Treasury Insights talks to Helen Hanby, Biogen’s Director of International Treasury, about connections, career progress and taking opportunities.
Tell us about your role at Biogen
I work out of the UK with treasury responsibility for all Biogen entities outside North America. We cover all aspects of treasury including cash and liquidity management, FX trading, balance sheet hedging, bank relationship management, pension plan governance and the company’s ex US corporate cards programme.
How did you arrive in treasury?
I describe my career path as opportunistic. I left school mid-way through A-Levels, to work for a bank. I then worked for a national newspaper publisher where I qualified as a management accountant. I then moved to a manufacturing organisation to gain experience of working in a different industry. After a couple of years, I had the chance to move to Germany alongside my then husband-to-be, running the finance and administration functions of the German sales office. When I came back to the UK, Biogen was looking for someone to take on both UK management accounts and international treasury. I think my transferable skills, openness to new experiences, language skills and professional qualifications unlocked the door to treasury for me. When Biogen eventually divided the roles, they gave me the choice and I immediately opted for treasury. From here I progressed via the positions of manager, senior manager, associate director and, since December 2017, director.
What do you enjoy about treasury?
I love the fact that it’s ‘real’; it has an impact on the business, looking at present and future rather than historical data. I love the interactions with external stakeholders, meeting with banks, investment companies and other providers – and the interactions with the many internal stakeholders, across different functions and geographies.
What is the secret of treasury success?
I think more than ever it is imperative to have strong professional relationships in order to stay abreast of developments. I believe every treasurer should be able to demonstrate strong communication skills as the role becomes more connected with the business. With so much change in the world, it is important for us, as treasurers, not only to build a network of other treasury professionals but also to develop strong relationships with our banks so they are aware of what is going on in Biogen’s business world.
What activities are you most proud of?
I’m proud of the work I did on our corporate card programme. Where cards had been outside of treasury, many different programmes had been set up. By talking to our main relationship bank, I could see that through its cash management footprint that we could build a new, consolidated programme.
We started in the UK and rolled out to the rest of Europe, with the programme’s success eventually winning support in the US. We’ve gone from a fragmented programme to a fully global approach. The programme was recognised as an Adam Smith Awards Best Card Solution Highly Commended in 2017.
What advice would you give to young finance professionals?
I suggest embracing all the opportunities that come your way, even if they don’t seem obvious at the time. Had I not rather nervously accepted the position in Germany it would never have led me to where I am now. I know I speak from a position of advantage – in that I love what I do – I urge all young professionals to try to move towards things they enjoy doing; we spend so much time at work that it would be a shame not to.
Do you have the work/life balance right?
I feel very blessed to have a job that I love, working in a fascinating industry for a very supportive, and flexible, company and manager. After 14 years I still get up in the morning, and look forward to coming in to work. There is a lot to be said for that.