For someone who ‘ended up in treasury by accident,’ Karen Van den Driessche, Treasury Director EMEA at Avnet has done rather well for herself since entering the profession. In this interview, Karen talks about her biggest challenges as a treasurer and the importance of voicing your opinion in treasury.
Karen Van den Driessche
Treasury Director EMEA
Karen Van den Driessche is Treasury Director EMEA at Avnet, a role she has held since 2011. She is also Vice President of the Belgian Association of Corporate Treasurers. After spending two years at ING (former BBL) she started her career in treasury at Solutia as Treasury Assistant in 1997 where she was responsible for setting up a treasury management system and ensuring the recently spun-off company got its treasury department up and running. She moved to Coca-Cola Enterprises in 2001 as Treasury Analyst and was promoted to Treasury Manager Europe in 2003. After a five-month placement at Agfa Gevaert as Corporate Treasurer she subsequently moved to AB Inbev in 2008 as Treasury Director Western Europe where she took on additional responsibilities in working capital management, insurance and pension fund management before being promoted to Director Global Cash and Liquidity in 2009.
Is the business world progressing in the right direction in addressing the balance between professional and family life?
I think technology has provided us with the tools to be able to balance professional and family life, although this creates an additional challenge. With technology we can always be connected, which may tip the balance in the wrong direction. I think it is important for everyone to set their personal boundaries and to take a conscious decision about what they will or won’t do, as this balance is different for everyone. I have always been very lucky to work for organisations where there has been a lot of flexibility. But flexibility is based on trust, and this needs to be earned, on both sides. Progress is being made in the business world, although I am still amazed to hear that some organisations value mere physical presence in the workplace from nine to five over more concrete output.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing now as a corporate treasurer?
We have put in place a number of initiatives to bring our treasury to the next level, which makes life very challenging. For example, there is the global implementation of a new TMS (for which I am the global business lead); SWIFT connectivity; bank rationalisation from 50+ banks to six; and the subsequent preparation of a payment factory implementation. Combined with the changes and additional requirements in the regulatory environment, and finding and keeping the right level of skilled employees, it is safe to say that life is not boring in our treasury.
Do you see a day when there will be true equality in the workplace, at all levels?
If true equality means that each person gets to decide what they want to do and are not hindered by preconceived ideas of what women and men are supposed to bring to society, then I’m not sure, although I do hope so. It may take a while – but it is important that women want this to happen. I think that very often we, as women, are our own worst enemies by confirming time and again the gender cliché of women having children and staying at home.
What is the best piece of advice that you have been given in your career so far?
Be yourself (but be politically correct), work hard and deliver. But beyond this it is important to exchange ideas, network and not to get stuck in your ivory “treasury” tower. There are so many smart and interesting people and ideas out there – you need to make sure you get to interact with them and learn from them. This means never declining an interesting challenge or opportunity, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone – indeed, that is how I got into treasury in the first place.
Which regulatory initiative is currently the biggest concern for your treasury department?
The biggest regulatory concern for us is Basel III which is increasing the cost of banking and EMIR. We are reporting trades for EMIR but there is still a real lack of clarity about the requirements and fines.