Silver Zuskin is Finance Director and EMEA Treasurer for Dell. With Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) and Certified Treasury Professional (CTP) qualifications under his belt, he has accumulated global experience across multiple functions including treasury, accounting, business process and trade finance. This has prepared him well for a life of change within one of the world’s best-known tech multinationals.
Finance Director and EMEA Treasurer
Dell is a US-headquartered multinational computer technology company. It develops, sells, repairs and supports computers and related products and services. It was founded in 1984 by student, Michael Dell. The company grossed more than US$73m in its first year. In 2016, it reported revenues of US$54.9bn and employed around 102,000 globally. In July 2018, Dell announced intentions to become a publicly-traded company once more.
For Silver Zuskin, Finance Director and EMEA Treasurer at Dell, managing change on the international stage is all par for the course. He’s been through some significant events in his career to date, affording him bragging rights that few can match.
Today, with responsibilities that extend across one of Dell’s core regions, Zuskin is part of a regionalised team of eight based in Bratislava, Slovakia and Cork, Ireland. Along with his peer regional treasurers, he reports to a global head of treasury operations, allowing for the synchronisation of global activity through a central treasury reporting committee.
Zuskin’s current remit is to handle cash and liquidity management and forecasting, trade finance, regional bank relationship management and a host of business-support activities and interactions that keep Dell financially strong – and treasury a key part of the team.
His financial career started in 1997 in the Slovakian office of a multinational telecoms business. “No one had the notion of treasury at the time so I started building out the function from scratch,” he recalls. Adding more activities such as payments and collections, credit risk, FX and bank relationship management, soon expanded the role into a recognisable treasury function.
Stepping back and admiring his creation, he could see treasury as “a very real activity”, where it is “easy to see what is being achieved in the moment”. This compared favourably with, for example, the backwards-looking role of accountancy. “Cash is a great real-time indicator of how things are,” he notes. “You either have it or you don’t. I like that aspect of the job.”
Later, with the same firm, Zuskin spent some time in Germany in a regional treasury, before returning to its Slovakian entity where he took on a small team. But the need to “find more room to expand” saw him turn his back on treasury, taking on an international corporate role in France. Here, he would look at the definition, creation and deployment of a SAP-based solution for small and mid-sized entities within the group, at a global level.
In creating a ‘template company’ in the SAP environment – and defining its business processes from a general ledger perspective – and going live with it in a number of countries, exposed Zuskin to “a very deep inside view” of those business processes internationally. “I feel this was perhaps the game-changer for me,” he reflects. “I now think it is very important to put on a different set of lenses from time to time. Looking at treasury only from one angle might restrict your perspective and not allow you to understand the views of other finance groups and other territories.” Taking a wider view, he feels, “enables you to increase your own level of competence as a treasurer”.
His varied experiences to date equipped him for his introduction to Dell, which came in 2006, having taken on an EMEA reporting role. This involved running a team of around 60, investigating revenue streams. The move to treasury came soon after, with Zuskin first taking on the full-time position of consultant at the end of 2007 and progressing to EMEA Treasurer in 2010. The role has evolved considerably in this time, he says, notably with the building out of Dell’s cash management Centre of Excellence (CoE). In truth, this point of arrival represents quite a journey for Zuskin and Dell.
CoE progress was mostly focused on how Dell would centralise its finance activities in the region, with many treasury functions ultimately moving into Bratislava. The project was part of Dell’s global treasury operations transformation that standardised and automated processes and moved treasury from multiple platforms to a single TMS, covering 700+ bank accounts over 100+ countries. The effort, which Zuskin says included streamlining bank connectivity via SWIFT, provided Dell with real-time visibility into cash, liquidity and risk. He played a key role here, helping the company treasurer at that time to win the award of Corporate Treasurer of the Year for 2012.
In 2013, Dell went private, ending a 25-year run as a publicly traded company. The US$24bn leveraged buyout, led by Michael Dell and private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, allowed the business to step back from the public gaze and reorganise. Then in September 2016, Dell acquired enterprise software and storage company, EMC Corporation and its controlling stake (around 80%) in its software unit, VMWare.
This US$67bn deal, one of the highest-valued tech acquisitions in history, signalled more change for Dell’s treasury. Previous reorganisation had afforded Zuskin the responsibility for the separate division of American international cash (versus US-only cash), and that of some countries in the Asia Pacific Japan (APJ) region, including Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore.
By 2017, the integration of EMC saw Zuskin relinquish some of his extra-regional cash responsibilities to the respective teams in the US and APJ in exchange for taking on all legacy EMC treasury activities in EMEA.
Perhaps the most significant change to arise from the EMC deal was that treasury was no longer part of a cash-rich company but instead part of a leveraged organisation. “We had to take a whole new view of how we treat cash and how efficient we could become with it,” notes Zuskin. Indeed, with some EMEA debt to manage, paying down “in the most accelerated manner” was the plan, forcing a new set of priorities for cash.
The change of direction saw the team putting together a more imaginative and effective cash infrastructure from scratch. It analysed its working capital flows to understand how it could release maximum cash from the process. It considered every source of internal cash, identifying pockets where it was being under-utilised. As part of treasury’s EMEA liquidity optimisation programme, it also assessed the benefits of physical and notional pooling, with an overlay structure, as a means of optimising intercompany flows and ensuring cash was never trapped in the intercompany settlement mechanism.
