After starting her career in academia, Anita Prasad, General Manager, Treasury Capital Management at Microsoft has gone on to become a leader in treasury at one of the largest and most innovative technology companies in the world. In this interview, Anita talks about the uniqueness of the treasury function, the treasurer’s role as a risk manager, and the importance of having a good work/life balance.
General Manager, Treasury Capital Management
Anita Prasad is responsible for corporate finance, capital structure, share buybacks and dividend policy, structured investments, global cash and liquidity, treasury operations, and credit services for MS online businesses. Previously Anita was Vice President of Treasury and Tax at LSI Logic Corporation. She was an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and holds a Bachelors and Masters in Economics, an MBA in MIS, and a PhD in Finance and International Business.
Do you feel that women respond to the needs of treasury in the same way that men do – or do they bring something different?
Each person, man or woman, is unique and building a high-performance team relies on these individual experiences and attributes. I have been in the corporate world now for over 20 years, and the environments where cross-functional projects have succeeded have been the situations where we have had diversity of experience and an inclusive culture. A great team is like a jigsaw puzzle – each person needs to be unique and yet fit in well.
Is balancing professional and family life becoming easier?
I believe that work and life do, and should, bleed into each other. Work is an important part of our lives and defines who we are. Technology, in my experience, is the great enabler; with your smartphones, tablets, laptops all in sync with our data in the cloud you now have the flexibility to work from wherever you might be – we are not chained to our desks anymore. Having a passion for what you do at work, makes this much easier because you are no longer balancing but enjoying two intertwined aspects of your life.
How much opportunity is there for career progression within your role?
Microsoft is consistently in the top few of the ‘best companies to work for’ surveys. The company truly believes its employees are its greatest asset, and invests a lot in development, training, and the retention of the talent we bring into the company.
In terms of future growth there are tremendous opportunities within treasury and within Microsoft as a whole, because we truly believe in moving people from finance into roles in other parts of the business, so they can take the expertise and knowledge they have developed in the treasury and apply it elsewhere. I am fortunate to work for a leader, George Zinn, CVP and treasurer, who lives this company’s values each day and encourages people on his team to take on challenging responsibilities and grow their impact.
Will we one day have true equality in the workplace?
Acknowledging gender gaps is important but we must be mindful because if we look through this filter at every situation, we are likely to end up like the proverbial hammer that only sees nails! Sure, there is still a shortage of women in senior ranks of the corporate world, but we are moving in the right direction. When I look around, I see several women in senior leadership positions, within treasury and finance – such as Amy Hood, our EVP and CFO – but also across other corporations. I know that I am still inspired when I see these strong and successful women in senior roles.
I think the role of mentors is critical, so I challenge everyone of us to give back and be that role model and mentor to at least one young woman early in her career.
How can treasurers make their voice heard?
We have a unique capability in treasury and finance to make sense of a lot of issues and risks around the globe. Being proactive, understanding and predicting these risks, and connecting the dots are crucial responsibilities, but we also need to communicate this to key stakeholders in a language they can understand. Converting complexity to simple concepts is key to becoming a trusted partner.
“I believe that work and life do, and should, bleed into each other. Work is an important part of our lives and defines who we are.”
It is perhaps surprising that Anita Prasad began her career in academia, not treasury. “I started out being very interested in economics and trade theory,” she says. “I did a master’s degree in economics, then got into the foreign currency aspect of trade theory and ended up doing a PhD in finance.” For five years she was professor of finance and international business at the University of Wisconsin.
It was only when she relocated to the Bay Area that she considered a switch to the corporate world. “I wanted to focus more on the applied side of the research I was working on. Given my background in currency risk management, the treasury function was the most appropriate place to land,” says Anita.
What was academia’s loss has certainly been Microsoft’s treasury department’s gain, as Anita has brought her analytical skills to bear on achieving business goals that she had previously researched. “I have been fortunate enough to work across various finance, tax, treasury and M&A functions and the experience allows me to take a systems perspective when evaluating key business issues. An environment where the leadership team allows you the freedom to take on complex and challenging issues makes it fun.”
“Treasurers are the company’s risk managers, but this is no longer just financial market risk. There is global uncertainty all around us, and treasurers need to think proactively and broadly about the impact this will have on the business.”
Though she has successfully transitioned from college circles to treasury, Anita feels there is no clear path for young people to move into treasury careers.
“When you look at the finance curriculums of top universities, there is no education that’s focused purely on the treasury function. This is perhaps something we as treasury professionals should try and influence,” she explains. “The treasury is a unique field within finance, and having a programme that focuses on the treasury would be worthwhile.”
As it has for most corporates, keeping up with new regulations has put pressure on Microsoft’s treasury function. However, she says there is not one regulation in particular that has put a strain on her team. “So much has been going on over the past several years and the regulatory landscape is changing almost every single day. We are focused on monitoring these regulatory developments across the major countries that we operate in and proactively think about solutions.” Anita adds that she actively encourages her team to leverage their banking partners and exploit treasury peer networks to improve their awareness and benchmark solutions around the world.
She says the biggest challenge facing treasurers at the moment is looking beyond the traditional boundaries of the role. “Treasurers are the company’s risk managers, but this is no longer just financial market risk. There is global uncertainty all around us, and treasurers need to think proactively and broadly about the impact this will have on the business.”
She adds that being a woman has not posed particular challenges in her line of work. “I’ve been very fortunate to work in a meritocracy where if I deliver impactful business results, I never feel it’s harder to be a woman,” explains Anita. “Though the percentage of women in senior engineering and technology jobs is still lower than men, there are a lot of good female role models in the finance profession.”