Women in Treasury

Women in Treasury: Aigerim Bekzhanova, Vanderlande

Published: Mar 2020

Aigerim Bekzhanova, Business Controller, Vanderlande

This much I know

Aigerim Bekzhanova, Business Controller at Vanderlande spoke to Treasury Today Asia to share her advice on how to overcome major hurdles and improve your career prospects.

Aigerim Bekzhanova

Business Controller

Aigerim Bekzhanova is the Business Controller for Vanderlande Airports and Warehousing & Parcel (South East) Asia, based in Singapore.

Aigerim joined Vanderlande in the Netherlands in 2017. Before Vanderlande, she had ten years of extensive cross functional experience in the oil and gas industry in Kazakhstan, where she held varying roles from auditor at Ernst & Young to corporate commercial roles in oil production and industrial automation. She has a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Accounting and Finance.

Tell us about your career path. Why treasury?

My choice of the finance field was determined by DNA: my aunts and grandfather held accounting and financial roles. In addition, I have a strong background in mathematics which helped determined my choice.

I got my Bachelor’s degree with honours in Business Administration and Accounting in Kazakhstan, at an international university which was established when the country gained independence. I had a great opportunity to be educated to an internationally recognised level and to work with some of the best professors from around the globe. I managed to graduate earlier than the normal curriculum and was eager to apply what I had learnt in practice.

After careful consideration of the big four auditing firms, I chose to start work at Ernst & Young, whose clientele covered the majority of major oil and gas firms in the country. I was involved in complex auditing and IPO projects. Those two years at Ernst & Young set an important foundation for my professional and personal development.

During my third year there, I took academic leave to pursue my Master’s degree in Accounting and Finance at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Upon my return, I made a conscious choice to move from auditing to corporate finance in the oil and gas industry.

Having held different roles in project finance and management in the oil and gas industry in Kazakhstan, I decided to take the next step – a change of industry and country. I moved from Kazakhstan to the Netherlands and after a year and a half I was transferred to the Singapore office, where I’m currently covering the Southeast Asia controlling.

What is your next major objective?

My objective is to further expand my duties regionally. I believe it will boost my professional and personal development further.

What’s the best piece of advice you have been given in your career so far?

When I was in audit, we had a golden rule – the 15-minute rule. When you face a challenge, think about it for 15 minutes. If you don’t find a solution within 15 minutes by yourself, then seek help. I apply that rule to my whole life now.

If there is one thing you could have done differently in your career path, what would that be?

I strongly believe that whatever happens in life is for the best. All the conscious choices we make will give us the necessary experience and develop particular skills that we might need at some point later in time. I once took on a role of project manager in an industrial automation project, which was quite a shift from my financial background, but developed vital skills that I am still utilising now. All the roles I’ve taken have helped develop me into a better business partner.

What is your motto in life?

If I can dream it, I can do it.

Take as many opportunities as you can, but sustainably – so you don’t burn out.

Overcoming challenges

The biggest challenges facing corporate treasurers, in Aigerim’s opinion, come from the localisation of global businesses, and the automation of processes. In the age of artificial intelligence, it is important to plan the human and artificial interface thoroughly in order to create the required efficiency. Additionally, Aigerim says that expanding businesses across the globe brings new challenges: “Cultural and political aspects can be game changers.”

However, moving around the world has also given Aigerim the opportunity to learn about other cultures’ ways of working – and for her, this has provided one of the biggest learning curves. She explains that moving to the Netherlands meant she had to adjust from Kazakhstan’s fairly hierarchical environment to the Dutch trust-based system, before adjusting back to a more hierarchical system when she moved to Singapore.

The key to successfully managing this, she says, lies with a piece of advice given to her from a manager in the Netherlands – “don’t be afraid to be vulnerable”. She argues that entering into an unfamiliar situation and being open about any hesitancies allows colleagues to support you. “When you’re in this transition and trying to grow, you have the opportunity to be a bit more vulnerable in the beginning, so that people can see where best they can support you,” says Aigerim.

In terms of how treasurers can make their voices heard within their organisations, Aigerim recommends identifying key decision makers and having good relationships at the right levels. “You need to help decision makers by providing valuable insights, but you also need to get insights from others. It’s a two-way thing,” she says. “Sometimes you can have amazing ideas, but not the ability to raise them properly – so it’s about making sure you have the right communication techniques and adjusting them accordingly.”

That said, Aigerim notes that one of the biggest challenges for women in the workplace is around achieving a work-life balance. “Make sure you have the right balance so you can enjoy your work and also your personal life, and live up to values and priorities by developing your own vision and enhancing it,” she advises. “Especially in a professional environment, I try not to differentiate by gender. There are common success factors for both genders, but my advice, especially for women, would be to be true to themselves and build the right platform for being heard.”

All the conscious choices we make will give us the necessary experience and develop particular skills that we might need at some point later in time.

Developing yourself

Looking back at her career, Aigerim believes education is important, and she encourages junior treasury professionals to learn as much as they can via different means: on the job, self-learning, and certifications and qualifications, for example. “Learn on the go and take offered opportunities to develop your unique and authentic approach to handling things,” she says. Additionally, she believes that the beginning of a career is important when it comes to setting good habits. “Building up your relationships, handling your resource management or time management,” she adds.

In order to move forward though, Aigerim notes that experience is a necessity – both having it, and actively seeking it out. “Take as many opportunities as you can, but sustainably – so you don’t burn out.”

Additionally, Aigerim notes that confidence is important. “Just know that you’re good enough to take any opportunities that are offered. I believe that it only lands on your desk once you are ready to handle it.” For women especially, she encourages individuals to ask for the challenges they think they’re ready to take. “Take your development into your own hands,” she concludes.

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