“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.”
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.
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.”
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.”