My Life in Treasury
Stewart Harris, Group Treasurer, Givaudan
As group treasurer of the leading global fragrance and flavour corporation Givaudan, Stewart Harris has entirely restructured the company’s treasury function over recent years. This has included a strong focus on centralisation from an organisational perspective, supported by technology to bring efficiencies and automation into key process areas, such as the management of FX. This transformation journey, with technology at the core, resulted in Givaudan being awarded the TMI Corporate Recognition Award for Treasury Transformation in 2016. In this feature, Stewart talks to Helen Sanders, Editor, about his career to date, and offers advice for finance professionals embarking on a treasury career.
How did you come into treasury and what attracted you to the profession?
I have a classic UK finance background, initially with a Big 4 accounting firm, and then I took the step into industry with Roche, the large Swiss pharmaceutical group. I have worked in operational finance roles at a local or regional level in diverse markets such as Switzerland, Australia and China, but only came to a more specific focus on treasury in 2009 when I was invited to join Givaudan by the CFO, who I knew from a previous role. The former treasurer had a strong technical background, however the CFO was keen to develop the treasury function into a more business focused support organisation and asked me to lead that transformation project.. This was a very exciting opportunity for me to build a global centre of treasury excellence and to connect treasury more closely with the business to create value for the company.
How did your career progress through to the role that you hold today?
I joined Givaudan in 2009 and in 2012, I added the tax and insurance functions at Givaudan to my role and from January 2017 I have had responsibility for all of the corporate finance functions and the group business development activities. Transformation has been a recurring theme and strong source of motivation throughout my treasury and wider finance career, so I have aimed to transform and thereafter build a culture of continuous improvement across the areas for which I am responsible.
How have demands and needs in terms of treasury changed over the course of your career, and what particular skills does it now require?
I would identify three key developments in treasury over recent years. First, the global financial crisis was a catalyst for change, with the corresponding impact that treasury became more prominent also at audit committee and board level, thereby creating exciting opportunities for treasury professionals to contribute more broadly to the achievement of the company’s objectives. Second, the development of organisational models coupled with the rapid pace of technology developments also provides challenging dynamics for corporate treasurers. Third, and related to both of these developments, treasury is becoming closer to the business and has the opportunity to play a greater role in supporting the company’s core activities. At Givaudan, for example, business unit leaders have responded very positively to the advice and assistance that treasury can offer and as a result, we have been able to influence commercial and financial drivers and therefore contribute to business success.
In this environment, where treasury is quite different in many organisations compared with ten years ago, the skills that treasurers require also differ. While technical knowledge and skills remain important, organisational skills have become equally so, particularly as companies continue to centralise treasury and finance activities, and therefore become a service provider to the business. Project management, change management, communication and presentation skills are now essential characteristics of an effective treasurer, particularly given the level of board scrutiny of treasury and financial risk management topics. Similarly, these skills are essential when building relationships and working with the wider business, where it is important to be able to explain complex treasury concepts in a way that is suited to a non-financial audience, influence behaviours and decision-making and become a valuable business partner.
What qualities do you look for when you are recruiting for your department?
Technical treasury skills are a given, so we are looking more specifically at a person’s mind set and broader capabilities: do they demonstrate curiosity, the ability and willingness to challenge norms, and to consider the wider context in which treasurers operate. The right attitude, with passion and versatility, is essential, not only to get on with the rest of the team, but in small departments in particular, the activities in which an individual is engaged can be quite diverse. Communication skills are also a priority, so that prospective team members can work effectively with their colleagues and with the wider business. In general, I would say that 60-70% of a recruitment decision in treasury is based on non-technical skills: you can build up treasury knowledge and skills, but softer skills are more innate.