Perspectives

Corporate View: Rene Bustamante, FedEx Corporation

Published: Jan 2023

Rene Bustamante, Staff Vice President & Assistant Treasurer, Global Cash Management, FedEx Corporation

Delivering excellence

Rene Bustamante, Staff Vice President & Assistant Treasurer, Global Cash Management at FedEx Corporation, discusses his unique career path into treasury, the challenges treasurers face in today’s environment, his views on emerging technology trends – and the importance of giving back to the community.

Rene Bustamante

Staff Vice President & Assistant Treasurer, Global Cash Management

FedEx Corporation logo

Headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, FedEx Corporation is an American multinational transportation, e-commerce and business services company. Founded by Frederick W. Smith, it began operations on 17th April 1973. With more than 540,000 team members, and annual revenue of over US$94bn, FedEx has grown to become one of the world’s largest courier companies. According to the latest available statistics from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), FedEx is the world’s top cargo airline, with over 20 billion cargo tonne kilometres per annum.

“I view myself as a very fortunate individual, being able to work in an area as fascinating as treasury,” says Rene Bustamante, Staff Vice President & Assistant Treasurer, Global Cash Management at FedEx Corporation. “What I enjoy most about treasury is that it’s always evolving. There is never a dull moment.”

Nevertheless, Bustamante says that treasury was not the first stop on his career journey – and in fact, his career has taken him through three very different worlds: the academic sector, public service and private enterprise. After moving to the United States from El Salvador, he studied at the University of Memphis, graduating with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Economics. It was while he was working for his Master of Arts in Economics at Memphis that he started to teach courses in economics at the university, something that he continued to do on a part-time basis until 2004.

Intent on gaining a PhD in economics – and with an interest in law, economics and industrial organisations – he chose as his graduate level dissertation an analysis of the merger between Delta and Northwest Airlines from an anti-competitive standpoint. “Given my research, and the work that I had done at the university with professors – both in economics and in the law school – I then went to work for the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, DC, as an economic research analyst in the antitrust division,” he recalls.

At the FTC he performed economic and statistical analysis, supporting lead economists in antitrust investigations in a number of different industries. In addition, he conducted extensive research, writing reports on competition policy, industrial development and privatisation reform for Latin America and Eastern Europe in order to further the FTC’s advisory role in those regions. “It was fascinating work,” he says. “I had a tremendous respect for the people who worked there. I learned so much from them.”

New horizons

Bustamante worked at the FTC for three years, initially intending to work on his dissertation and finish his PhD in Economics while he was living in Washington, D.C. After deciding to change course and work in the private sector, he gained an MBA from George Washington University, specialising in corporate and international finance. “At the time, the international finance piece was really beginning to take off. The Berlin Wall had just come down and markets were beginning to open up,” he explains. “People wanted to expand their knowledge, and I was caught up in that.”

Next came a spell at Stone & Webster Management Consultants in Denver, Colorado, where he worked as a financial management consultant involved in financial analysis and econometric forecasting. Then, in 1994, Bustamante received a job offer at FedEx and joined the company as a senior financial analyst in the air operations division. With the company based in Memphis – the city that he had made his home since moving to the United States in 1979 – it was a welcome homecoming for him.

After a couple of years, he took up a position in the treasury department. Having had direct experience of the aircraft operations division, Bustamante says that moving from air operations to the financing of aircraft seemed like a natural progression. He recalls: “I worked in an area of the business called structured finance. I was responsible for many of the aircraft leases and real estate leases that the corporation was doing, at a time when it was ramping up its expansion.”

In February 2000, Bustamante was appointed to the role of Manager of Corporate Finance, with responsibility for the credit revolver and letter of credit facilities, secured and unsecured financings, management of banking relations, rating agencies, balance sheet and cash flow forecasting. He subsequently became Director of the group in 2007.

Present responsibilities

Bustamante started in his present role as Vice President and Assistant Treasurer of global cash management in the treasury division in 2010. “My responsibilities are the development and oversight of the corporation’s global cash management structure and its activities,” he elaborates. “I oversee all of the global cash flow movements, cash flow forecasting, banking services, short-term investments and foreign exchange, as well as treasury transformation and technology.”

On the global cash management side, the company’s treasury department is centrally located in Memphis, with a director overseeing the Americas and the consolidation of all global activities, and a director in Amsterdam overseeing Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia. “I have a team of professionals based in several cities across the globe, working closely within those regions, to manage the day-to-day cash management activities,” Bustamante explains.

Although the team is spread across the world, their activities report directly into Memphis. “This helps us tremendously in terms of how we manage our global cash positions and simplifies how we move cash around the world,” he says. “It’s been important to create a team culture that is agile and that adapts to the ever changing business and regulatory environment.”

Bustamante is keen to emphasise the importance of his team. “The fact that I have this group of professionals that can do the work seamlessly is really an achievement in itself,” he says. “Without this group of incredible professionals, I would not be able to successfully run the internal banking operations of FedEx. They are without a doubt the glue that holds it all together.”

He also believes that corporate culture is crucial to the success of the business, and should be a positive experience for all. “Obviously we are not the ones generating revenue. We play a support role,” he emphasises. “So I need to make sure that my team is ready to serve, and to do the things that will continue to make us a leader in the transportation logistics industry.”

