The distinctiveness of APAC is often well covered in the media. Much is made of the cultural variations across the region and the nuanced approaches to business in the various countries. But, it is only once you land in the region and begin experiencing its uniqueness first hand that the differences become truly apparent.
This was certainly true for Antti Kyyro, Head of Regional Treasury, APAC at Nokia who moved to Singapore late last year, having worked in Europe his whole career. “In Asia, the variance across the region runs deep. Not only is there a distinct difference between the region as a whole from Europe, but each country has a unique culture, behaviour, way of life and also approach to business.”
Taking the leap into Asia from Europe has therefore required Kyyro to do more than just get to grips with his new role (his most senior appointment to date); he has also had to adapt to his new environment. As he explains: “There is a period of adjustment that is required after making any move, but in moving from Europe to Asia this is much more profound. There is a need to constantly remember that things may be done differently – even something as small as how to exchange business cards – and that this may impact how you are perceived.” While a challenge, Kyyro believes that ultimately it is worth it. “Asia has a unique energy to it with fascinating people, and remains as the growth engine of the world, by making the move I am no longer watching what is happening from the outside looking in, but have a chance to be a small part of it.”
The road to Singapore
Kyyro began his treasury career in 2007 when he joined the Nokia treasury team as a financial markets analyst following graduation from the Erasmus University Rotterdam with a Masters in financial economics – Kyyro had previously received a degree in economics from the University of Kent in the UK. Five months into his tenure with Nokia, however, the company entered into a joint-venture with German-based multinational Siemens, creating a new company; Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN).
He soon found himself propelled into the new NSN treasury team, something Kyyro admits was a steep learning curve. “I continued as a treasury financial markets analyst at the new company and the infancy of the treasury and the fact that the company was a creation of two large global organisations with very different backgrounds and cultures made the role a great learning opportunity.” For instance, Kyyro was expected to go above and beyond and spend time looking at various treasury processes from the two companies and selecting and developing processes to suit the new business. “The Nokia treasury was, and still is centralised, but Siemens was decentralised, so we spent a lot of time understanding the business as a whole and in educating the group companies on the new treasury operating model of the combined entity.”
Although the way events transpired meant that Kyyro had to learn quickly – and on the job – he is very grateful for the experience. “Being able to look at different treasury models and evaluate them meant that I was exposed to all four corners of the treasury, allowing me to understand these and develop a feel for what worked and what didn’t,” he says. “These are skills that I wouldn’t have been able to learn – at least so quickly – had I been working in an established treasury.”
As the NSN treasury matured, developing regional treasury centres (RTCs) around the world, so did Kyyro’s career. He moved through the ranks at NSN eventually becoming Manager, Financial Markets. In this senior role, Kyyro worked on a number of high-profile projects including a full scale treasury transformation which saw all of NSN’s processes redesigned end-to-end. He also worked closely on the Group’s EMIR project.
In 2013 however, it was all change at Nokia. Firstly it bought-out Siemens and acquired 100% ownership of NSN, and later phased out the brand name. In the same year, Nokia announced plans to sell its mobile phone business to Microsoft, reshaping the company to focus more on networks, mapping and advanced technologies. Change was also on the horizon for Kyyro, who in 2014 was offered the chance to head up Nokia’s RTC in Asia Pacific, something he was keen to take full advantage of.
“On a professional level the move has presented a brilliant opportunity to enter such a key region and acquire first-hand experience of how the business operates and how treasury can support it to grow in a sustainable manner,” he says. Moreover, as the key contact point for the business on all treasury matters it has also offered the chance for Kyyro’s team to be responsible for a wider range of treasury activities such as; regional cash management, risk management, and external financial and regulatory relationships.
The ability to run a department and leave your mark on the operation is high on most treasurers’ career wish lists and Kyyro is no different in this respect. “We all adhere to a global treasury policy, but there is flexibility within this to accommodate for the specific regional requirements.” This flexibility has allowed Kyyro to apply his own philosophy to regional operations around areas such as management of liquidity and working capital, financial risk advisory and the development of funding structures that suit the requirements of particular countries: “We are largely trusted as on-the-ground-experts to make the right decisions for the region.”
Aside from the daily treasury activities mentioned above, Kyyro has also been able to leave his mark on the company through his work as a strategic business partner to Nokia’s entities on the ground. As he explains: “The centralised structure of the Nokia treasury means that the RTC acts as a centre of financial excellence for the whole Nokia group in the region. The entities on the ground come to us with all manner of financial issues and questions to which we seek solutions within the RTC and through our central team.” Going beyond this, the RTC also proactively monitors the entities’ activities and the team uses their expertise to track trends, spot possible risks and develop solutions for them to become more efficient.
Leave your assumptions at the door
Asia, from a treasury perspective, certainly has a lot to offer a professional, including the chance to prove yourself in arguably the world’s most complex region. But there is a steep learning curve, as Kyyro explains: “The biggest challenge I have faced since moving to Asia is simply being new to the region. You have to start with the basics and understand what the treasury landscape is for each of the countries in the region. More often than not treasury solutions need to be tweaked and tailored to meet various local nuances. In Europe, for example, funding an entity is a simple entry in the system but in most of the countries in APAC it requires planning and thorough understanding of regulations and business cash flows to control for risks such as trapped cash.”
Understanding the different levels of maturity and sophistication across the various countries has therefore been a big task for Kyyro in his first few months and something he has not been able to achieve in a silo. “I have looked to leverage the expertise that is available across the region at every turn,” he says. “In addition to our business finance teams across the markets and our key banking partners which have been a great help I have spent time talking to our peers and attended finance seminars in order to gain a deeper understanding of the limitations and opportunities within the region.”
Kyyro has also made a conscious effort to learn more from the regulators and central banks in the countries where Nokia operates. “These are ultimately the key policy makers and the ones who define the corporate finance framework of a country,” he says. “Many of the recent regulations that are coming out of these countries impact corporates directly so it is vital to understand their impact.” Kyyro highlights Indonesia as one country in particular that he has focused on heavily because of the myriad of recent rules targeting non-financial companies specifically (including banning the use of foreign currency for domestic transactions). “It is essential to have these conversations in order to obtain an understanding of the direction a country is moving towards.”
A look to the future
Of course, understanding the direction the region is heading in is currently a big priority for all treasurers. Recent currency volatility in emerging markets, China’s slowing growth, its stock market uncertainty and, of course, frequently changing regulations are providing a number of external threats to corporates across all industries and requiring treasurers more than ever to anticipate the future.