Hear from Cecilia Li, Head of Global Treasury at BeiGene, about career progression, collaboration and why it’s important to be able to demonstrate the value of projects and ideas.
After gaining her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacology from the University College London, Cecilia went on to acquire a Masters in Banking and International Finance. Following her placement with GSK as a research analyst, she joined the Noble Group as a management trainee. Since then she has gained a wide experience of all aspects of treasury, including credit, cash and capital management, market risk and foreign exchange.
In September 2020, Cecilia joined BeiGene, a biotech pharmaceutical company specialising in the discovery and development of innovative and affordable medicines for the treatment of cancer. As Head of Global Treasury, she heads a team of ten across China, Hong Kong, Switzerland and the United States. She was the Overall Winner of the Adam Smith Awards Asia 2021 in the Best Cash Management Solution category.
I joined BeiGene almost two years ago as Global Treasury Director. My current role is to look after cash management, investment, FX hedging and financing for the group. While I have been here, I have been able to use my previous experiences to build a global treasury and a first-class team for the company.
Firstly, if you want to have a rewarding and long-lasting career, you need to find a job or a role that really interests you. It’s also important to know what you want to achieve – whether that’s making improvements to operational efficiency, driving industry excellence, or by bringing a greater awareness of treasury to the management or the wider company.
I would also say it’s important to continue your learning so that you are equipped with the right skills and knowledge to help you advance. And last – but not least – have a work coach who is senior to you who you can approach to seek advice and guidance.
I think there is no set answer for this. Either path can lead to success, as long as it works for you.
In the beginning, when I was starting out in my career, it was extremely flexible. I was open in terms of looking at areas even outside of finance, and I was also flexible in terms of location. Having this approach helped me in terms of gaining a wider experience of, and a greater exposure to, different things. Over time it has become clearer what my objectives should be and what I want to achieve, so that I can concentrate on more concrete goals, but this has happened slowly.
One thing that I have learned over the course of my career is the importance of being able to influence people. In order to do that, you need to have the right attitude and mindset, and you need to provide additional value – not only to your immediate team, but also the wider company. The company and senior management always welcome opinions from all different angles, provided that these are constructive, and you can demonstrate the value of particular projects or ideas.
I have had a lot of role models and coaches at different stages of my life. Their paths are the best guidance I could learn from and help me to find ways to reach the next stage.
You need to have the right attitude and mindset, and you need to provide additional value – not only to your immediate team, but also the wider company.
After gaining her degree in pharmacology, Cecilia went on to achieve a masters in banking and international finance. Following a placement year at GSK, she started her treasury career in the Noble Group, gaining experience of all aspects of the treasury function.
In 2012 she joined McKinsey & Company, the global management consulting firm, where she helped to set up its treasury in the Asia Pacific region, a role that she reprised at her next position at the biotech company Amgen. When Cecilia joined BeiGene in 2020 to head up its global treasury, its position as an innovative pharmaceutical company was a perfect match for her qualifications in both pharmacology and finance.
“It was like finding my true home,” she enthuses. “I have been able to leverage all my previous experiences to build a world class treasury and a first-rate team for the company. We have a global team of ten people covering North America, EMEA and APAC to match our company’s footprint. The team is mainly based in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Basel and New Jersey, which allows us to cover all regions seamlessly.”
While she fully acknowledges the difficulties of the past two years, Cecilia is quick to point out the successes as well. “Of course there were times that the offices could not be accessed, and the team had to work remotely,” she recalls. “But we are in a much better position compared to other industries.” For one thing, being able to implement contingency procedures meant that the team knew how to seek assistance and information if required. “Leadership guidance is an important factor, ensuring that all resources are utilised so that we can achieve the same goals,” Cecilia adds.
Since the treasury team is based at various locations around the globe, work that needs to be done is not confined to the standard working day. “Collaboration and communication are key. When the team based in the Asia Pacific region finishes for the day, the team in the United States can continue the work during their daytime,” she says. “We can keep things moving by following the sun around the world.”
During the recent challenging times the company has not only been able to continue sales and delivery of its products, but has continued to move ahead at full speed. At the end of 2021 BeiGene completed its IPO on the Science and Technology Innovation Board (STAR Market) of the Shanghai Stock Exchange. The STAR Offering, one of the largest of the year, raised over RMB20bn (US$3.4bn) for the company. “In the latest quarter, our revenue is up 146% compared to the prior year,” notes Cecilia, “which is tremendous given the challenging environment.”
Meanwhile, the treasury team has had a number of other projects to work on. “We have set up two cash pools in China and opened over 70 bank accounts worldwide,” she reflects. “And that’s in addition to rolling out SAP host-to-host connectivity in all regions last year.”
On another note, Cecilia believes that BeiGene’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is second to none. “Our company has been doing extremely well in this area,” she says. “In April this year the company refreshed its comprehensive environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy.” As part of the ESG strategy and framework, Change is the Cure, BeiGene has identified ‘Empowering Our People: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion and Colleague Engagement & Well-Being’ as one of five strategic priorities.
Noting that Julia Wang was appointed as the company’s global CFO last year, Cecilia says the business environment has never been friendlier towards women: “So many companies now offer coaching and career development programmes for women. I know of many women’s groups which meet regularly – these are all good opportunities for us to explore our career goals and get advice.”