Insight & Analysis

Celebrating in the cloud: Adam Smith Awards 2020 goes online

Published: Jun 2020

Unusual circumstances call for an unusual response. And so it was that the 2020 Treasury Today Adam Smith Awards went digital for the first time in its long history. The sweet smell of success was undiminished, with a cloud-borne live announcement marking the start of a brand new awards season of winner case studies and podcast stories.

Turtle in the sea

There’s something about treasury that makes it both creative and free-thinking, and yet calmly dependable. These characteristics are not common bedfellows, but as the 2020 Adam Smith Awards amply demonstrate, they can combine to produce some remarkable results.

In the midst of a catastrophic pandemic, treasury individuals and teams, supported by their external partners, responded in large numbers (187 nominations spanning 24 countries) to the call for nominations for this year’s awards.

As the judging process swung into action, it was readily apparent that the rare but most welcome marriage of creativity and stolidity would be celebrated once again, if via a somewhat different medium. Gone for now the lustrous setting of London’s Plaisterer’s Hall, replaced by the cloud-based environment of the Zoom platform for the live announcement of the winners, itself heralding a brand new showcase season, rolling out over the next few months through a series of online case studies and podcast stories.

Rising to the challenge

Reflecting the moment in which we all find ourselves, this year saw the introduction of a new category: Best Crisis Management Solution. Of course, crises come and go, and for treasurers it’s not necessarily about preventing them but more about how they are handled. And for inaugural winners, Sasha DeGracia, Director Finance – Treasury Services, and her team at Holiday Inn Club Vacations, whilst the impact of Covid-19 on the business could never be fully controlled, the team worked tirelessly to mitigate its effects in a rapid, controlled and intelligent manner.

It was a hard decision to select the winner in this category, made harder by the knowledge that all treasuries have been pushed to the limits. In the end, receiving the Highly Commended award in this category was GrubHub’s Brandt Kucharski, Chief Accounting Officer, and his team for their work in keeping drivers on the streets and the people fed.

Best ESG Solution, an addition only last year (having expanded from the previous Best Sustainable Finance Solution), received so many more entries this time round. Its popularity mirrors both the longer-term concerns shared by most individuals and organisations, and the rapid development of this ‘sector’ (although referring to it as a sector is perhaps misleading, as in reality it potentially affects almost everything on the planet).

Winners this year, the JetBlue Airways team, have been working over several years to embed ESG design into every aspect of its corporate treasury investment operations.

Meanwhile, Highly Commended was d.Light Limited, with Josphat Rotich, Regional (Africa) Financial Controller collecting the award for its work in delivering off-grid solar energy services to millions of people.

Of course, long-standing categories such as Best Cash Management, Harnessing the Power of Technology and Top Treasury Team have also been hotly contested this year (with Grafton Group, Kongsberg Automotive and Takeda Pharmaceuticals respectively taking the Overall Winner accolades).

The diversity of solutions nominated across the board is a testament not only to the breadth and depth of issues that treasury is now expected to tackle, but also to the manner in which treasury teams (and in the case of Grafton Group, one supercharged individual in John James Dunne, its Group Treasury & Data Analytics Manager) find answers to problems.

Individual success

This year’s Awards continue to show that treasury is as much about personal strength as it is about teams and business partners. The 2020 Woman of the Year, Deepa Palamuttam, Director, Treasury Cash Operations at Intel, is a beacon of inspiration for women and men in the profession. She looks at the status quo and proclaims “we can do more, and that starts by challenging ourselves to be better”. But it’s her commitment to mentoring and supporting colleagues and subordinates, women in particular, helping them advance and become future leaders, that has been of incalculable benefit to her colleagues and company alike.

Adam Smith Awards also highlight what a bright future the profession has. In Tian Song, Senior Treasury Manager at Baker Hughes, Treasury Today celebrates a talented winner of the A Rising Star Award. Song joined the Baker Hughes treasury team at a critical time when the company was designing and establishing its stand-alone operating model. Her work with newly established teams, and capacity to learn quickly to resolve various new business challenges is the definition of ‘self-motivated’.

In fine voice

In previous years, holding the official award ceremony amidst the splendour of one of London’s finest Guildhalls, Plaisterers’ Hall, has been the focal point of the Adam Smith Awards. As soon as it was apparent that lockdown measures across the globe would render this impossible, thoughts turned to online resources.

Most had probably never heard of the Zoom platform before Covid-19, but it is now a staple of modern communication, at least for now. It, and others like it, may well remain the backbone of business communications for some time to come.

As a means of publicly declaring the winners of this year’s Adam Smith Awards, ‘going digital’ was a risk that paid off. By inviting 2019 winners to introduce a number of categories and share their experience of winning at this live event, it helped bring some continuity to these most strange and testing of times.

As 2019 winner of Best Fintech Solution and Top Treasury Team, Séverine Le Blévennec, Senior Director of Treasury, EMEA, Honeywell, is no stranger to success. Introducing the 2020 Top Treasury Team award, bestowed upon Amit Singh and his colleagues at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, she hailed the accolade as a “tribute to the teams that demonstrate curiosity, creativity and stamina in the way they adapt to evolution in our ecosystem”.

Honeywell has good form in the Adams Smith Awards, with Le Blévennec’s colleague, Gino Gude, Senior Treasury Analyst, EMEA, being the Rising Star of2019, a compliment that he said increased his own professional visibility, internally and externally. Introducing Tian Song from Baker Hughes as this year’s winner, Gude referenced the difficulties of operating under current conditions and praised “the great work that has been done over the last year” by all his treasury peers.

Joining the live event on the line from California was Catherine Portman, VP Treasury, Palo Alto Networks, introducing Intel’s Deepa Palamuttam as Winner of the 2020 Woman of the Year Award. Having lifted the 2019 accolade, Portman described the experience as a “pinnacle moment”, and one that continues, along with her support of the Treasury Today Women in Treasury initiative, to give her momentum in her quest for “balance and fairness” in both her home and working life.

Ken Bugayong, Treasurer, Board of Directors, at Minds Matter Seattle, took the Judges’ Choice award in 2019 whilst with Expedia. In his introductory words for this year’s winners, Dennis Crispin, GFS Group Manager and Lucas Meyer, Group Manager, Analytics at Microsoft, he described the treasury profession as “a great enabler, allowing organisations to achieve their goals and missions”. As one who has shifted his focus to the not-for-profit sector, the role for him has taken on a new importance as he works towards improving the education and opportunities of children from low-income families. Having the skills to help, he said, “is a testament to the universality of treasury”.

Few, if any, would refute such a claim. So perhaps no one should be surprised as the Adam Smith Awards demonstrates time and time again that the best treasury professionals manage to combine creativity and free-thinking with rock-solid dependability.

When Amit Singh, SVP Group Treasurer at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, internally shared his team’s success as this year’s Top Treasury Team, his department was heartily congratulated for bestowing upon the whole company “bragging rights for our best in class ambition”. This comment, Singh said, “does a great job in capturing the sentiment evoked by this global recognition across Takeda as an organisation”.

Success, it seems, does not go unnoticed, even if it does briefly have to go online.

The full winners list can be found here. As the Adam Smith Awards season continues over the next few months, more personal reflections and comments by this year’s winners, and dedicated profiles and case studies covering our 2020 winners, will be available soon.

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