Perspectives

Corporate View: Manu Taneja, GE

Published: Nov 2021

Manu Taneja, Executive, Cash Management and Treasury Services, Asia-Pacific at GE

The power of perseverance

Manu Taneja, Executive, Cash Management and Treasury Services, Asia-Pacific at GE, explains how perseverance has been key to achieving success.

Manu Taneja

Executive, Cash Management and Treasury Services, Asia-Pacific

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Headquartered in Boston and serving customers across more than 170 countries, GE was founded by Thomas Edison in 1889. For nearly 130 years, GE has invented the future of industry and today the company’s dedicated employees, leading technology, and global capabilities across the aviation, health care, and power industries help the world work more efficiently, reliably and safely.

Some of the greatest quotes from the legendary inventor Thomas Edison are about persevering instead of giving up. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” is one. “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up,” is another. And one more: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Indeed, if Edison himself had given up, or not persevered, he may not have invented the light bulb, or founded GE – a company that today spans aviation, healthcare, power and renewable energy and has a presence in 170 markets in the world.

Perseverance

Perseverance – persisting despite the challenges and setbacks – isn’t a quality that is limited to famous inventors, however. It comes in many forms and can be something of a guiding principle for anyone at any stage of their career: when times are tough, don’t give up, keep going. It is this kind of perseverance that Manu Taneja, Executive, Cash Management and Treasury Services, Asia Pacific at GE, believes is one of the factors that has got him to where he is today.

So far, he has had a lengthy career, the bulk of which – 17 years – has been in GE Treasury. During this time he has worked in numerous roles, gained a broad experience of treasury, and has also had challenges along the way. Taneja has a background in engineering and went on to earn his MBA in Delhi. He joined GE back in November 2004 in cash management operations in Gurgaon, also known as Gurugram, in northern India.

It always pays to persevere in the long run. It is easy to lose your cool and then when you look back at those certain moments – you see the importance of perseverance.

After serving in a number of roles across the treasury organisation, Taneja moved to Singapore, where he has been based since February 2018. In his current role he is the regional treasury leader for the Asia-Pacific markets, which includes China, ASEAN [Association of South-East Asian Nations], Australia, New Zealand and South Korea and Japan. In this role he also leads GE’s regional treasury centre in Singapore and the treasury services centre in Shanghai.

Throughout this career, working his way through GE’s treasury teams, he has had the opportunity to learn and observe how other people work. He explains to Treasury Today Asia how one of the key learnings throughout his career has been the power of perseverance. He doesn’t quote Edison, though. Rather, this is something he has come to realise from learning on the job and observing other people.

Keeping cool

Over his career, he explains, “I have observed people and the decisions they were taking.” When he looked back and considered the key moments and critical situations where such important decisions were made, he analysed them and concluded, “They would have ended up in a much better situation if they had persevered.”

He attributes his success so far in his career to this kind of persistence. “It always pays to persevere in the long run,” he says. “It is easy to lose your cool and then when you look back at those certain moments – you see the importance of perseverance.” At times, he says, it seemed like the ‘chips were down,’ yet he pressed on. When challenges come your way, “If you approach those challenges with a bad temperament, that is when the outcomes are not optimal.” Throughout a person’s career, there may not be a linear, or consistent, path – there may be good and bad spells – but it is best to approach such challenges with an even temperament, he says.

This was experienced even in arranging this interview for Treasury Today Asia. For various reasons, it was scheduled, rescheduled, and rescheduled again, and where most of his peers would have given up and not bothered – or lost their cool – he patiently pressed on and graciously went ahead with the Zoom call.

One of the highlights for Taneja in his career so far is setting up GE’s regional treasury centre in Singapore 2018. Aside from perseverance as a key learning from his career so far, Taneja also places an emphasis on the importance of building a good team, and how leading his team has given him great satisfaction. On top of his career successes, such as setting up the regional treasury centre, Taneja is also proud of how people who have worked for him have gone on to develop their careers. “It is satisfying to see people evolve as leaders and know that you have contributed to that,” he tells Treasury Today Asia. This leads to his other key learning, or principle, that has guided his career so far: “Your personal success is determined by your team’s success. You cannot win individually,” he says.

Asia Pacific

Taneja’s Asia-Pacific treasury team supports GE’s vast businesses in the region, where GE has had a presence for more than 100 years. On top of the complexity of such a large organisation, the region also poses challenges because of the differences between each of the markets. This is one of the reasons Taneja likes his role. In fact, when asked if he likes his job, he says, “I love it!” He adds that he loves having the opportunity to learn about the region, explaining that Asia Pacific is such a heterogeneous region with each of the countries having their unique treasury challenges. “Some markets are totally restricted, others are not, and then there is everything in between. There is lots to learn from a region like this,” he says.

