Rising to the challenge

Published: Jul 2016

Corporate treasury’s biggest innovators were honoured at the ninth annual Treasury Today Adam Smith Awards Gala Presentation Lunch in London last month. We spoke to some of the winning treasurers who, in the face of an ever more complex set of challenges, have shown remarkable creativity and hard work in developing new groundbreaking solutions.

At last year’s Adam Smith Awards, Treasury Today’s Group Publisher Angela Berry challenged the treasurers in attendance to take inspiration from the day and return to their offices around the world with a determination to dream up even more innovative solutions to the evolving challenges they face. The bar, as Berry readily acknowledged, had been set incredibly high. But judging from the quality of this year’s nominations, the treasury community was more than ready to rise to the challenge.

This year the programme attracted 219 submissions of the highest quality, coming from 19 different countries and spanning a wide range of companies of different sizes and industry sectors. Of course, from its very inception, the Adam Smith Awards has not only been about showcasing the creativity and ingenuity of treasurers across the globe, but also raising standards in treasury to new heights. And year after year this means an ever tougher job for the judges in picking the winners.

The Adam Smith Awards Gala Presentation Lunch was held on 16th June at Gibson Hall in the City of London. In the impeccable surroundings of a building once home to the National Provincial Bank of England, 240 industry professionals from across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas gathered for an event that will no doubt live long in the memories of all who were present. With such a diverse mix of treasurers, bankers and technology vendor executives coming together for one day to share ideas and experiences, the Adam Smith Awards Gala Presentation Lunch always has a special buzz about it. And this year was no different.

For the fourth year running, the awards were supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BoAML). Speaking to Treasury Today after the lunch, Jennifer Boussuge, the bank’s Head of Global Transaction Services for EMEA, said the variety and quality of the winning solutions never ceases to amaze her. “As the job of treasury teams continues to become more complex, [treasurers] are constantly challenged with new problems,” she said. “The creativity, the hard work and innovation shown in the submissions this year was really quite exceptional. I would like to extend a hearty congratulations to all those who submitted but particularly to the winners.”

Reflections on achievement

Treasury Today will be presenting the individual case studies in detail as part of the forthcoming 2016 Adam Smith Awards Yearbook. In the meantime, here is a taster of what will be included in the yearbook as well as the reflections of some of the treasurers who took home awards, either as an overall category Winner or Highly Commended Winner.

Etihad Airways

Overall Winner Treasury Today’s Top Treasury Team, Best Financing Solution and Best Cash Management Solution


This year the Top Treasury Team – perhaps the most highly coveted of all the categories – was presented to the team at Etihad Airways, who also took the awards for Best Financing Solution and Best Cash Management Solution.

To say that Etihad Airways’ treasury has been kept busy this past year would be something of an understatement. Under the leadership of Group Treasurer Ricky Thirion and Deputy Treasurer Adam Boukadida, the company embarked upon a multi-disciplined transformational project covering payment processing, liquidity management, collections and supply chain finance ahead of a scheduled change to the ERP platform in H216. An RFP process was initiated leading to a new mandate with Citi to become its international transactional banking partner outside of the Middle East, shortly followed by a second deal with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi for the airline’s Middle East business.

Incredibly, given the resources already committed to the treasury transformation project, treasury also found time to execute a highly innovative diversified financing solution to raise $700m at 6.875% for itself and its equity partners amid incredibly challenging market conditions. The funds raised from the transaction will be used for increased capital expenditure and investment in the fleet, as well as for refinancing for each of the individual airlines depending on their needs.

Asked post-ceremony what winning an Adam Smith Award meant to him and his team, Ricky Thirion, Group Treasurer said: “I think the most important thing is the excellent recognition that we get. It validates the work that we’ve done as a team, not just to us but to our senior management and to our board and our shareholders. Coming from an organisation like Treasury Today, which is obviously world class and global, just adds so much more to that validation.”

On the first-of-a-kind centralised funding vehicle that enabled Etihad and its equity partners to efficiently access the capital markets in a very cost effective manner, Thirion had this to add. “We are particularly proud of all the hard work we’ve put in, but also the ability to actually close and price a deal like that in a difficult market.”


Overall Winner One to Watch, First Class Relationship Management, Best in Class Treasury Solution in the Middle East and Best Risk Management Solution

Microsoft is, of course, a company with a long history of innovation. The company’s devotion to developing creative and new ways of doing things is evidently deeply embedded in the company’s treasury department who have been serial winners at the Adam Smith Awards for many years now.

After winning two awards in two categories in 2015, Microsoft’s General Manager of Treasury Anita Prasad and her colleagues managed to go two better this year by taking home awards in four categories. They were selected as overall category winners for First Class Relationship Management, Best in Class Treasury Solution in the Middle East and Best Risk Management Solution and the One to Watch category, in addition to scooping a Highly Commended in the Harnessing the Power of Technology category.

