Le Blévennec progressed from the back office to managing GMAC’s in-house bank operations. Other standout responsibilities include working in a team managing the €6bn balance sheet, helping oversee a large (€4bn) commercial paper programme and managing liquidity at the group’s European affiliates. “In terms of empowerment, it was quite something,” she says. “I started with no knowledge and learnt everything on the job.”
She recounts many successes. Like transforming back office processes by introducing a new system that linked and visualised the funding, hedging and loan book that included a MTN programme and syndicated loans.
Later, she joined GMAC’s Strategic Funding Initiatives Group, landing “in the hot seat” involved in bank meetings, debt negotiation and securing credit lines for hundreds of millions of euros as GMAC’s financial health grew more perilous and the treasury team became ever more creative. “When I arrived, the company was top-rated; when I left it was junk,” she says, flashing her quick, wry humour that peppers the conversation. One of the most hair-raising (and thrilling) transactions included a €1bn first-of-its-kind securitisation deal with Deutsche Bank, structured on the eve of the financial crisis before the risks of securitisation unravelled. “It was so interesting and really gave me a chance to contribute.”
Warming to a theme that recurs throughout her conversation with Treasury Today, Le Blévennec explains one of the most memorable aspects of her time at GMAC was the high level of autonomy and trust. This was possible because GMAC’s treasury function was almost flat and access to the Treasurer was easy, she recalls. “I was just a treasury analyst when I arrived, but the Treasurer would come to Brussels regularly, and I knew him well.” The Brussels team, housed together in one office, was agile and this agility, together with her proximity to leadership, became the two aspects of treasury she missed most in her next role – and which she seeks to nurture most in her current role at Aliaxis.
Just before GMAC closed its European treasury, Le Blévennec was given the chance to move to Detroit. In the end she declined the opportunity, mostly because she was hoping to start a family and didn’t want to be working in the US where there is no mandatory parental leave. She thought (briefly) about joining the investor relations team in New York, but an approach from a head-hunter opened the door to the next leg of her career, Manager, EMEA Treasury, at US industrial group Honeywell in 2006.
Honeywell already had a strong and mature treasury function, a critical factor in her decision to accept the role, convinced she would be able to “help, contribute and learn from a good base.” She was also drawn to the company’s informal culture at the time. For example, still recovering from an operation, she was interviewed by her boss in her own home. “It was very unusual,” she says, admitting the unorthodox interview was also down to her own impatience and instinctive desire to accelerate next steps – another theme that runs throughout her career.
She was also attracted to the vague job description attached to the role, spotting an opening to shape it and make the job her own. “Being able to keep that creative aspect that I like in treasury, attracted me.” Like GMAC, Honeywell also ran an in-house bank where she learnt new skills in cash management. Not long into the role she began to manage people, process-optimisation and digitisation projects followed, including implementing robotics in 2018, initially for the in-house bank, but then rolled out globally. “Our hard work and innovation has been recognised by numerous international awards and we established Honeywell Treasury as a benchmark,” she says.
Le Blévennec also took a very active role in communicating with various public authorities (EU Parliament, Belgian Finance ministry, ESMA) on the impact of financial regulation, flagging unintended consequences and negative impacts on the real economy. “This required a whole different set of skills but the success in that area was very rewarding,” she recalls.
Looking back on the fifteen years Le Blévennec stayed at Honeywell, a few key themes emerge. In the last years, the company’s mature treasury organisation and processes ultimately resulted in a disproportionally global governance. This led to local initiatives sometimes hitting the buffers because of red tape and bureaucracy. She came to recognise how much she valued flexibility and the opportunity to think creatively, outside the box. “Over the years, I was very proud of what we achieved, and I learnt a lot at Honeywell,” she says.
Her next step up the career ladder landed her in her current role. But it wasn’t a quick or easy decision. Le Blévennec spent over a year discussing and chewing over the potential role, leading to many sleepless nights. One reason for her caution was unknowns around Aliaxis’s corporate culture. Although she found elements of US corporate culture at GMAC and Honeywell challenging, she knew it was an environment where she could perform and that suited her. In contrast, Aliaxis is a privately owned, European company. “It was a big change,” she says. Much of her due diligence involved understanding how the executive committee and Board worked, and ensuring she would be empowered by senior management with the right resources, and the company had the maturity to scale up.
As it turned out, joining Aliaxis has been rather like a homecoming. Mostly because she has been set free to add value and transform the company’s treasury function at an accelerated pace. Rather than change being perceived as disruptive, it is welcomed as the company builds out multiple new functions in its transformation from a federation of local companies into one group with a multinational vision and new purpose. “I am a change agent and I love it,” she says.
Since she took the helm in June 2021 the company has been assigned a rating, entered the capital markets, joined the SWIFT network, implemented a new treasury management system, and a payment hub she is now rolling-out on a global basis to automate payment processes.
And the list goes on. Aliaxis’s treasury has selected new banking partners in four EU countries and LATAM and is currently finalising the implementation of a global liquidity structure. She is also designing new treasury policies before centralising FX processes. Oh, and she’s changing the team structure. “When I came, nobody could say who worked in treasury outside Brussels.” In short, under her watch, the perception of treasury within the company has changed as she builds a new department from scratch, following her own clear roadmap with all the resources she needs, galvanised by positive feedback and an enthusiastic team. “In my first year we entered the 1990s and now we have arrived in the 2000s!” she laughs, continuing: “We still have a way to go, but most importantly we are driving in a straight line rather than going in circles and we know exactly where we are going.”