As treasurer of the company that makes her number one efficiency tool (yes, you guessed it), BlackBerry’s Jennifer Ramsey-Armorer has an infectious enthusiasm for excellence. In this interview, Jennifer talks about everything from jazz to yoga, while sharing her experiences from the male-dominated world of treasury.
Jennifer Ramsey-Armorer is the Treasurer at BlackBerry, and oversees the company’s global Cash Management and Foreign Exchange functions, focusing on strategy, policies and process improvements. She is responsible for the Investment Portfolio for BlackBerry, managing all FX exposure (current and forecast) as well as Corporate Banking, Settlements and Global Payments. Jennifer is a graduate of the University of Waterloo and has been a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) charterholder since 1993 and a Certified Treasury Professional (CTP) since 2007. Prior to joining BlackBerry, she was Director, Treasury Operations at Mutual Life Insurance, Treasury Manager at Hatch Ltd (Engineering), and a Financial Analyst at MDS Inc.
What is your motto in life?
Be excellent at what you do. I aim for excellence in all aspects of my life – as a mother, a wife, an employee, a manager and a boss. I work every day to balance all of these roles and be at my best in all of them.
My BlackBerry! I would say that even if I didn’t work for the company – I don’t know how I would function without it. Whether by email, phone, or WebEx, my BlackBerry really is the essential tool to help me stay on top of tasks and communicate with my team and stakeholders around the world.
In your view, what is the biggest regulatory concern facing the treasury profession right now?
One challenge that I know a number of treasurers have navigated is the central banks in various markets. I’m fortunate to have experts that help us manage the regulatory requirements in each market where we operate, but I do know the industry is impacted by the many changes happening around the world.
What would you say is your biggest business challenge as treasurer of BlackBerry?
Given the public perception of the challenges our company has faced, the most difficult thing this past year is our ability to get credit, and make sure we have enough credit available to transact in global markets. As in most organisations, a challenge for us is always managing the cash flow and the credit of the company. Payment fraud is, and always will be, a treasury challenge, as the criminals get more creative and more technically sophisticated. Since we deal with 43 different currencies, we also have to keep up with varying foreign exchange regulations and reporting requirements, which can be time-consuming and complex, but we have a great team to help manage this.
How can treasurers do more to make their voice heard in an organisation?
Treasurers should ask, ‘What’s the risk of not being vocal and taking action?’ I think it’s important to identify what the risks are, create awareness of them through clear communication that sets up a business case and recommendation, and then take action. In order to be heard, treasurers should also have good judgment and earn trust in their CFOs. I’m fortunate that my CFO is very accessible by BBM (BlackBerry Messenger), and has solid knowledge of treasury and understanding about risk. He also trusts my judgment – if I tell him the sky is falling, he knows I mean it.
“I’m fortunate that my CFO is very accessible by BBM (BlackBerry Messenger), and has solid knowledge of treasury and understanding about risk. He also trusts my judgment – if I tell him the sky is falling, he knows I mean it.”
“It’s been interesting,” says Jennifer Ramsey-Armorer when describing her career path. And it is fair to say that she didn’t necessarily take a traditional path to the role of treasurer. In fact, Jennifer started in music, studying jazz as a vocal major and an instrumental minor at Humber College in Toronto. Despite her obvious passion for all things musical, Jennifer’s head for numbers soon kicked in: “I got all the way through, earned my degree, and realised that I’d never make enough money to survive.” It was time to look for a more stable way to earn a living.
“My first job was as a receptionist in a small Trust company. This was before electronic money transfers, and one of my tasks was handling cheques coming into the organisation. The day I held a $2,000,000 cheque was the day I decided that wherever that cheque came from, that’s where I wanted to work,” she quips. So Jennifer went directly to that department, and by chance fell into a treasury role – one of their employees was about to go on maternity leave, and they needed someone right away.
After stepping into the role with unexpected ease, Jennifer found that the learning curve was steep – not having a business background and trying to find her way in an industry she didn’t know well was always going to be a challenge. “It was suggested that I get a formal financial education, and for the next three years, working and with a small child at home, I earned my CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) designation in 1993 from The CFA Institute,” she says. The hard work certainly paid off. Over the next nine years, Jennifer moved up in the field of treasury and took up the reins as Director of Treasury at Mutual Life of Canada, which eventually became Sun Life Canada.
