Corporate View: Gianluca Gubbini, Viacom International Media Networks

Published: Sep 2019
Gianluca Gubbini, Director, International Treasury, Viacom International

A lifetime of learning

From keeping the books of his parents’ food store in Italy as a young lad, to treasurer of a leading global media company, Gianluca Gubbini, Director, International Treasury, Viacom International Media Networks has travelled far. With a passion for communication, technology and hard work, here’s a treasurer who knows he was made for the job.

Gianluca Gubbini

Director, International Treasury

Viacom logo

Viacom International Media Networks is the international division of the US$13bn global media business, Viacom. The company is currently split into six regional divisions, overseeing the production, broadcasting and promotion of key Viacom brands outside of the United States. These brands include MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET, Colors and Telefe. The network’s headquarters are located in New York City and London.

“I feel like I have always worked in treasury,” says Gianluca Gubbini, Director, International Treasury, Viacom International Media Networks, of his chosen career path. “My parents used to own a food store in Italy, and it was our second home. Since we were kids, my brother and I were always helping in the store and one of the things I remember liking the most was helping with the closure of the tills at the end of the day, which included counting the money, preparing the slip and then going to the bank the next day to deposit the cash.”

During that time, Gubbini recalls that he even enjoyed keeping a cashbook and preparing the reconciliation of his father’s personal bank account. It was perhaps only to be expected then that after high school he went on to University and studied for a degree in Economic and Banking Science. “Treasury was definitely meant to be my path,” he muses.

Long reach of treasury

From an early age, Gubbini learned how to conduct himself in a professional manner. He has made a point of seeking out valuable lessons throughout his working life. Perhaps the key to his success, he suggests, is that whatever he does, he firmly believes that he should do it “as if it was my own business – no wasting of resources, time or money – and work hard to keep your customers happy. I try to apply these rules every day.”

Today, his remit is to lead the London and Amsterdam based international cash operations team for Viacom International Media Networks. He is tasked with covering brands outside of the United States: Europe, Asia, Latin America and Canada. His team oversees all aspects of Viacom International cash management and treasury operations. The team also supports a shared services centre (handling AP, AR and T&E) in Budapest.

In addition to the day-to-day activities, the team works very closely with the firm’s tax, legal and accounting divisions in respect of treasury transactions that involve international cash, such as dividends, capital contributions and acquisitions.

“We are also responsible for managing bank relationships,” adds Gubbini. These relationships play a key role in responding to treasury challenges, whether it is to answer an immediate request or to understand what solutions may be available in the near future. “I meet with our banking partners regularly to review service levels and to discuss new products,” he says. “In the last few years, I have been very much involved in implementation projects with them too.”

Gubbini regularly meets with his relationship banks and attends treasury seminars and conferences in order to ensure that he is up to date with what is available in the market, what his industry and professional peers are doing, and what products and solutions can be implemented to deliver greater efficiencies, and increase controls and working capital management.

New goals, new tools

When Gubbini first arrived at Viacom some 14 years ago, its treasury operations were spread across approximately 40 banks. Today, it has concentrated cash operations with a handful of core banks.

“Bank account rationalisation was one of the key steps that allowed us to become so much more efficient,” he comments. Fewer cash management banking relationships have allowed Viacom to benefit from economies of scale in terms of pricing and levels of service. It has also enabled more effective deployment of new technologies.

In fact, the effective deployment of technology is very much part of how Gubbini meets challenges in his current role.

Viacom has been at the forefront of embracing new treasury solutions. Throughout the last decade, we developed a comprehensive treasury technology solution, which resulted in great visibility, control, automation and the ability to manage and mitigate risks.

“The media landscape is evolving even more rapidly than treasury, and Viacom has made a number of accelerant deals to grow its portfolio and capabilities,” Gubbini explains. “From a treasury perspective, the challenge is to integrate these new businesses into our existing core structure seamlessly. Additionally, we will need to ensure that treasury is able to support the different requirements that each acquisition has brought to the table in an efficient and swift manner.”

Gubbini makes no secret of the fact that he is a technophile and the extent to which he feels an appreciation of technology is essential to the future of his treasury function. “New technology is very important,” he states. “At Viacom, we embrace it, we keep current, we are often willing to pilot new solutions proposed by our banking partners and, at times, we help our partners shape their new products.” However, he adds, because regulations do not always keep up with technology, it is important for the business to be very thorough in its due diligence whenever considering an innovative solution.

