What is your role as Group Treasurer?
I joined the organisation at the beginning of March last year. Although I have not worked in the pharmaceutical industry before, I do have a great deal of experience with companies going through a variety of change, including IPO, disposals, acquisitions mergers and restructuring – so joining a business experiencing change and creating a new treasury function was a significant attraction for me.
My responsibilities currently cover the treasury and taxation for the network, and I am currently involved in the setting up of its global treasury and taxation function.
Joining when you did must have presented challenges. Were you able to access your office?
I did actually make it into the offices for two full weeks, including an induction day in Cambridge and some days in our London office. But apart from that, I haven't spent much time in the office. Although in some ways this might have made it more difficult to integrate myself into the business, I would say that lockdown has promoted more interaction. Team meetings that had previously been monthly were increased to twice or three times a week, which meant that I had more contact with everybody.
What have you been focusing on in terms of setting up the new function?
The emphasis always has to be on cash as a starting point, so that is where the focus of my attention has been. As well as bringing in someone to help us get a better handle on the cash, I have been encouraging the central team to focus on the fundamentals – understanding what cash is available and what is not, to understand normal cash balances.
Where managing working capital is concerned, I’ve also focused on impressing on everyone the importance of getting customers to pay on time – not necessarily by pushing hard terms, but by enforcing the terms that are in place – and paying invoices not on presentation, but according to our agreed terms.
But the process is a continuing one – these things always take longer than you expect.
How difficult is it to set things up for the first time and carve out a role for treasury?
Well, it certainly has been busy. The biggest challenge is ensuring that people understand what you are doing. That’s quite a big task. You cannot assume that people will have the necessary knowledge and expertise, or that an organisation will have the right structures in place. It’s all about driving the best value for the business and deciding how much should be outsourced and how much could or should be done in-house.
How do you think the pandemic has changed the role of the treasurer? Has it changed the skills that a treasurer needs to have?
That’s a good question. I believe many businesses may have used it as a means of accelerating restructuring, which is always a challenge for treasurers.
These types of shocks impact businesses and their abilities to operate and trade. Although some industries are more affected than others, events such as these force businesses to be focused on the basics – namely cash and working capital – and to figure out the best ways to support the business.
There will be many treasurers out there that will not be used to working in such dynamically changed environments. These are not little bumps in the road, but big challenges. Hopefully, we will all come through this and we will have gained the experience of working in difficult situations and emerging all the stronger for it.