My Life in Treasury
Mark Kirkland, Group Treasurer, Constellium
Mark Kirkland is well-known as a highly respected (and often outspoken!) corporate treasury leader and regularly contributes to industry conferences, panels and fora. His career spans a variety of industries and organisations, and gives an interesting perspective on the diverse roles that treasury functions fulfil, and how treasurers can build their careers.
How did you come into treasury and what attracted you to the profession?
I left university with a PhD in mathematics, and initially went into investment banking at Merrill Lynch. I started in quantitative analysis but became more involved in selling structured derivative products. After nine years, I wanted to use my skills in a different way, and was offered a role at Philips. I was particularly attracted to the breadth of the corporate environment, as opposed to investment banking, and it marked an interesting change from my career up until that point.
How did your career progress through to the role that you hold today?
I joined Philips as a consultant in risk management to the treasurer and CFO, setting policy and helping the business to measure its risk more effectively. I then became head of financial risk management and the dealing room, so I became involved in execution as well as policy. During that period, I streamlined the treasury function from four dealing rooms to a single centre in Amsterdam, and introduced a high level of automation and transparency through the use of FX dealing platforms, one of the earliest treasury centres to do so. I also took on responsibility for cash management, therefore combining cash and risk management into a single strategic function.
After three years in this role, and a total of nine years at Philips, I was looking for a new challenge, and the opportunity at Bombardier Transportation came up. Transportation is one of Bombardier’s major business segments, and the role involved setting up a new, standalone global treasury centre in Switzerland. This was a unique opportunity as very rarely do treasurers have the opportunity to set up an entirely new treasury function from scratch. Five years later, I joined Constellium, a global leader in aluminium transformation, as group treasurer, where I have been for the past five years. Constellium was private equity-owned when I joined but following an IPO, it is now NYSE-listed. Consequently, the business has changed quite dramatically in a short space of time.
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 think there are two sides to this. First are the changes I’ve seen across treasury as a whole. Since the global financial crisis, treasury has become far closer to the board, and to the wider business, than it was in the past. Previously, many treasury departments were effectively back- office functions for executing on risk policy and raising payments; however, high profile corporate collapses and constraints on financing triggered by the crisis meant that the value of treasury’s role has become far more widely recognised, and therefore more visible as a result. While the market landscape is different, so too are the opportunities presented through technology. Treasurers have effectively outsourced many of their traditional tasks to technology, so it is essential that they understand the systems they have in place, and that this IT framework is robust and secure.
From a personal perspective, the demands of the roles I have fulfilled have changed quite significantly due to the differences between the companies I have worked for. For example, the experience of working for an A-rated corporation where treasury is the liquidity and risk ‘police’ for the business is quite different to a B- company where treasury is central to every major decision.
What qualities do you look for when you are recruiting for your department?
It is very important that a new person coming into treasury gets on with the rest of the team, as it can be very disruptive if they do not, so personality ‘fit’ is essential. I look for people with a willingness to work, which will be apparent from their career so far. For example, working in pubs or petrol stations while studying shows versatility, a positive work ethic and the ability to deal with a variety of people and situations. People also need to be goal-focused, and organised in the way that they achieve them.