It was while looking for a new position after gaining her ACCA qualification that Mumtaz Dole was approached by a recruiter and offered a job at A.P. Moller Maersk Group as a Treasury Analyst. Although the shipping line was headquartered in Denmark, its numerous operations in the UK meant that the group was looking to open a treasury centre in London.
“One of my primary tasks was to become acquainted with the UK business from a treasury point of view, and to get to know the banks,” she explains. “The group was in the process of moving all its companies from their existing banking partners to new banks. And to manage the liquidity, they were also setting up cash pools and a cash flow forecasting system.” Given that she had known nothing about treasury before accepting the position at Maersk, Dole considers her entry to the industry as a very fortunate accident.
For Dole, there is a fundamental difference between accounting and treasury. “Although I studied accounting, I soon realised that treasury is a much better fit for me. I found out quickly that treasury people look forward – they have more of a connection to the outside world. With accounting, it’s more like looking back at the numbers.” Having decided that this was the direction her career journey would take, she particularly welcomed the opportunity to forge close working relationships with the banks.
When the task of setting up the treasury was completed, Dole was asked if she would like to relocate to Copenhagen and join the project team rolling out SAP, primarily focusing on the in-house bank. Although she had never used the system, she was equipped with her knowledge of banking and cash pools as well as her relationships with banks. Using her experience of creating cash pool solutions for the UK, Dole ended up doing the same for a further 44 countries. “It was so interesting. Getting to know the countries, learning about the regulatory frameworks and what is permitted – it was a massive learning experience.” At the end of the project, she had gained knowledge not only of SAP’s in-house bank functional architecture, but also of the specific business and regulatory requirements of many complex markets including Asia, South America and Africa.
Hitting the ground running
It was while she was on a road trip in Argentina that Dole saw a position at Vestas advertised on LinkedIn. Attending the interview on her return, she was excited to discover that the job involved not only taking care of cash management, building cash pools and mass payments solutions (POBO, PINO and treasury payments) structures, but also building the whole banking landscape for the company. “It was everything that I had been training for. I felt like I had been taught by the best, and now I had the opportunity to do it for another company,” she explains. “I was able to hit the ground running.”
It was immediately apparent that Vestas had a culture of empowerment. Dole found that she had plenty of autonomy when it came to setting up the banking infrastructure for the company, and found the freedom a perfect fit for her method of working. She had two years to accomplish her task, including not only the technical aspect but also the shift from a decentralised set up to centralisation and the change management that comes with it. In total, the implementation involved over 100 subsidiaries spread across 79 countries, most of which were complex markets. “I felt confident because having done it before, it is much easier the second time,” she explains.
The fact that Vestas is a ‘green’ company that is committed to sustainability makes working there not just a job but almost a lifestyle choice for Dole. “This company is doing such a great service to the environment,” she says. “I come from the Maldives. It’s a small country – about 1,300 islands – and it’s suffering from the climate crisis. We may not exist in a few years’ time. If I can do something to help, it might mean the difference between my family having to relocate or not.”
In addition, Dole believes that the culture at Vestas encourages individuality and initiative. “You need to be able to lift yourself up and display some of your personality and be able to make yourself heard.”
With the project now completed, Dole is extremely proud of the role she has played in designing and running the in-house bank at Vestas, considering it her finest achievement. “Of course, I didn’t do it alone. But as project manager I find that I have now gained a reputation as something of an expert in this field.”
Whether it’s about how to select a bank in China, set up cash pools or negotiate the specific difficulties and complexities of individual countries in the APAC region, she finds herself being approached by her peers from other companies. In fact, one of the rewards of the project has been precisely this recognition by other corporate treasuries, as well as by banks. “We have presented it at EuroFinance, and we have been given five stars by Deloitte,” she says, “and the solution was also nominated for the EuroFinance Treasury Excellence Award.”
After the project
After the roll-out was complete, Dole was promoted to Director with responsibility for leading a small team overseeing the in-house banking, cash management and back office operations for the group treasury.
Following a restructuring some 18 months later, she found herself in the position of having to offshore up to 90% of the back office operations to a shared service centre in Manila in the Philippines. “Having an office in Copenhagen with responsibility for straightforward tasks is a very expensive option,” explains Dole. “Our concern at the time was whether or not we would be able to recruit staff with the competencies necessary for the specialised functions of treasury.” But as it turned out, these fears were unfounded, and Dole and her team were able to train the Manila staff in back office operation.
With the more routine tasks being handled by the shared service centre, Dole and the Copenhagen team were able to specialise in cash management. “We started looking into what the next step should be,” says Dole. “Although we had this world-class cash management solution, things are continually moving and evolving in the treasury world.”
The next 18 months gave Dole the opportunity to consider all the technological advances in treasury and the chance to discuss these with banking partners. It also enabled her to get to know many fintech companies and contemplate the future direction of treasury.
It was while experiencing the desire to take on fresh challenges that she was given new responsibility for the liquidity and cash management for the whole group. At the same time, she was also appointed business partner for Asia Pacific and China.
