The Future Treasurer events seek to highlight treasury leadership and foster and nurture the skills that create treasury leaders with lessons and insights from pioneers in the industry. Our 2023 gathering of bay area tech treasury professionals in Palo Alto, hosted by Allspring Global Investments and the Treasury Today Group began by highlighting the importance of treasurers becoming specialists early on in their career.
A generalist has no more skills than others, but perfecting one thing can boost career progression, said opening panellist Eric Ball, whose career experience spans Treasurer at Oracle, CFO at an AI start-up to his current role as Founding General Partner, Impact Venture Capital. Speaking to Sophie Jackson, Publisher & Head of Strategic Content at the Treasury Today Group, Eric said treasury was his natural home because he had always sought a corporate role that would give him the most opportunity to make a difference. Espousing the virtues of treasury, he said it rewards easily transferable analytical skills, sits within a strong community and carries real responsibility as guardian of the balance sheet.
In recent years, technology and the availability of real-time data has transformed treasury into a strategic role grounded in decision making. Eric recalled how, in previous roles as an FX manager, he spent long hours working hard first simply to measure currency exposures. “Today you just go into the ERP and see what the currency exposures are and go straight to addressing it.”
It makes it much easier to manage the fallout from tumultuous events like 9/11 or the GFC. Alongside wider events, he said treasury’s role within an organisation ebbs and flows in line with corporate growth, like international expansion.
For sure, treasurers are risk averse. But that doesn’t mean they can’t innovate. For example, when he was treasurer at Oracle between 2005-2015 Eric became one of the first treasurers in a tech company to issue debt to support the company’s acquisition trail. “During my tenure, we bought 105 companies,” he said. Since then, issuing debt has become commonplace amongst tech firms where treasury prowess around stock buybacks and dividends counts as other essential, specialist skills.
Eric, who has written several books, also sounded on the importance of taking on different and energising projects alongside treasury. There is a tendency to always stick with the tried, tested and proven, he said, but trying to do difficult things and breaking out of the treasury mould is fruitful. “In treasury you are trained to be risk averse. You are the most risk averse person in the corporation.”
Treasury is also a route to CFO. But making the jump to CFO from treasurer requires switching from being a specialist to a generalist. “Treasury skills no longer matter so much,” says Eric. Sure, the accounting team report to the CFO, but then so do other teams like HR and IT. He added that the CFO role also required FP&A skills that he wished he’d honed before, rather than learn on the job. “Some of what you do as a CFO is high level and strategic; some of what you do is take out the trash,” he joked.
Treasury’s niche skills and experience, particularly in capital markets, make treasurers sought after board members. “Be a specialist, show your value,” said Eric. Treasury also equipped him for his next step heading up a venture capital firm where his role centred around drawing in LP investment and dialing for investment dollars to channel into entrepreneurial companies, taking time to understand their business models. Fittingly, he has always been drawn to startups focused on in-house treasury management tech and supporting the treasury function.