My Life in Treasury
An Interview with Yosymar Vásquez, Head of Treasury, Latin America, AkzoNobel
Many readers of TMI will recall Yosymar’s article ‘Dancing to the Local Beat’ that appeared in edition 238 (October 2015), one of the most read and certainly best titled articles of the year. In the article, Yosymar describes how AkzoNobel has overcome many of the difficulties in optimising visibility and control over cash in Latam, for which AkzoNobel was awarded the TMI Corporate Recognition Award for Innovation and Excellence, 2015. In this edition, Yosymar shares some of her life in treasury, both past and present.
How did you come into treasury and what attracted you to the profession?
In 2003, I was working for Johnson & Johnson in Venezuela as financial planning analyst. When the position of country treasurer became vacant, I was fortunate enough to be promoted to the role. It took a great deal of work and self-study to develop the skills and knowledge required for this position, particularly as there was very little opportunity for a handover period with my predecessor. Managing treasury in Venezuela at that time was very challenging, partly as the treasury profession was still at a relatively early stage of its development, but also as a result of restrictions such as FX controls. We therefore had to make sure we were using our limited USD funds in the most appropriate way to avoid interruption to manufacturing.
I held the Venezuela treasurer role for Johnson & Johnson for three years, which was a very intense but very rewarding and enlightening period of my career. Although I didn’t have a great deal of awareness of what treasury entailed when I first took up the role, I grew to love it and worked hard to build up my skills, proactively benchmarked our operations and started to develop my professional network.
How did your career progress through to the role that you hold today?
While I was working for Johnson & Johnson in Venezuela, I had embarked on a project to improve our treasury processes. The treasurer from Brazil visited Venezuela and saw what we had achieved, and was looking for someone to manage a similar project in Brazil. As well as undertaking the optimisation project in Venezuela, I had project management experience, including Six Sigma accreditation, so I was invited to set up a Brazil hub for Latin America for the group. As a result, I moved to Sao Paolo, and fulfilled the new role until 2008.
In 2008, I was promoted to finance manager, and spent the next four years managing the balance sheet and profit & loss for Johnson & Johnson in Brazil, followed by a further two years responsible for sales control as part of a talent development programme to develop future CFOs. This was a marvelous opportunity and I gained exposure to a variety of different parts of the business; however, I became increasingly aware that ‘while you can take the woman out of treasury, you can’t take treasury out of the woman’ and I longed to get back to it!
Therefore, the opportunity to manage treasury in LatAm for AkzoNobel was very exciting, particularly as the role included a wider geographic scope than I had had in the past, and the opportunity to develop new skills, such as in insurance, corporate finance and tax.
How have demands and needs in terms of treasury changed over the course of your career, and what particular skills does it now require?
In my experience, treasury has evolved in a variety of ways. When I took on my first treasury role, most of the emphasis was on cash management, such as accounts payable, accounts receivable and either investing cash or funding the business in line with with group policy. Now, the role of treasury is far more strategic and less operational in its focus. Shared service centres are often taking on much of the transactional responsibility, and there is now more automation to enforce controls and prevent fraud. As a result, treasurers are tasked to be partners to the business, such as maximising operating working capital to facilitate strategic objectives. This has prompted a change in the type of skills required, not only to appreciate the role of technology, but also to understand and analyse financial targets and performance, professional skills such as negotiation, collaboration and influencing, and the ability to think laterally.