In his tireless quest to optimise treasury, although he had the guidance of skilled colleagues in corporate treasury to call upon, Zuskin says he remained an active player in a peer-group network of European treasurers. This, he reports, remains a most useful resource in terms of exchanging knowledge on current trends and challenges.
Furthermore, he says close relationships with his banking partners, diligently cultivated over the years, have also proven to be extremely beneficial as a source of wider industry knowledge and experience. With EMC having a similar panel of banking partners, the continuity and familiarity helped ease the process considerably, especially when gaining access to accumulated financial data for both organisations.
With the structure of the expanded business having been formatted and executed, there are certain activities that, whilst not dominating proceedings, now consume a lot of Zuskin’s time. Of particular note here is KYC clearance. This was ramped up by the EMC integration efforts, where the need to manage signatories was challenging. Again, he reports that Dell’s EMEA banking partners have “proven their worth”.
In practice, Dell has tried to centralise the process as much as possible, giving it a unified approach so that its banks have the opportunity to efficiently share the relevant KYC information they already have. “It means we don’t waste time providing the same documents repeatedly,” explains Zuskin, adding that Dell is now seeking to expand this compliance model to every bank it deals with. “We are efficiency-focused and we expect the same from our banking partners too.”
The idea that treasurers are becoming a more strategic partner to the business is one that Zuskin wholly recognises. Since he joined Dell it has become a highly acquisitive business and has naturally worked to extract value from each new combination. Treasury has played a vital role in enabling this. The same level of importance, of course, applied to Dell’s move to become a private business, where the shift from cash-rich to leveraged, described above, saw treasury manage both the funding of the transaction and the subsequent financial reorganisation.
Treasury has been pushed into the limelight to an extent with the coming of such transitional events. To this effect, Zuskin believes it has been vital for him, and his team, to be more business-oriented, where sound communication skills have been essential. “Often it comes down to actively listening to what the business needs to be able to carry out its strategic intentions, and then for treasury to find the best solutions,” he says.
As part of a truly global team, an international outlook is essential. In co-operating with people “from all corners of the planet”, Zuskin is aware of the need to be sensitive to cultural differences when seeking to fulfil the goals of the business. It’s not always easy to grasp the nuances of human interaction and so Dell has created a learning and development programme to which treasury has ready access, online and in person. It covers aspects such as communication and setting an appropriate work/life balance.
Diversity and inclusivity
One of the softer elements that Zuskin says is dear to his heart is the MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) initiative. MARC is a community for men committed to achieving gender equality and diversity in the workplace. It has been established by Catalyst, a global non-profit organisation that since 1962 has been expanding opportunities for women in business, working with some of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies ‘to build workplaces that work for women’.
MARC has global support within Dell. “At Dell we have made it a cornerstone of our strategy around diversity, making it a strength of the company – although we have broadened it out, renaming it as ‘Many Advocating Real Change’,” says Zuskin.
At a regional level, and within the Bratislava team, he explains that the approach to diversity is incorporated as “part of the necessary education and development” of all staff. Of course, most of the technical learning comes from on-the-job training and practical engagement with the day-to-day processes and challenges the team face. However, formal education within treasury also plays a key role in Dell’s progress.
With CGMA and CTP qualifications under his belt, Zuskin advocates a similar engagement with classroom learning. He supports his team in their undertakings which, with Dell’s full backing, also includes certifications from the likes of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).
Zuskin is also an advocate of informal learning. He believes attendance at major networking events such as EuroFinance delivers many opportunities to seek out additional information and industry views from treasury peers. The kind of advice that can be secured from such events is, he suggests, invaluable for the skilled professional and the novice alike.
From his own broad experience of treasury to date, Zuskin further urges junior treasurers, and those seeking to move into the profession, to gain as diverse an experience of business as possible at an early stage. He recommends taking on roles in other countries wherever possible or seeking out a role with a global organisation. This, he says, will help form a truly international perspective. “Then you need to really nurture your business skills and understanding so you can actively provide solutions and engage with the whole organisation. It is essential to keep learning.”
Treasury can be a full-on occupation, even for the seasoned professional. It is essential to find ways to strike a balance between work and home life. Away from the demands of running a key regional operation for a global business, Zuskin is very much the family man. “We like to travel a lot together, getting to know different countries, different continents even. It is important to me to raise my children to see beyond their home country, where people do things differently,” he comments.
Aside from the cultural exchange, Zuskin is also of the view that sporting and outdoors activities help individuals keep a balanced mindset. “It helps me switch off properly,” he explains. In fact, he encourages his team to do the same. Indeed, they can often be seen taking part in sporting activities together, including charity races.
Next big thing
With his own preference for hiking, cycling and all types of skiing, he is well-placed to take advantage of Bratislava’s rugged mountain setting. It is perhaps his readiness for the challenge of the great outdoors, allied with his broad base of business and treasury experience, that will prepare Zuskin for the next big thing in Dell.
In July 2018, the company announced plans to return to public trading. There will be no initial public offering per se as it will just exchange one kind of stock for another. Indeed, Dell aims to buy out owners of the remaining stock (about 20%) of publicly traded VMware, using cash and a newly issued “C” class of stock in Dell itself.
With the new stock to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the company will be back in the public sphere once more. Of course, treasury will be ready because managing change on the international stage is all par for the course.