Getting out of your comfort zone is key to make well-rounded treasury professionals, says Sandra Ramos-Alves, Vice President and Assistant Treasurer, Treasury Operations at Bristol Myers Squibb.
Sandra Ramos-Alves is Vice President and Assistant Treasurer, Treasury Operations at Bristol Myers Squibb, based in New Jersey.
Sandra has a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Spanish from Rutgers University and a Master’s degree in Accounting from Babson F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business, with a concentration in Strategic Cost Management and Entrepreneurial Finance. She is also a certified public accountant.
With a distinguished career which extends beyond finance, Sandra’s hard work was recognised in 2013 when she was nominated for the HBA Rising Star Award at her company at the time, Celgene – later acquired by Bristol Myers Squibb, where she still works. Progressing from Director, International Treasury and Foreign Exchange to Executive Director & Assistant Treasurer, Sandra is dedicated to giving back to the treasury community. In 2019, her efforts were once again recognised at Celgene’s internal awards when she was nominated for Mentor of the Year.
I began my career in finance at Lucent Technologies, first through its financial leadership development programme, and then by being the Internal Audit Manager for the Caribbean and Latin America region.
Following an 18-month assignment in Campinas, Brazil, I moved to treasury when Lucent Technologies’ Regional Treasurer for Latin America stepped down and the FX manager took up the role. My experience in Latin America, and proficiency in both Portuguese and Spanish, made me an ideal candidate to take up the role of FX and Money Markets Manager.
After a three-year role at Cendant, I received a call about an opportunity at a small biotech company, Celgene, to help build an international treasury and FX function. I spent the first eight years in international and FX, and then transitioned to capital markets, where I spent six years working on optimal capital structure, capital allocation, debt financing, managing the credit facility and building relationships with the bank group and the rating agencies. Celgene was acquired by Bristol Myers Squibb in November 2019 and I am now taking the lead in managing global treasury operations.
What’s fun about treasury is that every day is different. Market dynamics drive whether you execute transactions, whether you execute FX or interest rate derivatives, or even share repurchases. Each day is dynamic, and you are in a position to really deliver value and actual P&L impact for the organisation.
From a professional standpoint, technology is continuously evolving. We need to assess how we transform our operations with robotics and artificial intelligence to further enhance and streamline our processes, while maintaining a strong control environment.
Personally, my goal is to obtain an optimal work/life balance. I need to continuously focus on balancing my career and my family, as, while they have always been my top priority, I’ve definitely sacrificed my family life over the years.
If you really want something in your career, you must ask for it. People may not know what your goals are, so you must verbalise and ask for things. We each own our careers and we must be proactive to achieve our goals.
“Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” I truly believe that empowering individuals on your team drives the desire to succeed, which ultimately leads to organisational success.
Sandra believes that positive steps are being made in furthering diversity and inclusion, and that this is allowing women to flourish and make their voices heard.
“In my experience, I have always felt that expectations of me were higher, so I always approached it like I had to work harder than my male peers,” says Sandra. “A tactic that I’ve used to empower myself to speak up has been to obtain knowledge on any particular topic to command respect in a room and to break down any gender barriers.”
The way junior professionals can go about gaining that knowledge is not limited to professional qualifications. Sandra also encourages individuals to explore the immense benefits of networking. “It really is crucial for growing in your career,” she says. Networking can lead to valuable mentorships, and often, the next growth opportunity may come through a network. Likewise, as an individual moves up the proverbial food chain and is looking to hire staff, a network of good relationships can be used to find good candidates.
Mentoring is something that Sandra is very familiar with – and passionate about. In the nominations for Celgene’s 2019 Mentor of the Year award, Sandra’s honesty, empathy and selflessness were highlighted as key attributes that make her both an excellent manager and mentor figure for many within the organisation. She doesn’t think it takes anything special to do this though, as she notes: “The mentor of the year nomination was truly a surprise. I care about my team’s performance and well-being; I simply treat them with fairness, kindness, and respect, and so I was humbled by the recommendation.”
She also believes it’s important to challenge the status quo. “Look at how things are being done, and how to improve or streamline them, while being really strategic and thoughtful in execution,” Sandra advises. Of course, teamwork is critical to getting the job done the best way possible: having access to a diverse range of ideas generally drives the optimal output.
This teamwork, she adds, must go beyond the treasury team alone and extend to partnering with the organisation to show how value can be delivered. Gone are the days of treasury being unobtainable in an ivory tower – which means that treasurers must now work to get their voices better heard in the organisation. “Treasury should be aligning strategically, thinking about the future of the company and supporting the business needs,” says Sandra. This could be through determining the optimal use of the balance sheet: either investing in additional business development or deleveraging, and the rating agency metric implications of doing so.
Personally, my goal is to obtain an optimal work/life balance. I need to continuously focus on balancing my career and my family.
Gaining treasury-specific knowledge isn’t the only thing that Sandra believes is important. Having made the switch to treasury operations in November 2019, the challenges she is currently facing are different to the ones she’s had for the past 18 years in front office roles. “I’m really learning about the nuts and bolts, and I think this will help me grow and make a more well-rounded treasury professional,” she says.
For others looking to progress, Sandra believes it’s important to step outside of the comfort zone. “It’s one of the best learning opportunities anyone can have. When I look back, had I pursued some opportunities outside of treasury earlier, I would have benefited from learning the business in a different way and developed new skills that would have been valuable in the long run.”
She recognises, though, that taking on new roles isn’t always an option, and that she’s noticed women often get comfortable in a role when they know they have to balance work with family. “Sometimes you stay in a role longer than you should because you don’t want to disturb family dynamics – in my experience, this is less of a dilemma for men, as they generally have partners to help with the care of the family,” she explains.
Overall, however difficult juggling personal and professional gender roles can be, Sandra is positive that the right steps are being made. In particular, she hopes that the recent focus on home working – and just how possible it is – could pave the way to more flexibility in the future.