Some markets are totally restricted, others are not, and then there is everything in between. There is lots to learn from a region like this.

In a sense, Asia Pacific is the perfect training ground for anyone wanting to learn how to manage complexity. He says it can take time to understand the differences, for example, between the large markets like China, India, South Korea and Taiwan. However, that is where the challenge lies and what makes the role so interesting. Also, being in such a diverse region means that his team is diverse, with people from various backgrounds and cultures.

In his role overseeing treasury operations in the region, Taneja is focused on supporting GE’s transformation journey. And it is this transformation journey that makes his role as a treasurer unique when compared to his peers. “What differentiates us right now from other organisations is this transformation that we are undergoing,” he explains.

Going lean

A key to driving GE’s transformation has been putting lean management into action. Since beginning as Chairman and CEO of GE in 2018, Larry Culp has been introducing the concept of lean management to GE, which he has described as more than a set of tools, but rather a “way of life.”

Lean methodology was adapted from principles found in Japan after researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) wanted to understand why Japanese carmakers were faster in delivering cars than their US peers. They came across the Toyota Production System, and the lean methodology has been adapted from this ‘Toyota Way’, which provides a framework for delivering results.

Lean has two guiding principles of respect for people, and ‘kaizen’ – or continuous improvement. GE’s CEO Culp has said these principles are just as applicable in the accounting office as it is on the shop floor. Lean management is also about reducing waste, to efficiently and effectively also be able to adapt, using the same tools to produce different results.

In an interview in October 2020, Larry Culp was quoted as saying, “In the spirit of continuous improvement, what I’ve learned over time and what I’ve seen at GE is, progress allows you to see the next field of opportunity.” When we get on the other side of COVID, when we’re in a more normal operating environment, there’s no doubt in my mind that GE will be a stronger, better performer for our customers and for our investors.”

Every treasurer’s dream is to have 100% digitisation and automated processes – with absolutely zero manual touchpoints.

Taneja has been taking these principles to heart in his treasury role and applying to them to how the APAC treasury is run. He says the transformation journey has been exciting and he can already see the direct impact that lean methodology is having.

In terms of how the lean methodology manifests itself in the day-to-day operations of the Asia-Pacific treasury teams, Taneja explains how it gives clarity to the priorities and the key performance indicators (KPIs). With everyone working within the same framework of lean methodology, there is alignment in the organisation, and this also translates to the KPIs. Instead of defining and being merely focused on KPIs at an individual level, or for the team, the lean organisation is focused on the company’s goals as a whole. With the introduction of lean principles, Taneja says, there has been more structure to the KPIs and the team’s goals clearly feed into the regional or global goals of the whole organisation.

Along the journey of supporting GE in its wider goals, Taneja has witnessed a number of trends in his work, which have also affected the treasury industry more broadly. The major defining trend, he says is digitisation, and treasurers have become much more efficient as a result, with the adoption of technologies to automate processes that were once manual, for example.

The availability and use of data is another major trend that Taneja has witnessed over his career. These days there is much better access to data, and the visibility of data is in real-time, he says. This has empowered treasurers in their decision-making, and when they make decisions – these backed by substantive date and expertise, he comments.

Another trend is how some regulators in Asia Pacific are driving innovation. This is an exciting time, where the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), for example, has put certain policy building blocks in place and has empowered the industry to find the innovative solutions. “The innovation is actually driven by the central bank and regulators in various markets of the region,” comments Taneja.

Singapore is an attractive location for such innovation to take place. Not only are there many multinational corporations with their regional treasury centres located there, but major international banks also have a sizeable presence, which in turn has created a lively cluster effect. “The financial ecosystem in Singapore has developed – it is really sophisticated,” comments Taneja. It makes sense to have a regional treasury centre in Singapore, he adds, as it is easy to access the international financial centre’s financial markets, and there is also a thriving business community of other corporates that have regional headquarters in the city state, providing access to talent.

The future

Looking ahead to the future, the ultimate goal in running the treasury, he says, is for there to be no manual intervention in the processes. “Every treasurer’s dream is to have 100% digitisation and automated processes – with absolutely zero manual touchpoints,” he says. The goal should be to optimise efficiencies and get treasurers out of the operational mode, so they are freed up to think more strategically.

He may dream of that happening in the near future, but it seems he will need to persevere a bit longer to help make that become a reality.

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