“Our treasurer is very keen for people in the team to step up. By taking extra responsibilities and building up competencies, he wants us to be fully fledged treasurers in a few years’ time,” she says. For Dole, that means stepping out of her area of specialised knowledge – namely cash management – and gaining a fuller understanding of all aspects of treasury.
Treasury in APAC
Responsibility for the Asia Pacific region (APAC) brings many challenges, not least of which is the disparate regulatory requirements of each country.
“Seventy percent of my cash is from the global cash pool, but for the other 30% I have to work really hard to bring it home each month,” says Dole. “You not only need to know the regulatory framework, the currency controls and the documentation – you also need very strong partnerships with your local colleagues and the banks to do things smoothly.”
In her time in the industry, Dole has seen treasury move from being decentralised to centralised. “But now I think corporates are going back to a decentralised model,” she observes. “I see a lot of new treasury centres being opened in Asia, in Singapore and elsewhere.”
Despite being based in Copenhagen, Dole has built strong connections with the team in APAC, which is responsible for all business operations, core treasury activities and dealing with the local banks. However, the sheer logistics involved in arranging meetings between teams in different time zones presents a challenge. “Personally, I think that treasurers should strike a good balance between centralisation and decentralisation,” she remarks. Noting that Vestas has production facilities in China and India, and also sees big wind potential in Australia and Vietnam, Dole observes that Asia Pacific is a very important market in the wind turbine business – “and it would be extremely helpful to have a senior person based in Asia to look after the Asian market.”
Impact of the COVID-19 crisis
As with so many companies, for Vestas the coronavirus pandemic brought sudden and far-reaching disruption. For Dole, the immediate priority was liquidity. Throughout her treasury career she has been keen for banks and corporates to regard themselves as being on the same side, and for relationships to be nurtured. “As it turned out, it was not necessary to draw on the facilities available, but the important point was that they were there and the banks were ready if we needed them,” she notes.
Her other immediate concern was cash forecasting, which if problematic in normal conditions became a major challenge at the start of the crisis. For a project-based company, which is reliant on manufacturing facilities and supply chains in various countries to make and erect turbines, the potential for disruption is huge – and the disruption arising from COVID-19 put considerable pressure on the supply chain in the form of local shutdowns in ports, travel restrictions and transport capacity constraints.
“If we can’t get the money in the right currency, to the right place at the right time, we could completely disrupt the business,” says Dole. But while there was a degree of disruption, she says the team was able to settle very quickly into the new environment, while also transitioning to a working from home model.
A seat at the table
Despite the challenges brought by COVID-19, normal activity continues – and some three months ago, Dole was also put in charge of the company’s working capital management, a responsibility that had been handled by a different team but now rests within treasury. “It is very new to me,” she explains, “I have a lot of cash management, banking and general treasury experience. But I have zero experience in working capital management.”
Dole recognises the challenges that she faces, not least of which is that treasury has no involvement in the components of working capital, namely accounts payable, accounts receivable and inventory. “Although these are not things that we have any direct influence over, we are of course very interested in the amount of cash that gets trapped in working capital,” she says. “Cash is the lifeblood of the company; it is our job to make sure that it flows to where it is needed.”
The opportunity that this new responsibility presents is to make it an absolute necessity to connect with the whole company. “Treasury can be very cut off from the rest of the organisation dealing only with certain specific financial risks,” says Dole. “But now we are getting the opportunity to go out and learn the business in a way that we didn’t before.” She adds that while the treasury was previously focused on the cash in the business, it is now important to understand the context: “We need to know why a project is getting delayed. If a customer is impacted by coronavirus, how are they going to pay us? Who is funding them? Who are their banks? We have to know everything.”
Looking forward, she says that having responsibility for working capital “is going to make us even more visible and increase Treasury’s presence in the business.” She adds: “I think treasury should be sitting at the top table. We are mitigating a lot of risk and providing a very specialist service for the company. Being able to enter new markets is one thing – but if you can’t get your money out, and don’t consider the financial risks, it is something else.”
Outside of her work, Dole is focused on her commitments as a mother, wife and daughter. As the mother of two small children and another on the way, she is keen that they should be encouraged to adopt the best of both Eastern and Western values.
Looking back at her career, Dole says she is fortunate to have entered the world of treasury, despite knowing nothing about it beforehand, and to have had the opportunity to implement projects which required her to become a specialist in those areas. While she has achieved much in her roles, Dole compares her career path to getting on a boat and going to an unknown destination. “I was being taken along and I just had to explore the places that I encountered. I didn’t plot my own course.”
Looking at the world of treasury more generally, Dole notes that there are still not enough women leaders – and in APAC in particular, women may still encounter expectations that they will stay at home and focus on childcare after a certain time.
“From experience, I can only say that women can unleash the power within themselves if they try to reprogramme what they have been taught to believe about the ‘woman’s role’,” she says. “I think I have a lot going against me: I am a woman, and I am Asian. I am also Muslim. And I am really short! But I have been lucky with my career – I think you need to have a little bit of personality to lift yourself up and make yourself heard.”
With the right employer, Dole says, women are better placed to assert themselves and build a strong profile. “And with a lot of corporates actively working on diversity and inclusion, we’re now part of those ‘winds of change’.”