a long period in the same company is very interesting as you witness more clearly the changes to the business, and the wider market in which it operates. Naturally, my role has developed significantly over this time, so it continues to be diverse and rewarding.
How have demands and needs in terms of treasury changed over the course of your career, and what particular skills does it now require?
When I first joined treasury in 1995, the treasury profession was just becoming established in Germany, whereas previously, treasury had been one activity within the accounting and controlling function. At that stage, treasury was still mostly concerned with financing but since then, the scope and influence of treasury has grown enormously. The techniques that treasurers use have changed too. When I first started, for example, financing the business involved bilateral loans with banks. Today, treasurers have a far wider range of options, including capital markets and syndicated loans.
To meet this expanding reach of responsibility, treasury technology has become very important, not only to manage a wider range of transactions efficiently, but also to support sophisticated reporting and analytics, such as derivative accounting. Technology also plays a major role in regulatory compliance. Treasurers working for multinational corporations need to keep in touch with regulatory changes, particularly in countries identified as key growth markets for our business, such as China and other Asian countries, where the pace of regulatory change is very rapid. The implications of evolving regulations can be significant, not only for compliance reasons, but also when defining and implementing treasury structures such as in-house banks.
As treasury has expanded and become closer to the business, however, it has become as much a ‘people’ profession as a technical one. Treasurers need to be able to inspire trust and belief both internally and externally, and build sustainable relationships with banks, credit rating agencies and other external bodies, as well as other internal departments and subsidiaries. This contrasts significantly with treasury of two decades ago when treasury was far more self-contained and rarely widely known across the business. Today, treasury is highly visible to the CFO and the board, so developing transparency and trust is essential, particularly since the global financial crisis which emphasised the importance of liquidity and access to financing.
What is your greatest professional achievement to date and why?
It’s difficult to identify a single event or project across my career given the change and variety of initiatives in which I have been fortunate enough to have been involved. Like many other treasurers, steering the company through the global financial crisis was a major responsibility, and we underwent significant restructuring as a result. In 2011, we sought our first external credit rating, launched our first bond issue and concluded a new syndicated loan facility across a very short period. Treasury inevitably played a key role in driving these initiatives and co-ordinating resources as part of a cross-functional team. It was a very stressful period, but ultimately a very rewarding one as a result of the efforts, qualities and reliability of every member of the team. We also embarked on a variety of other financing initiatives around the same time, including two convertible bond issues, so there was a steep learning curve. For the company we managed to diversify our financial framework in terms of financing instruments and maturities, where the longest maturities are now as long as 2022. This forms a solid base for the future. Throughout this time, I worked closely with the legal team, which I had not done extensively before then, and which I found a very positive experience.