Turbulent times

Turning to the topic of challenges in the current market, Bustamante notes the importance of investing in both treasury technology and talent, adding that the treasury team overhauled its platform in 2018. “I’m glad that we were able to jump on those rails quickly,” he says. “It has been a tremendous value-add to the team, the company and our customers. But once we are on this journey, we need to continue it – because that is where everything seems to be moving.”

Global geopolitical events present another major challenge in today’s market. “We have just gone through a pandemic, and are now facing other geopolitical events that are disrupting supply chains and the way that we do things around the globe,” Bustamante notes. Fortunately, continually planning for the future and developing contingency plans have long been a core part of the company’s culture. “It’s something that is ingrained in our training,” he says. “What’s changed is that there are now different scenarios that you have to plan for.”

With the company taking great pride in having developed a culture that looks at primary, secondary and even tertiary backups, he is keen to ensure that the treasury organisation has the same mindset. “We need to be ready to react, pivot and keep moving,” he says. “That means making sure that the enterprise continues to operate by managing liquidity, and by making sure that we make payments and collect and invest our cash.”

What I enjoy most about treasury is that it’s always evolving. There is never a dull moment.

Treasury transformation

“If you really want to lead, you need to be strategic and you need to have an understanding of treasury technology and how to deploy it,” says Bustamante. “And at the same time, you need to be connected and embedded into the operations of the company.”

Since rolling out a new treasury management system, Bustamante and his team continue to make enhancements to the platform. By taking advantage of new developments, he says, the company can ensure it has the tools and resources needed for success. “It’s critical for us to continue to invest in anything that is going to be able to help us serve the company better and to evolve,” he comments.

With new developments in technology coming thick and fast, Bustamante highlights the evolution of application programming interfaces (APIs) and the rise of real-time payments as being particularly significant. Faster and more transparent data will, he believes, streamline the team’s activities in the future. “With APIs delivering real-time connectivity between the bank and the corporation, data can be captured around transactions as they happen,” he adds. “It’s going to lead to improvements in day-to-day treasury activities – and anything that can help us serve the company better and evolve is going to be critical for us.”

Strategic approach

During his time in treasury, Bustamante has seen it develop from a back office operation to a key player in decision making. “The treasurer of the future will need to continue to take a strategic approach, as well as having a seat at the table of decisions taken at the operating level,” he says. “But they will also need to understand treasury technology and how to deploy it in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.”

For Bustamante, the continually evolving nature of treasury is one of the things that appeals to him the most. “Change is truly constant in our world,” he reflects. “Cash never sleeps, it moves all the time. For an enterprise of our size, operating in 220 countries and territories, you can imagine the demands on just making sure that payments are being made and monies are being collected, that projects are being financed, and that there is oversight on our part.”

Significant achievements

Looking back at his career, Bustamante says his most significant achievement during his early years at FedEx was the role he played in leading the financing of many of the company’s wide body aircraft and major hub facilities. More recently, he was responsible for the formation of the business’s global cash pool overlay in Luxembourg. Indeed, FedEx was named Overall Winner of the Adam Smith Awards 2022 in the Best Cash Pooling Solution category for its achievements in consolidating net excess global liquidity in a USD position, and allowing it to be deployed for investments and funding.

Outside his career at FedEx, Bustamante says that winning the Excellence in Teaching Award from the Fogelman College of Business and Economics at the University of Memphis had a special significance. “Teaching gave me purpose and solidified many of the things that I was applying in my day-to-day job,” he recalls. “I was able to help out on a part-time basis and prepare new students for their professional journey. It meant I could give back to the university that had educated me.”

Giving back to the community

Bustamante believes that those fortunate enough to be leaders should devote some of their time and energy to serving their communities – an approach that he is committed to himself. Outside of work, he sits on the board of a number of not-for-profit organisations, including the University of Memphis Foundation Board, Leadership Memphis, the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis, and the Mid South Latino Chamber of Commerce in Memphis.

But it is his volunteer work with the Tennessee State Soccer Association and an all-girls football club called Purple Rain Soccer Club that is closest to his heart. “I love going to the soccer fields and spending time with the players, their families and the coaches,” he reflects. Having taken the decision 20 years ago to establish the girls football club with just six players, Bustamante has seen it grow to more than 200 young women between the ages of eight to 18.

“I’m proud to say that we have the only all-girl soccer club in the state of Tennessee,” he enthuses. “The demands of my job mean that I’m no longer coaching. My role these days is to oversee the operation and act as a mentor.”

Having been personally involved in all aspects of the club from administrating to coaching and managing the team, he is delighted that the club now has a large number of female coaches. “Many of the players I coached years ago have come back to coach for the club,” he says. “Something that I try to instil is the idea of giving back. If you’re not there to serve your community, your company, your customers – what are you there to do?”

Last word

Looking back at his career, Bustamante says: “Believe it or not, this year I will be celebrating my 29th anniversary working for FedEx. It has been a fascinating journey. I always say to folks that this journey would not be possible anyplace else but here.” He adds that his journey from emigrating from El Salvador in 1979 to reaching his current role at FedEx, and helping to finance the company’s expansion, “has been a source of tremendous pride for me.”

Finally, Bustamante acknowledges the debt he owes to his wife: “I have also been married to a wonderful partner for 33 years. She understands the things that are important to me, and has supported me throughout this journey,” he concludes.

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