“We have done a lot of innovative things over the years leveraging Microsoft technology,” says Anita Prasad, Microsoft’s General Manager, Treasury and Capital Management commented. One of the more recent initiatives that the treasury team is very excited about is the utilisation of Microsoft’s Power BI service through which reporting can be done in a very dynamic and visual manner. “For treasury, leveraging these products is brilliant as it allows us to manage a lot more work with a lot fewer people in the sense that people can now do other things and not just be data mining all day.”

This year’s success means a great deal to her team, Prasad added: “It is always a pleasure to be recognised by the Adam Smith Awards. They are the industry leading awards and, as I always tell my team, we always work hard and do some brilliant things. And then to be recognised by the Adam Smith Awards and our peers in the industry just makes it that much sweeter.”

Total Nigeria Plc

Overall Winner Best in Class Treasury Solution in Africa

Africa, with its many complex and tightly regulated markets, is a region where treasurers perhaps encounter greater challenges than anywhere else. It should not come as a surprise then that this category, first introduced in 2015, tends to attract some imaginative solutions to counter the unique problems corporate treasurers face in this part of the world.

The award is a dream come true to me personally and to my colleagues – it is a success story.

James Ajose, Treasurer, Total Nigeria

The solution implemented by this year’s winners Total Nigeria was no exception. Amidst the current depression in the oil and gas sector, Total was keen to review their treasury processes with a view to enhance working capital and cash flows. High on the agenda was the processes around collections from 500 service stations that paid for their supplies with cash via one of the company’s 12 relationship banks across the country. An E-Billspay solution that enables Total Nigeria’s merchants to lodge payments via 8,000 bank branches across Nigeria irrespective of Total’s relationship banks was implemented. This resulted in a dramatic streamlining of the collections process and reduced security risk as well as the costs associated with cash handling.

The treasury team’s pride at winning such a prestigious accolade for the first time was evident to all who attended the Gala lunch. “The award is a dream come true to me personally and to my colleagues – it is a success story,” James Ajose, Treasurer, Total Nigeria said after collecting his team’s award. “And it is a confirmation of the good effort directed towards a project that is very beneficial to the company. And today, we are using this project, and it’s giving us high cost savings and technology driven process so that a lot of frauds that were taking place are being prevented.”

Royal FrieslandCampina N.V.

Highly Commended Best Financing Solution and Highly Commended Top Treasury Team

Treasurers know that undertaking an ambitious transformation project can often be incredibly challenging – even with the help of a large, well-resourced department. That is one of the things that make what the treasury team at Dutch dairy company Royal FrieslandCampina so remarkable. With a staff consisting of only two full time members and in a timeframe of only six months, the team were able to implement new technology to improve cash management processes and issue a first Green Schuldschein bond that established a link between finance and sustainability.

For the treasury team of a company that only became a multinational less than a decade ago, it was some achievement. “My former boss always said we are coming into the Champions League now so we have to play Champions League,” a delighted Klaas Springer, Corporate Director Treasury for Royal FrieslandCampina told Treasury Today. “With this prize we can say we are up to it.”

Rana Fayez El-Hajjar – Qatargas

Overall Winner Treasury Today Woman of the Year 2016

This year’s winner of the Treasury Today Woman of the Year went to Rana Fayez El-Hajjar, Treasurer at Qatargas. As a leading treasury manager in the Middle East for one of the largest oil and gas companies globally, Rana has had to overcome a number of challenges and stereotypes to reach this position in a region where, unfortunately, there are not many women working in treasury, let alone at one of the leading treasury organisations. Her remarkable ascent to the top has left her eager to help others break through the glass ceiling, and she has played an active role in mentoring and coaching female employees at Qatargas aspiring to a career in finance.

Reflecting on her extraordinary journey at Qatargas, Rana said it is the recognition of experienced industry experts that an Adam Smith Award represents that means the most to her. “When you are doing something good you do realise that,” she says, “but when experts in the field tell you that, it means a lot more. So I was really honoured to be here today.”

Offering some advice to other woman seeking to emulate her success in building a successful career in finance, she added: “I think, whether it is treasury or any other field for that matter, the first thing is to build your confidence and make sure you have the knowhow. Because once you do that then you are a subject matter expert and you will be listened to. And then after that, once you have that knowhow, you need to operate slightly above the role that you are in. Don’t always do just what is expected do a little bit more.”

Work begins over

And so after a day of celebrating the achievements of industry’s very best and brightest, the assembled treasurers departed from Gibson Hall to return to offices located across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas. But having taken a moment to reflect on what they have accomplished, they will all no doubt be eager to get back to their desks and continue the search for next year’s winning solutions.

This is what the Adam Smith Awards are all about: recognising the creativity and ingenuity of the treasury community, in doing so, inspiring treasurers (and their banking partners) to think creatively and develop even better and more innovative solutions. As Vince Lombardi, arguably the greatest American football coach of all time, once famously quipped: “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.”

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