Insight & Analysis

60 Second Interview: Suzanne Perry, Assistant Group Treasurer, RELX Group

Published: Jan 2019
Suzanne Perry, Assistant Group Treasurer, RELX Group

For Suzanne Perry, Assistant Group Treasurer at RELX Group, continuous learning and tackling new tasks is the order of the day. This appetite for progress has seen her play an increasingly important role in the global structure of RELX Group.

What is your approach to treasury?

Getting involved is an essential part of the job for me and so I’ve taken on an increasingly broad sweep of financial functions since my arrival at RELX. When accounting rules changed in 2004 – when derivatives had to be recognised on the balance sheet – it was one of my first opportunities to deliver a solid contribution to the bottom line. I’m a practical person and I always like to feel I am doing something, so I built a reputation for expertise in this area to the point where colleagues executing derivatives and hedging deals in our Swiss Treasury Centre called me to help them correctly structure and administer their own deals.

I had already expressed my interest in taking part in a benchmark-sized debt deal, so in 2009 I headed off to Switzerland on secondment. Having just done an equity placement there I manged to get involved in the deal’s foreign exchange management, converting cash to pay down some of the facility. But this deal meant we were well-funded so I had to wait a few more years for the next big one to come along.

Although it meant extending my secondment twice, I saw that as an opportunity in itself as there was still a lot to get to grips with, particularly with the issuance of commercial paper throughout the year to support very cyclical sales patterns in our biggest entities. I learnt a lot about negotiation, trading, guarantees, and the legal and administrative processes, through a number of bi-lateral smaller deals. The benchmark bond came in 2012 and we followed in 2013 with a Swiss bond issuance in which I was fully involved in roadshow duties. The Swiss experience ended in 2014 but it was a great teamwork experience.

How important is it for you to reach out to the business?

I was in Switzerland for five years and managed to build many relationships with finance team members. Many have since moved into the divisions, so I am a familiar face right across the group. Having the background and contacts at ground level has proven advantageous in many ways.

Each division has its own finance team, often staffed by former members of the corporate finance function. Knowing that my door is always open, they feel comfortable coming to treasury with a problem. It means we are an approachable centre of knowledge for them. Keeping in contact reduces the likelihood of a business trying to do treasury without the knowledge. They know that anything treasury-related – including bank relationships – goes through us.

As a technology company, what is the treasury view of this topic?

We’ve got around 30,000 employees, and around 8,000 of them are technologists. It’s in the company DNA, so we’re a big fan of technology – but not for the sake of it. There has been a solid focus on the systems side for treasury and finance and this has mainly been about consolidation, uniformity and keeping processes simple. If you have a simple process it is easier to automate. Our biggest cost is people so through technology they can be freed from mundane processes, and be applied to something with more value for the business. It’s something we are constantly looking at and trying to leverage.

With that in mind then, what is your take on people skills in treasury?

I think one of the essential treasury skills is being able to read people. Nowhere is that more so than when we’re doing debt deals. We get feedback from the bank syndicate teams and they are always worried about giving too rosy a view, in case it cannot be achieved. It might be in their interests to have treasury accept as bad a price as possible because a low price is easier to sell to investors. They are trying to be fair but they won’t advise a treasurer to be aggressive in their pricing because they will then worry that if they can’t deliver, they will be blamed for failure. Syndicate teams are caught in the middle so it is vital for us as treasurers to listen closely, to read between the lines, and be able to develop the conversation to flush out where the cut-off is to get those last few basis points.

The full version of this interview will be available in the January/February 2019 edition in print and online.

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