Debra Todd, VP, Global Treasury Services at BP ended up in a treasury role quite by chance. She is now on her 13th job at BP in a career which spans 30 years. Her motto in life is to be brave. She was a panellist at our Women in Treasury Forum in London where she said: “You can do things you just couldn’t dream.”
VP, Global Treasury Services
Debra Todd has been with BP for 30 years. In her current role as Vice President (VP), Global Treasury Services, Debra is responsible for the central transaction processes, including the systems, cash forecasting and credit. She has also held other roles in Treasury within Banking Relations and Equity Operations. Outside of BP’s Treasury function, Debra has worked in Pensions and Finance for BP’s in-house trading activity and been Chief of Staff in Remediation Management in Chicago. Debra is a Chartered Accountant and is married with three children, who are nearly at the end of the education system.
How have you found the opportunities for career progression in treasury?
I originally trained as a Chartered Accountant and, after joining BP 30 years ago, I ended up in treasury quite by chance. I had worked alongside the treasury team in my early days at BP and when a role arose in the department, they asked whether I wanted to be considered for it. The job surpassed my expectations and I’ve been lucky enough since to work in a variety of treasury roles, as well as a number of other jobs in the group. I’m actually on job 13 of my BP career.
And what I have learnt along the way is that each role builds upon the preceding ones. Wherever you are, you are learning. Your colleagues are also gaining more understanding of where your strengths lie and how they can be used. Therefore – and this has been my experience – they will then be happy to propose other opportunities which use and build on those strengths. This type of collaboration, working with different people, people understanding my strengths and using them in a variety of ways, is what has allowed me to gain diverse experience across the group.
What more do you think treasurers – male or female – can do to make their voices heard within an organisation?
What’s important for treasurers, in order for their voices to be heard, is to ensure that what they describe or present is put in terms of what that project or request achieves for the organisation. This means relating all activity to what the business is doing and its strategy, and how what is proposed by the treasury will make the business stronger and more successful. That can be at both the group level, as well as at the micro level; when it is articulated and designed well, value can be delivered at each of these levels.
Do you see a day where we have equality in the workplace?
I definitely see that the position of women is growing within organisations. The treasury community has a large number of young women coming through – this was particularly evident at the Women in Treasury London Forum. The mixed demographic was brilliant. And the more women get exposed to treasury, just as to any other field, I think two things will happen. Firstly, women will feel evermore confident that they can step up, seeing others who have successfully done so, and, secondly, men will understand that.
If there was one tool that could help you in your role, what would it be?
Feedback – it’s the only way to know how we are doing both in the organisation and as individuals. Treasuries tend to be relatively small departments but they have extensive reach, affecting the whole organisation. Understanding treasury’s performance, what people expect and need from us, is the way to continually carry out operations in the best possible way.
“There may be gender differences in nuance, but women can do everything that is demanded by treasury activities.”
With 30 years’ experience at BP, Debra Todd, VP, Global Treasury Services, has enjoyed two lengthy stints in treasury, as well as experience gained from roles outside of the department. And it is from this diverse involvement that Debra has learnt numerous valuable lessons that she now shares with her three children, her team – and Treasury Today.
Like many of her colleagues, Debra enjoys the “umbrella view of the company” that treasury offers. “Treasury continues to play a key role in developing the financial framework for the company. By then executing that strategy, we are at the heart of the company’s operations. I just love seeing that overall picture of what’s going on. For instance, all the group’s major transactions come through us and that is exciting.”
Diversity of experience and thought
That isn’t to say Debra lacks a more localised view, however. After 12 years in treasury, she spent the following nine in other roles – including in Pensions, Finance for BP’s in-house trading activity and being the company’s Chief of Staff in Remediation Management in Chicago – before joining treasury again in 2010. Not only did others benefit from her group experience during that time, but Debra gained valuable insights into how treasury’s actions affect the group on a local level. “By getting involved elsewhere, you can appreciate how the different functions tick,” she says. And BP’s treasury boasts a number of personnel who have made similar moves, as well as members of the team who have stayed put. “The blend is a strength for us, and it is enjoyable to work in because you see different aspects of each situation.”
“My motto in life is to be brave. Earlier in my career, I didn’t always have the level of self-belief that I should have had. I look back at some of the really great opportunities that I’ve had and it was the men around me that thought I could do them.”
A similar blend, according to Debra, is desirable for all companies in terms of having a diverse workforce whether that is gender, background, nationality, sexuality and so on. “It’s critical that we have the diversity of thought that arises as a result of this,” she says. “We need to have different ways of approaching the same problem because these alternative ideas allow us to come up with the best solutions.” At the moment, there is not one particular challenge Debra is facing. Rather, she explains, “it is the ongoing imperative of ensuring operational excellence, dealing with change and ensuring that we continue to remain in compliance with so much change in regulation”.
The importance of bravery
Reflecting on her career to date, Debra says she has grown in confidence. “My motto in life is to be brave. Earlier in my career, I didn’t always have the level of self-belief that I should have had. I look back at some of the really great opportunities that I’ve had and it was the men around me that thought I could do them. They pushed me into challenges that I don’t know if I would have done on my own. And those have been some of the best experiences that I have had.” Debra now advises colleagues at BP and others, not least her two daughters and son, who are nearing the end of the education system, to be brave.
And advice that impacts Debra to this day came at a similar stage of her life. “Going back to one of my graduate recruitment interviews, someone from Coopers and Lybrand (now PwC) told me to remember that there is no fairy godmother,” Debra says. She has interpreted this to mean two things. Firstly, you mustn’t wait for other people to do what you want – courage is necessary for success and it is best to be personally committed to your goals. But she also applies the advice when managing her team. “I tell them: if you require my help, just tell me. I’m not telepathic.”
Debra never met the person who inspired her life motto again, but that his words have stuck with her ever since perhaps demonstrates the influence treasury professionals can have on one another. Debra herself can be considered someone from whom valuable lessons can be learnt. A poignant quote, for instance, from her attendance as a panellist at Women in Treasury’s London Forum was: “You can do things you just couldn’t dream.”