Could you outline your career path to date?
I started at Citibank’s Dublin office. A few years later I left for my first foray into corporate banking, learning early lessons on the bank/corporate relationship that I still value today. A stint at Deutsche Bank followed, specialising in the advisory side and supporting my own multinational clients seeking to establish regional treasury centres. Later at J.P. Morgan, where I spent 13 years including time in Houston working in the oil and gas sector, I focused on cash management solutions, an area I love for its variety and constant evolution. I joined HSBC on the eve of the pandemic. Key focus areas have been supporting clients through the Brexit transition and navigating the impact of COVID.
What are some the most important contributing factors to long-term career success?
Flexibility, stretching oneself and experiencing failure are all important. But learning the importance of treasury’s holistic role and understanding the wider context in which a specific task sits within a company’s strategic priorities, is perhaps the most important. Only when you understand this are you on the pulse, able to position for opportunities, know the key growth areas. We need to be more than subject matter experts.
What do you mean by stretching yourself?
It’s about the need to expand beyond subject matter expertise. Success comes with doing something radical and getting out of our comfort zone. Many people shy away from applying for the difficult job, choosing instead to stick to what is in front of them. Yet we should take on the difficult assignments and volunteer for the messy tasks because this is where we learn and prove ourselves. It requires courage to give something a go and be prepared to make mistakes. But managers need people who go the extra mile beyond the day job. Treasury is a hard job made easier by a good dose of passion and conviction. You’ve got to make sure you really want it.
Why is failure important?
As my experience has grown, so my quest for perfection has faded with an acknowledgement that answers are rarely black and white. Today there is an expectation that people should get things right first time. Yet I believe in letting colleagues take a chance, go out on a limb, and see if something works. Getting something wrong is OK, and you learn very quickly from this. It’s about giving people autonomy and confidence to try something, and support to catch them if something does go wrong.
If something doesn’t work first time, it doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen because ways around exist. How people deal with knock backs is, in many ways, what defines them, and is certainly the skill I value most in my own armoury. When I missed out on a promotion, I fought off the tendency to sulk and deteriorate, throwing myself into the process once again. It’s easy to become your own worst enemy, reacting negatively and not coping with rejection. I worked on the gaps so when the opportunity came around again, all things being equal, I was in a better place.
The process mirrors client rejections. If you put effort into pitching and don’t get it, you don’t run from the client and never talk again. You pick up and try and find the next opportunity.
Why is flexibility in a career plan important?
It’s possible to control what we put into a job, but it’s impossible to tell when the opportunities will come - or disappear. You might have a great boss who leaves the company. I’ve seen people broken by a senior leader leaving a company and the project they were working on folding. My solution is to focus on personal contributions to an organisation and not depend on rigid outcomes – which are highly unlikely given the inherent flexibility required in business success.
What key issues threaten diversity today?
Diversity depends less on statistics and numbers and more on an organisation’s culture and inclusion, an area many companies need to do more. What roles are women in? What responsibilities do they have, and how are we listening?
Give people different opportunities rather than always assigning the same tasks to the same, safe, pair of hands. Give it to the outlier - this is where we need to improve inclusion. I am also increasingly concerned that improvements in ethnic diversity are not matched by better social diversity. Treasury continues to recruit from the same cohort of schools and Russell Group universities via rigid recruitment practices that ignore under-represented people lacking the same opportunities. Moreover, the pandemic will have exacerbated the inability of many to climb the social ladder because of its impact on education. We have lost a huge chunk of society.
Organisations also need to do more to support mid-level professionals. It’s much easier ensuring diversity in juniors but retaining diversity mid-career is much harder. It’s no good constantly replenishing at junior levels and letting the mid-levels go. It’s in senior positions there is a limited talent pool.