Since Kristen Covey joined Caterpillar in 1996 she has held various positions in treasury, finance and marketing, including stints spent working in Chile and Singapore. Throughout her career she has looked for new experiences and maximised the opportunities she has been presented, and she believes that the advent of technology is facilitating a more flexible and balanced working life.
Treasurer, Caterpillar Asia
Kristen Covey is the Treasurer of Asia Pacific for Caterpillar Inc., the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives. Kristen joined Caterpillar Inc. in 1996, and has held various positions in Treasury, Finance, and Marketing over the past eighteen years, including international assignments in Chile and Singapore.
Since September 2012, Kristen has served on the Board of Directors for Junior Achievement in Singapore, an organization dedicated to inspiring and preparing young people to succeed in a global economy by offering programs in financial literacy, workforce readiness and entrepreneurship.
Kristen has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Finance and Insurance from Illinois State University, and an MBA from Bradley University, both in the United States. Kristen completed Caterpillar’s Executive Leadership Program with Stanford University in March 2013.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing now, as a corporate treasurer? And as a woman in a male-dominated sector?
The difficulties we face as Treasurers aren’t too different for women or men. We are all challenged with how to best support our businesses in a world that is ever-changing. Regulations and technology continue to evolve, and this keeps us on our toes as we continuously assess and manage the challenges and opportunities that come with this from a treasury perspective.
Balancing professional and family life is tricky – is the business world progressing in the right direction?
At times it can be quite chaotic. I think the progress we are benefitting from in this space is twofold. Firstly, advances in technology are facilitating a more flexible and balanced life. With remote access, I can be volunteering at my children’s school and still stay connected for anything urgent.
Secondly, I think we are truly realising a shift in mindset, in that you don’t always have to be sitting at your desk during office hours to be working hard, meeting deadlines and delivering great results. It depends on the type of role you’re in and your direct responsibilities, but I have definitely seen progress. I have also learned to take charge of my schedule and block time for personal things that are important to me. Sometimes this is a bit easier working in Asia Pacific for a US-based company because often my work day is night-time conference calls with the US. But I’ve found if you don’t take charge of making your own balance, no one else will do it for you.
What is your motto in life, or your greatest inspiration?
My kids and husband are my greatest inspiration. They keep me grounded and remind me of what’s most important; enjoy life each day and take nothing for granted. You could say my motto is “live in the moment”.
As a treasurer, what is one thing that you just cannot do without?
Hands down, it’s a great team. Our regional treasury team is located in China, India, Japan and Singapore. With the complexities that come with doing business in the Asia Pacific region, it’s critical to have an engaged, proactive and diverse team that can execute well. I’m very proud of the team we have today.
“Advances in technology are facilitating a more flexible and balanced life. With remote access, I can be volunteering at my children’s school and still stay connected for anything urgent.”
“I wanted to work in finance in a role that would provide some variety of work,” says Kristen Covey, Asia Treasurer of global engineering company, Caterpillar. As she recalls her move in 1996 into the firm’s treasury team based at its corporate headquarters in Peoria, Illinois, she adds that being close to family and friends was also “appealing”. Here then are two elements that pretty much sum up Kristen’s career model: the quest for variety and continuous learning, balanced with an understanding that family, friends and ‘the team’ must never be forsaken.
Finding that balance can be difficult; it is a daily exercise for Kristen, especially now that she is based in Singapore away from her extended family. “It forces you to think about what is important and you are not always going to be able to predict personal or professional needs. It requires constant navigation through that to be able to attend to everything professionally and maintain time for yourself,” she says. The balancing act, she reports, does become easier with time, helped by an employer that genuinely espouses a “family-first” culture.
As one who appreciates the value of new experiences, Kristen has maximised the opportunities that have come her way. “You might say performing a variety of work is an understatement,” she comments. “I’ve had 12 positions in my 18 years with Caterpillar, with two overseas assignments including my position today in Singapore.” The diversity of roles to date includes marketing finance, Six Sigma, funding, foreign currency risk management and orders. Each provided “unique opportunities for growth and development”.
The key to Kristen’s success has been taking those opportunities as they come, regardless of how daunting they may have first seemed. Within three years of working for Caterpillar she had accepted an overseas assignment in Chile as one of the first female Americans the company had sent to South America. “I believe I wouldn’t have had this opportunity if it weren’t for the manager overseeing our finance programme at the time who helped me secure the position,” she notes. Despite “legitimate concerns” about safety, Kristen says she is thankful for having been given the opportunity, providing her with a commercial and personal perspective which she still calls upon today.
In a male-dominated profession, in the even more male-dominated engineering sector, Kristen chooses to focus on what the individual brings to the team. “I strive to create a team environment filled with trust, transparency and empowerment,” she states. As a result of her inclusive approach she takes pleasure in the success of others, male or female. “The most rewarding days, for me personally, are those when I see my team members growing and developing, delivering on challenging goals and really feeling proud of their achievements.”
Indeed, Kristen consciously enables all team members to fly solo as much as possible whilst offering guidance and reassurance when needed. “I’m hands-on when I feel I need to be but I really feel that a team is most efficient when everyone knows what needs to get done, they have the right tools and resources to do so, and they have support along the way. In the end they feel better about what they have achieved because it is due to their own effort.”
In this environment opportunities open up more readily for those with talent. For Kristen the gender-based ‘glass ceiling’ has not limited her progress to date. “The term ‘may the best man or woman win’ should apply – and it does within Caterpillar,” she reports. Her Chilean assignment was won in this spirit; clearly talent is welcome when it has the ability to see through problems and find resolutions. There are challenges that may be real threats, she notes, “but more often than not if you dig deep enough you can find the opportunity”.
In fact, Kristen feels that the treasury profession in general is in an opportunistic position to make its voice heard louder and clearer than ever before. Through the positive action of innovation, finding new ways to partner with other functions and delivering value to the enterprise, she believes more trust will be generated with business partners than by merely talking loudly without substance. “It’s about coming to the table, understanding business needs and delivering.”
Of course, different treasurers will draw upon different personal resources to keep ahead of the curve. Kristen makes frequent reference to what she feels is the best piece of advice she has been given in her career so far, dispensed by a former senior colleague at Caterpillar: “It’s a marathon not a sprint, so enjoy the run”. When you’re young and eager, she comments, you are always in a hurry to climb to the next rung. “The moment of epiphany is when you realise that it is not all going to be over when you reach the next position.” Whilst she is a firm believer that it is good to embrace learning opportunities along the career path and to extract as much as possible from each experience, it is essential also that family and friends fit equitably into the equation. “If you can do that in your career, you can grow with it and have fun”.