“The day I held a $2,000,000 cheque was the day I decided that wherever that cheque came from, that’s where I wanted to work.”
Keen to continue expanding her horizons, from 2002 to 2005 Jennifer earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Waterloo, which was located right across the street from what was then the original Research in Motion (RIM) campus, known today as BlackBerry. “I decided to take a bit of a break from work while enrolled in school, and worked part-time as a consultant at RIM in the early years. In fact, I helped set up BlackBerry’s treasury function. When my contract ended, I moved on to treasury roles at several other organisations – MDS (medical devices) and Hatch (engineering) over the next five years,” Jennifer explains. But then, in 2009, RIM reached out to her. “I returned full circle to the company as Director of Treasury, and have been enjoying every day since,” she enthuses.
As well as loving the company she works for, Jennifer finds herself motivated by the many and varied challenges presented by the treasury role itself. “In my opinion, treasury is the more interesting side of finance – it’s not just accounting; it’s credit analysis and investments, foreign exchange trading, quantitative analysis, risk tolerance and cash management – very compelling and crucial responsibilities.”
Another interesting challenge to the treasury role, as Jennifer sees it, is the fact that the industry remains so male-dominated. “Fewer than 10 percent of the senior positions in this field are occupied by women. And unless more of us get to that level, it’s difficult for younger women to have a mentor they recognise near the top of their field of choice, someone they can see and relate to with a ‘Wow, look at her, I bet I could do that, too’.
“I look around the table at our CFO’s regular meetings, and I recognise that women have progressed much further since the 1980s, but in a lot of ways we’re still a long way from equality.” Often in the minority at external finance conferences or networking events as well, Jennifer says that it’s hard to know how to change the status quo. “I’ve actually been told – by a man – that if I want to succeed in business, I need to learn to play golf to ‘fit in’. Honestly, I’ve gotten over trying to be what men want or expect me to be – I’m the person that I need to be. And for me, that means I’ll go to yoga class instead of going to play golf. But I’m happy with that choice and, at least so far, it’s worked out pretty well for me.”
Throwing down the gauntlet
Nevertheless, Jennifer is keen to challenge the industry – and professional women – to think about how we can set up future generations of women for success. Part of that will involve recognising gender differences and playing to them as strengths, not weaknesses, she says. For example, “I definitely believe women bring something different to a treasury role. Women in general approach problems differently than men do; we collaborate well, and we aren’t afraid to ask questions. Men and women bring different life experiences into the workplace, and it’s those experiences that cause them to see both problems and solutions in complementary ways.”
Proactively and openly talking about balancing professional and personal life will also be key to enabling more women to be successful – and to take on senior roles, believes Jennifer. “We can’t hide from the fact that women are the child bearers, and finding the balance between professional and personal life can be difficult.” Jennifer is based in Canada, where parents are afforded an entire year off for maternity – or paternity – leave, and it can be split between each parent. “I’ve seen more and more people taking advantage of this arrangement, with the male taking more of a parenting role. In my case, my husband and I shared parenting responsibilities as much as possible – and certainly more than my parents ever did,” she notes.
But even though home life may be evolving to cater more towards working women’s lives, after mothers return to work, maintaining that balance is a challenge. Says Jennifer: “As women achieve more senior positions and better pay, nannies or home care givers can be an option. But if you don’t start in those senior positions, if you are working your way up in a career with small children at home, it’s tough to put in long days at work and still have the time and energy to devote to your family.”
So what advice does Jennifer have for women aspiring to the higher treasury ranks, and how does she put this into action within her own team? “The role of treasurer is probably as high as you’ll go in this profession. I got all the way here, having really started from the very bottom, so I have great appreciation for every person on my team – their contributions and their career aspirations, as well as the expectations they have of me to lead them and help them grow.
“I emphasise cross-training on my team. Every person becomes more valuable when they not only know their own role, but they also understand how others impact the team. Someone in banking should also understand cash management; FX traders need to understand investments and interest rate swaps. That’s the biggest thing I encourage people to do – don’t just do your job, try to learn more about what others do and how that makes you a better employee,” she advises.
Finally, from a leadership perspective, making sure you’re hiring the right people is vital not only to the company’s success but to your personal success too, says Jennifer. “If my boss trusts me in making decisions, I need to trust my team in making decisions – I need to be able to rely on them as much as my boss relies on me.” And in her role at BlackBerry, it certainly seems that Jennifer can do just that.