Hitachi Vantara’s Cathy Fields talks about the importance of cash and how she drives transformational change. Education and communication are key to her celebrated approach.
When Cathy Fields joined Hitachi Vantara seven years ago, she was tasked with creating a best-in-class treasury for the subsidiary of the Japanese IT conglomerate. Hired back then as a senior manager for treasury and risk management (she has since made assistant treasurer and senior director of global risk management), her remit was to transform the division’s banking infrastructure and cash management processes which comprised around 300 different bank accounts and some 45 different banking partners.
Today the division has 120 bank accounts with three main partner banks and two liquidity structures or cash pools. “We have created a finely tuned machine with respect to how we manage cash. It’s definitely one of the things I am most proud of,” she says in an interview from Singapore, where she moved 18 months ago from her Californian home as part of her current assignment, a two-year stint helping to lead a global treasury transformation project for parent company, Hitachi Ltd.
For decades, in-country treasury heads at Hitachi Vantara ran and controlled their own banking relationships and cash strategies. It was a fragmented structure that resulted in pockets of cash accumulating in multiple countries around the world. Under the pooling process, local teams handed over their cash management to regional pools. “They no longer needed to worry about managing cash or liquidity.”
However, convincing colleagues of the benefits didn’t happen overnight and required a year of groundwork prior to implementation. Fields and her team reached out to internal in-country teams in a marketing process, selling the strategy and vision. “We had to explain what we were doing, why we were doing it and how it would make all our lives better,” she recalls. “It was about getting people to understand the value of what we were selling.”
Robust communication and educational skills were vital in ensuring everyone got onboard. “Our in-country treasury teams were used to managing their own cash and would say ‘this is my cash.’ My role was to educate them, explaining it wasn’t their cash but the cash of the parent company and that it was my responsibility to make sure it was well-managed.” Without this educational process, which included ensuring colleagues also understood the workings of the new pooling structure, smooth implementation down the line would be jeopardised. “The last thing we wanted was to move down an execution path and have stumbling blocks, personalities or issues that might prevent us from moving forward. You have to solve all the hurdles up front.”
As to what constituted good communication then, and is just as relevant today, she says understanding counterparties, or “knowing where your partners are coming from,” is key. This means having a grasp of colleagues’ key interests and concerns before that first meeting. It meant she could address each concern upfront and hone relationships founded on mutual trust, transparency, and confidence from the start. “Partners have to get comfortable and trust that I will address their concerns. They have to understand that my team will do what we say we will and follow through.”
Of course, the ability to listen is just as important – and Fields is a good listener. “When I come into a new environment I sit and listen. I ask questions to make sure I have a clear view of who the leaders are and who has the capability to get things done. You need to know your internal business partners and understand the personalities you are working with, and the environment you are in. This helps guide you to understand how to effectively communicate.”
Along with communication and education, the banking overhaul captured another element of her job she finds particularly thrilling and is often unique to treasury. Driving transformational change is a collaborative, cross functional initiative that places treasury at the very heart of a firm., more so at Hitachi Vantara which, she says, has a reputation for its divisional silos. “Treasury is in a great position to break down silos. We are constantly attacking silos; our team is known for this. We will bring all participants or stakeholders to the table at the beginning of a project, big or small. Not everyone does this, so we are happy to lead by example,” she concludes.