From humble beginnings, Sonam Donkar, Associate Director – Treasury Head at PepsiCo has scaled the heights of the corporate treasury profession. Here she outlines how she got there and how she hopes to bring on the next generation of treasury talent.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in corporate treasury?
After graduating with honours from Delhi University I started working with Ballarpur Industries, one of Asia’s largest paper manufacturers. It was a hardcore corporate finance position but it provided a breakthrough in my career – not least because I was working directly under the CFO.
After an enjoyable three years at the company I went back to school and obtained a qualification in Business Management from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. I then took a slightly different career course and moved from the corporate space into banking, working in a treasury sales role with Standard Chartered in India.
Working with corporates of all shapes and sizes in this role, it was interesting to see the different challenges they had and the various strategies they put in place to address these. What I found most interesting were the different policies that treasurers in India had to adhere to. It was clear that those that localised their policies to fit the domestic market were most successful. Yet not many were doing so, instead dogmatically following the policies set in Europe or the US.
I thought I could add value as a treasurer and therefore decided to pursue a career in the profession and joined Dell as treasury lead for India. It was a valuable experience and left me wanting to test myself further in a strategic sense because the Dell treasury was very process orientated. I then left Dell to join PepsiCo in 2013 to lead the treasury team.
What does your role at PepsiCo comprise of?
Treasury at PepsiCo does a lot more than most treasury functions I know. We are a strong and trusted business partner and involved across many long-term, enterprise-wide projects.
For example, I am head of an internal committee, charged with solving all the inefficiencies that exist throughout the finance function. There is a lot of non-value-adding operational work necessary in a business such as ours and this has traditionally required a huge headcount to execute.
The cross-functional team is therefore tasked with identifying labour intensive, non-value-adding activities and trying to utilise new technology to automate, simplify, or if need be, outsource them. To date, this team has saved around 21,000 man-hours through various efficiency projects.
Do you believe that treasurers today need to have more than standard treasury skills?
Yes. Traditional treasury skills have become ‘old school’. Although they are a pre-requisite for any treasury professional, it has become increasingly important to grow a broader skillset that makes you more relevant to the business and brings more value to the table.
Only by taking this approach will treasurers continue to thrive. In my view treasury should be a key business partner in every company, but that is not always the case. It is, therefore, incumbent on treasury professionals to develop their skills and show them off whenever possible.
How do you plan to help develop the next generation of treasury talent?
I often work with younger people, and I enjoy being a mentor and playing a part in helping their careers flourish. To do this I hold one-on-one meetings and a team meeting every week. My team also know that my door is open, should they have any challenges or questions.
More broadly, I believe it is important that the people in the team embody your own ethos and also that of the company. Mentoring is therefore as much about helping people grow as it is making sure they understand that they are representing themselves and PepsiCo – and must therefore act accordingly when dealing with counterparties. With the right discipline, they will become leaders of the future.