“I wanted to work in finance in a role that would provide some variety of work,” says Kristen Covey, Asia Treasurer of global engineering company, Caterpillar. As she recalls her move in 1996 into the firm’s treasury team based at its corporate headquarters in Peoria, Illinois, she adds that being close to family and friends was also “appealing”. Here then are two elements that pretty much sum up Kristen’s career model: the quest for variety and continuous learning, balanced with an understanding that family, friends and ‘the team’ must never be forsaken.
Finding that balance can be difficult; it is a daily exercise for Kristen, especially now that she is based in Singapore away from her extended family. “It forces you to think about what is important and you are not always going to be able to predict personal or professional needs. It requires constant navigation through that to be able to attend to everything professionally and maintain time for yourself,” she says. The balancing act, she reports, does become easier with time, helped by an employer that genuinely espouses a “family-first” culture.
As one who appreciates the value of new experiences, Kristen has maximised the opportunities that have come her way. “You might say performing a variety of work is an understatement,” she comments. “I’ve had 12 positions in my 18 years with Caterpillar, with two overseas assignments including my position today in Singapore.” The diversity of roles to date includes marketing finance, Six Sigma, funding, foreign currency risk management and orders. Each provided “unique opportunities for growth and development”.
The key to Kristen’s success has been taking those opportunities as they come, regardless of how daunting they may have first seemed. Within three years of working for Caterpillar she had accepted an overseas assignment in Chile as one of the first female Americans the company had sent to South America. “I believe I wouldn’t have had this opportunity if it weren’t for the manager overseeing our finance programme at the time who helped me secure the position,” she notes. Despite “legitimate concerns” about safety, Kristen says she is thankful for having been given the opportunity, providing her with a commercial and personal perspective which she still calls upon today.
In a male-dominated profession, in the even more male-dominated engineering sector, Kristen chooses to focus on what the individual brings to the team. “I strive to create a team environment filled with trust, transparency and empowerment,” she states. As a result of her inclusive approach she takes pleasure in the success of others, male or female. “The most rewarding days, for me personally, are those when I see my team members growing and developing, delivering on challenging goals and really feeling proud of their achievements.”
Indeed, Kristen consciously enables all team members to fly solo as much as possible whilst offering guidance and reassurance when needed. “I’m hands-on when I feel I need to be but I really feel that a team is most efficient when everyone knows what needs to get done, they have the right tools and resources to do so, and they have support along the way. In the end they feel better about what they have achieved because it is due to their own effort.”
In this environment opportunities open up more readily for those with talent. For Kristen the gender-based ‘glass ceiling’ has not limited her progress to date. “The term ‘may the best man or woman win’ should apply – and it does within Caterpillar,” she reports. Her Chilean assignment was won in this spirit; clearly talent is welcome when it has the ability to see through problems and find resolutions. There are challenges that may be real threats, she notes, “but more often than not if you dig deep enough you can find the opportunity”.
In fact, Kristen feels that the treasury profession in general is in an opportunistic position to make its voice heard louder and clearer than ever before. Through the positive action of innovation, finding new ways to partner with other functions and delivering value to the enterprise, she believes more trust will be generated with business partners than by merely talking loudly without substance. “It’s about coming to the table, understanding business needs and delivering.”
Of course, different treasurers will draw upon different personal resources to keep ahead of the curve. Kristen makes frequent reference to what she feels is the best piece of advice she has been given in her career so far, dispensed by a former senior colleague at Caterpillar: “It’s a marathon not a sprint, so enjoy the run”. When you’re young and eager, she comments, you are always in a hurry to climb to the next rung. “The moment of epiphany is when you realise that it is not all going to be over when you reach the next position.” Whilst she is a firm believer that it is good to embrace learning opportunities along the career path and to extract as much as possible from each experience, it is essential also that family and friends fit equitably into the equation. “If you can do that in your career, you can grow with it and have fun”.