For someone who was attracted to treasury by the complexity of the function, L’Oréal UK’s Jessica McDarren is not one to shy away from the relentless pace and intricacies of the work. In this interview, Jessica talks about the role of self-belief in treasury and importance of a constructive working environment.
Jessica McDarren started her accounting career straight from secondary school when she joined a small Chartered Accounting firm in Ayrshire, Scotland as Trainee Accountant. She immediately realised that accountancy was to be her future. She moved on to larger organisations while continuing with her accountancy studies. In 2005 Jessica joined a rapidly growing digital media agency as Financial Controller. This was a part-time role as she now had a young toddler to care for as well as her CIMA studies to progress.
In March 2009 Jessica became a fully qualified CIMA member following four years of weekend and evening study and was promoted to the full-time role of Head of Finance. It was at this time that Jessica was awarded Young Accountant of the Year by Accountancy Age. The judges said “[she] made the role her own while showing great tenacity and determination to achieve many things at once”.
In 2010 Jessica joined L’Oréal as Commercial Controller. After two and half successful years in this role Jessica decided to broaden her knowledge of the business and joined Corporate Finance as Treasurer for L’Oréal UK and Ireland. In August 2012 she re-located with her husband and two sons to South Wales.
Do you feel that women respond differently to the needs of treasury?
I don’t feel that there is a huge difference in the way that women and men respond to treasury issues. Different personalities do bring different skills and ideas to the role, though. That’s why I think it is really important in business to have diversity within a team. In my experience having a good mix of backgrounds, experience and gender can often be the difference between a team being successful or not.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now as a corporate treasurer?
One of the biggest challenges for me in my role now is time. I naturally get very excited about new projects and initiatives and ideas. But there’s only the same number of hours in every day, so I have to be realistic. Juggling multiple projects and responsibilities can be challenging, but it just comes down to knowing your priorities and good time management.
Is the business work progressing in the right direction in addressing the balance between professional and family life?
I think it is moving in the right direction. More than ever companies are thinking seriously about how they can support their employees achieve a good work-life balance. L’Oréal, for example, introduced a Work Smart initiative which gives employees great flexibility to manage their working hours. And that is to the benefit of companies as well, not just employees.
Often what companies find is that by offering employees greater flexibility around how they manage their working patterns with their personal life, they are helping them to be more effective.
It’s also quite important to remember that, for women, the work-life balance is not always about commitments to their immediate family, but can also involve the wider family too, such as looking after elderly parents and other such responsibilities.
I wouldn’t say that there is one specific tool out there that would change everything for us. But as a team we are constantly looking to improve the tools we are already using. That is one of the great things about L’Oréal: being in an environment where you actually have the opportunity to say how you want to see things develop and work on improving the processes and tools that you are using in the company.
“In my experience having a good mix of backgrounds, experience and gender can often be the difference between a team being successful or not.”
It was complexity that first attracted Jessica to treasury. Having begun her career as an accountant for a small medium-sized enterprise (SME), Jessica landed her first corporate role in 2010 when she joined L’Oréal UK and Ireland to work as a commercial controller for its L’Oréal Paris brand. Her first venture into a corporate environment proved to be a very enjoyable experience, but after two years she began to yearn for a new challenge.
Treasury, with all its complexities, seemed ideal in that respect. “I wanted to improve my knowledge of the wider company and acquire a different perspective,” she says. “So I decided that it was the perfect time to move into corporate finance – to get that exposure to the whole company and across all the different brands.”
L’Oréal offered Jessica a new role in the company and soon she found herself leaving London and relocating to South Wales with her husband and two children to work at the group’s finance shared service centre (SSC). With the responsibilities and reach of her new position in treasury Jessica now found herself exactly where she wanted to be – right at the heart of the business. But was she daunted by the relentless pace and complexity of the work? Not in the slightest. In fact, they are both elements of the job that she has strongly embraced. “What I love about working in treasury is that it’s so fast paced and, even more, that I have the opportunity to work across all of our 29 brands,” she says. “They all have different personalities and I like the variety that brings to what I do on a daily basis. That is what I really thrive on and enjoy.”
Managing such a broad scope of responsibilities requires a great deal of self-belief, of course. The advice Jessica received when she began her treasury role served her well though. “I was told that the key to success in treasury is to listen to your instincts and, more importantly, having the confidence to act upon them,” she says. “If you see a process that you feel could be improved don’t hesitate, but work to improve it. Likewise, if you have a great idea, then suggest it.” The culture at L’Oréal is, she says, very encouraging in that respect. “I think that is where I am fortunate to be working in the environment that I am. Our ethos here is that nothing is impossible and that means we do have an opportunity to try new things and move the department forward.”
“What I love about working in treasury is that it’s so fast paced and, even more, that I have the opportunity to work across all of our 29 brands. They all have different personalities and I like the variety that brings to what I do on a daily basis. That is what I really thrive on and enjoy.”
But what about the wider business? Does Jessica feel that treasury’s voice is heard throughout the organisation? That is a vital part of her work, she explains. At a fundamental level if the treasurer is not communicating with other divisions within the organisation then everything from straight-through processing rates to the timing of cash flows can suffer. But she also believes that taking a pro-active approach and engaging with other areas of the business is about much more than that. It can also give treasurers a chance to really make a difference in the company. “I think that is where we can really add value,” she says. “When you’re connected with the business and you are working with the brands or divisions then you really have an opportunity to shape new processes and come up with ideas on how to improve things going forward.”
That, perhaps, underscores Jessica’s approach to the treasury role. “For me the one thing that is never going to change is change,” she says. “In the business world you can either be a driver of change or you can be a passenger.” Jessica, quite evidently, falls into the former category.