For someone who ‘ended up in treasury by accident,’ Karen Van den Driessche, Treasury Director EMEA at Avnet has done rather well for herself since entering the profession. In this interview, Karen talks about her biggest challenges as a treasurer and the importance of voicing your opinion in treasury.
Karen Van den Driessche
Treasury Director EMEA
Karen Van den Driessche is Treasury Director EMEA at Avnet, a role she has held since 2011. She is also Vice President of the Belgian Association of Corporate Treasurers. After spending two years at ING (former BBL) she started her career in treasury at Solutia as Treasury Assistant in 1997 where she was responsible for setting up a treasury management system and ensuring the recently spun-off company got its treasury department up and running. She moved to Coca-Cola Enterprises in 2001 as Treasury Analyst and was promoted to Treasury Manager Europe in 2003. After a five-month placement at Agfa Gevaert as Corporate Treasurer she subsequently moved to AB Inbev in 2008 as Treasury Director Western Europe where she took on additional responsibilities in working capital management, insurance and pension fund management before being promoted to Director Global Cash and Liquidity in 2009.
Is the business world progressing in the right direction in addressing the balance between professional and family life?
I think technology has provided us with the tools to be able to balance professional and family life, although this creates an additional challenge. With technology we can always be connected, which may tip the balance in the wrong direction. I think it is important for everyone to set their personal boundaries and to take a conscious decision about what they will or won’t do, as this balance is different for everyone. I have always been very lucky to work for organisations where there has been a lot of flexibility. But flexibility is based on trust, and this needs to be earned, on both sides. Progress is being made in the business world, although I am still amazed to hear that some organisations value mere physical presence in the workplace from nine to five over more concrete output.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing now as a corporate treasurer?
We have put in place a number of initiatives to bring our treasury to the next level, which makes life very challenging. For example, there is the global implementation of a new TMS (for which I am the global business lead); SWIFT connectivity; bank rationalisation from 50+ banks to six; and the subsequent preparation of a payment factory implementation. Combined with the changes and additional requirements in the regulatory environment, and finding and keeping the right level of skilled employees, it is safe to say that life is not boring in our treasury.
Do you see a day when there will be true equality in the workplace, at all levels?
If true equality means that each person gets to decide what they want to do and are not hindered by preconceived ideas of what women and men are supposed to bring to society, then I’m not sure, although I do hope so. It may take a while – but it is important that women want this to happen. I think that very often we, as women, are our own worst enemies by confirming time and again the gender cliché of women having children and staying at home.
What is the best piece of advice that you have been given in your career so far?
Be yourself (but be politically correct), work hard and deliver. But beyond this it is important to exchange ideas, network and not to get stuck in your ivory “treasury” tower. There are so many smart and interesting people and ideas out there – you need to make sure you get to interact with them and learn from them. This means never declining an interesting challenge or opportunity, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone – indeed, that is how I got into treasury in the first place.
Which regulatory initiative is currently the biggest concern for your treasury department?
The biggest regulatory concern for us is Basel III which is increasing the cost of banking and EMIR. We are reporting trades for EMIR but there is still a real lack of clarity about the requirements and fines.
“With the changes and additional requirements in the regulatory environment, and finding and keeping the right level of skilled employees, it is safe to say that life is not boring in our treasury.”
“I ended up in treasury by accident,” says Karen Van den Driessche. After two years in banking, Karen joined US agrochemical group Monsanto as a credit and collections specialist. At the time, Monsanto was spinning off its chemical division, and the company’s finance director asked Karen to join the EMEA treasury of the newly formed entity. After finding herself in the profession, she has never looked back.
“I didn’t know much about what the treasury function entailed, but it sounded interesting and challenging so I took the chance,” says Karen. “Fortunately it is an area I thoroughly enjoy, and I have learned a lot and met a lot of interesting and inspiring people. It continues to be a challenging and ever-changing environment.”
And despite her ascent to her current position, Karen believes there remains scope for career progression within her role.
“There are still a lot of opportunities for me in my current role. I currently have responsibility for EMEA, but I would certainly be interested in taking on more regional and even global responsibilities,” she says. There are, she adds, still areas where she does not yet have the same depth of experience, such as corporate finance and working capital management, which she would like to explore further.
“I work very, very hard but I enjoy what I do. People sometimes call me a workaholic but as I enjoy what I do, I don’t really consider it work.”
Voice your opinion
But how do corporate treasurers go about climbing the career ladder? “It is important to voice your opinion, to share your interests and achievements, and to work hard and be visible,” says Karen. “I am fortunate that the organisation I work for seems to appreciate this and takes it into account. Furthermore, Avnet has recently started focusing more on internal talent, which I think should help me as well.”
She is a firm believer that women add value to the treasury department in a way that their male counterparts do not. “I think that everyone brings something different based on their personality and drive, regardless of gender. But I do believe that women approach things differently than men; they take things more personally and feel the need to over-deliver in order to be considered equal to men. Thanks to this trait they are more attentive to the bigger picture and look at other options in the long term.” She adds that women are often less encumbered than men by their egos in getting their job done, “although, of course, there are always exceptions!”
Her motto in life reflects the ‘fun factor’ she applies to her job. “Enjoy life to the fullest – have fun in what you do and do it well,” she says. “I work very, very hard but I enjoy what I do. People sometimes call me a workaholic but as I enjoy what I do, I don’t really consider it work.”
For treasurers – male and female – who struggle to make their voice heard within the organisation, Karen has a word of advice. “Come up with ideas that support the business and show your added-value. Be visible and be interested in what is really happening in the company.” And it appears that Karen has done just that in her career in treasury so far.