Wei Li-Tuomela, VP, Treasurer China at Stora Enso, explains what makes treasury such a fulfilling profession and shares her views on what skills a modern treasury professional must have.
Tell us about your career. Why treasury?
I joined Stora Enso after graduating from Helsinki University with a degree in Forest Economics, embarking on the company’s PathBuilder programme – a partnership between Stora Enso and IMD business school focused on leadership and development.
Since finishing the programme I have held multiple roles across the company, including positions in marketing, sales, finance, M&A, business intelligence and communications and, of course, treasury.
I spent five years working under the Group Treasurer in Helsinki. During this time, I worked on the day-to-day running of the treasury, as well as playing a key role in several large transactions and transformational projects. And the more I worked in the treasury department, the more fascinating I found it. As the internal bank of a large corporation, you really get to experience the power of capital.
How does treasury seek to add value to the organisation in China?
I believe that a modern treasury department must be more than an operational centre; it must also help drive the strategic objectives of the organisation. There are many areas where we seek to do this, but one that stands out is our work around credit management and controlling counterparty risk.
This is easily an area fraught with difficulty due to the differing KPIs of the treasury and sales departments, which creates a natural conflict. To tackle this, we engage with the sales team rather than dictating to them. This involves reaching out to them, building a standardised credit analysis process that enables them to continue selling while mitigating risks.
We have also put in place a process that sees the credit team issue reminders to the sales representatives regarding due receivables. This enables the sales team to proactively reach out to our customers and ensure they pay on this.
What is one of the highlights of your career?
In 2013, I took the career opportunity of a lifetime to set up a new project treasury office with full-scale treasury operations for the company's new mill in China.
As Project Treasurer, it was my responsibility to ensure that there was enough funding at a reasonable cost to finance the construction phase. To say this was a challenge is an understatement, especially given the size of the investment required.
It was also my duty to put in place all the elements required in any treasury department. This included bank connectivity, payment processes and risk management systems. It was incredibly hands-on but very exciting as I had my own sandbox and the ability to shape the treasury in my vision.
Three years on, the mill is up and running and a huge success for the company. Being part of it is one of the highlights of my career to date.
What skills should the modern treasury professional have?
As a treasury leader, you need to understand the fundamentals of the role. But cross-departmental and interpersonal leadership, networking and management skills are equally important, if not more important. The way I see it is that IQ can get you so far, but it is EQ – emotional intelligence – that sets you apart.
This is why I want my team to go out and be curious about the business, the people in it and what makes it all come together. I tell them to take every opportunity that comes up and learn from other people. Doing so will make them better treasury leaders in the future.
Wei Li-Tuomela talks more about her career and the tactics she has used to build an award-winning treasury in China in the next edition of Treasury Today Asia.