“Viacom has been at the forefront of embracing new treasury solutions,” he explains. “Throughout the last decade, we developed a comprehensive treasury technology solution, which resulted in great visibility, control, automation and the ability to manage and mitigate risks.”

In practical terms, as well as rationalising the company’s bank account structure, achieving cohesion across the business has been effected by implementing the IT2 treasury management system (TMS), a new ERP system, an in house bank and through SWIFT membership.

With the implementation of IT2, all accounts are now managed on a single platform. The system, managed by a dedicated New York treasury technology team, is effectively the centre of treasury, Gubbini stating that “we now do everything through it.”

With SWIFT connectivity providing MT940s and MT942s directly into IT2, the treasury function has accurate balance positions across the business. This, he says, aids better decisions on all of Viacom’s investments and redemptions.

The effort to connect and control continues with the implementation of a new cash pool, leveraging a virtual account structure and enabling a full OBO structure. The work, in which treasury is very much involved, is seen as critical to Viacom’s progress in an extremely competitive environment.

Managing change

Like most media-related businesses, Viacom has undergone several structural changes in the last few years. This has seen treasury’s input increasingly called upon. “One of the objectives of our treasury transformation was to create a structure that was flexible and, in a way, bank agnostic,” says Gubbini.

When SAP was implemented, SWIFT membership meant ISO 20022 XML coding could be incorporated for payments. Rather than having individual bank-formatted files, treasury now has one standard format for all banks, enabling treasury to switch partners far more easily, should it need to.

“We no longer rely on bank proprietary file formats for payments or individual transmission connectivity,” he explains. “With such a structure, treasury has been able to support the company throughout its evolution, whether it was relocating functions, launching in new countries or acquiring new companies.”

Strategic role

Having been closely involved in deep structural shifts, the notion of the ‘strategic role of the treasurer’ is one that Gubbini wholly recognises. There is a strategic element to his job as International Treasury Director that has yielded some fundamental changes within.

For example, he has been a strong advocate for the implementation of the in-house bank for Media Networks and his team’s current project of a single entity cash pool with virtual accounts and a full OBO structure for Paramount. Both projects have a material impact on working capital and liquidity management, as well as the ability to generate “significant cost savings.”

For a treasurer to reach the position of strategic importance, let alone sustain it, requires a well-developed skillset. These are skills that Gubbini believes every modern professional should harbour. “Good communication is very important. Treasury needs to liaise with many different groups internally. We have daily interactions with tax, legal, accounting and our shared service centres. Treasury needs to be able to explain our actions and strategies to our stakeholders, whilst having a strong understanding of potential impacts on other parts of the organisation.”

Highlighting success

With the depth of experience that working in a leading global media operation offers, Gubbini is happy to impart some of his wisdom to young professionals starting on their treasury career. “I have been in treasury for 20 years now, and I can say that it has never been the same. There are always new challenges, new regulations, new systems and a better way of doing things,” he says. “It is a very interesting industry, but you need to be passionate, keep yourself informed and have a willingness to embrace constant change.”

Of course, in his time at the top, he has managed to accumulate a number of highlights in his own career. One of the projects that he is most proud of is the recent implementation of the in-house bank.

We no longer rely on bank proprietary file formats for payments or individual transmission connectivity. With such a structure, treasury has been able to support the company throughout its evolution, whether it was relocating functions, launching in new countries or acquiring new companies.

“It all started during the implementation of SAP for the Viacom International division,” Gubbini recalls. “I was responsible for the treasury aspect of the roll out, and it was clear that the in-house cash module system was the right solution, not just for Intercompany but for a full POBO structure.”

He describes the time as “a great learning experience,” not just on the technical side – he even went to a SAP course on in-house cash to learn how to configure the module – but also on the business side. Here, he worked very closely with Viacom’s legal and tax groups on creating the right framework for the in-house bank intercompany agreements. The project also saw him connecting with teams from accounting, compliance, internal audit, and local controllers.

“It was definitely a 360-degree experience! It was a lot of work, but very exciting and rewarding. We have now been running the in-house bank successfully for over three years.”

Art of balance

Spending a lot of time in the white heat of corporate life demands that the incumbent step outside of it from time to time, to rest and refresh. For Gubbini, it is important to find a suitable work/life balance.

When Gubbini is not working, he says he enjoys spending time with his family, especially his wife and two children. However, in the true spirit of discovery, he has added a new interest to his life. “Even though I am not very good at it, I like playing music. I got myself a guitar a few years ago and I do spend some time during the weekends with it. I find it very relaxing.” If his approach to guitar is as focused and accomplished as it is with treasury, expectations should be high.

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