Insight & Analysis

Ikigai, purpose and treasury transformation

Published: Apr 2024

Treasury Today was given unique access to the treasury team at Roche, the Swiss healthcare multinational, for a day-long discussion on a wide range of topics. In this first article in the series on Roche, we look at the multinational’s ethos and values, Ikigai – a sense of purpose and fulfilment – and how that relates to a long-term treasury transformation.

Moutain Fuji with cherry blossom in the foreground

Britta Döttger

Head of Treasury
Martin Schlageter, Head of Treasury Operations at Roche

Martin Schlageter

Former Head of Treasury Operations

Stefan Windisch

Global Head InHouse Bank

Discussions about the meaning of life aren’t often had in corporate treasury, but at Roche, the treasury team have clear ideas about living a life of purpose and fulfilment. For Britta Döttger, Head of Treasury at Roche, the Japanese concept of Ikigai is a guiding force and sums up how she approaches her work. The Japanese concept, which was popularised by Mieko Kamiya in her book ‘On the Meaning of Life’ hinges on a sense of accomplishment and fulfilment. Döttger describes Ikigai as a “collision of what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and what you can get paid for.” And where the circles come together and overlap is where you have the sweet spot, or Ikigai. Luckily for her those circles came together in her treasury role and also align with her company’s ethos and values. Speaking about Ikigai, she says, “I found it here at Roche and this is because everything is patient centric and there’s a human purpose.”

The company’s ethos and values are integrity, courage and passion, which guide the employees’ actions and decisions. And although the treasury team is not in direct contact with patients, they still feel a strong sense of purpose in the work they do.

Döttger explains that core values in practice can extend to the diligence in how processes and systems are set up – as in a treasury transformation – and integrity extends to doing the right thing for the benefit of the patients and the company. And for Döttger, on a personal level, she is glad to be working for a company with a clear purpose: “I have lost too many colleagues and close friends to cancer. For me it was really like a heartfelt desire to really contribute and help here,” she explains.

Treasury has a keen role in ensuring that the company stays relevant in a rapidly-changing external environment, and part of this includes the treasury transformation journey that the team has been on for a number of years. The treasury team’s transformation has been built on five pillars, as Martin Schlageter, former Head of Treasury Operations at Roche, explains. He has witnessed many changes over the years and is now reflective – as he retires after a distinguished career – about the progress that has been made.

The initial goal, he explains, was to increase transparency, standardisation and centralisation of processes. The pillars and key themes are outlined below:

Treasury transformation – the five pillars

Treasury transformation – the 5 pillars

Schlageter, who started the transformation journey back in 2004, explains how it began: “We decided to establish an in-house bank (IHB) and initially concentrated on five key areas: bank relationships, cash pooling, intercompany FX [foreign exchange] hedging, intercompany settlement tools and harmonising our banking interfaces.” By 2014, the IHB served more than 200 affiliates around the world from Switzerland. It now provides cash pooling in 45 currencies, hedging of FX exposures through intercompany FX transactions, enables bank free intercompany payment services as well as ‘on behalf of’ third-party payments and collections.

Throughout the transformation journey, Schlageter explained much of the work was in taking stakeholders, and affiliates, along on the journey with them and demonstrating the benefits rather than imposing new processes on the operating companies. It was about really getting to know the people involved so that as the project evolved, and further centralisation was proposed, he was pushing on an open door. This focus on people also extended to how Schlageter built his team. As he passes the baton to his former protege and now successor Stefan Windisch, Global Head InHouse Bank at Roche, he recalls how he turned to finding a balance between the focus on automation and digitalisation and that on the soft skills of people, hiring the right people with the right skills willing to embrace the vision, and also aligning that with the purpose of the organisation. With the right people in the team, it then became much easier to deliver on the company’s values of integrity, courage and passion – and also find their Ikigai.

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