What is your career-defining moment?
I am always looking for new challenges and opportunities to grow. In 1994, when I was eight months pregnant, I changed jobs, moving from public accounting into treasury. It wasn’t easy but it certainly was a defining moment in my career. I realised that I could do anything, even starting a new job and giving birth in the same month. It certainly impressed my colleagues and hopefully inspired a few women along the way.
Which women in business most inspire you and why?
One of my bosses in public accounting would sign everything she did in very neat penmanship. She always said that you should sign your work with your full name because you should be proud of what you have accomplished. I try to apply her philosophy to everything that I do.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing just now?
The global financial environment becomes more complicated every day, so my challenge is to make sure we have a solid foundation in place to keep Omnicom going day-to-day and years into the future, without any hiccups.
What couldn’t you manage without?
My talented and highly motivated staff. If it wasn’t for their contributions, I wouldn’t be here today. They are a loyal, hardworking group. I would also add my babysitter, who has been the backbone of my family.
What is your next major objective?
We are working on a project that is likely to be a game-changer in payments. It will save Omnicom several million dollars a year in banking fees, make the company much more efficient, and provide increased visibility on our spending. This should be up and running in Canada and the US within a year.
What advice would you give to other women in treasury?
Use your creativity. Sometimes women have a different perspective which can be helpful during a brain-storming, problem-solving session. Don’t be afraid to be creative and thoughtful, nor to speak out, even when you are outnumbered. If you do it the right way, it will get the reception that it deserves.
If there is one thing you could have done differently in your career path so far, what would that be?
When I first went into public accounting, I was disappointed not to gain experience at a financial institution. Rather, the only opportunity I was offered was in the advertising industry. But if I had worked in a bank, who knows where I would be today. I couldn’t be happier than working at Omnicom.
“Don’t be afraid to be creative and thoughtful, nor to speak out, even when you are outnumbered.”
Winning the first-ever Treasury Today Woman of the Year Award at the 2013 Adam Smith Awards came as a shock to Maeve Robinson, for she hadn’t been aware that her team had nominated her. “I only discovered that they had nominated me when notified that I had won the award. I was so thrilled. And the best part of winning was that my staff thought enough of me to put my name in the hat,” she says. “Omnicom wouldn’t be where it is today without my great staff, so I think of it as a ‘team of the year’ award.”
Reading her case study clearly demonstrates the reasons why our judges honoured her, with 19.5 years of dedication inside the company, as well as outside the company in the wider community. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Robinson holds a number of other titles within Omnicom, including Treasurer of Omnicom Capital Inc. (OCI) and CFO of Omnicom Finance Canada, as well as having other global responsibilities. She is a founding principal of ‘Omnicom Cares’, her company’s community service initiative which organises projects in support of children worldwide.
Interestingly, as a result of her experience winning the Woman of the Year award, Robinson has recognised that developing women’s networks are very important and now plans to look into doing something at Omnicom. “I am thinking small at first, maybe just something in our building here in Connecticut, and then perhaps broaden out to New York City.
“Currently, we do not have a formal mentoring policy at Omnicom, although I think of it as part of my job to develop everyone who works for me. I don’t treat the men or women that work for me any differently, but sometimes I feel that women need a different type of mentoring than men, so I try to fulfil that requirement.”
On the job
Robinson began her career in accounting, spending ten years in public accounting at Coopers & Lybrand. She was fast-tracked to management, first to manager in three and half years and then on the partner path, but decided that she didn’t want to go on to be a partner. Through her public accounting experience she became a specialist in advertising agencies, effectively becoming the “go-to person” for any advertising-related questions.
When a good friend landed the job as controller at Omnicom, “which was my dream job” she says, he called Robinson a year or so later to see if she was interested in a career change out of public accounting and into treasury. “And thankfully, one thing led to another and that brought me over to Omnicom and my career in treasury – and I haven’t looked back,” she says.
Today, Robinson manages the US, Canadian and the Latin American treasury operations. The company’s global treasury structure is centralised within regional treasury centres (RTCs) acting as in-house banks (IHBs). Globally, the local offices conduct their own banking procedures but their account balance is reduced to zero at the end of the day and transferred to their designated RTC. The liquidity from each RTC can then be opportunistically invested locally or concentrated at the Connecticut treasury centre, headquarters for the corporation’s treasury. Robinson manages the company’s daily liquidity positioning.
The current market environment is creating a number of challenges for Robinson, as with the vast majority of other treasurers. “Liquidity is always an issue. Currently, we fund ourselves daily with commercial paper – it is inexpensive and a very liquid market at present. But that could dry up tomorrow and then what would we do? My job is to ensure that we have a structure in place to keep us going day-to-day in spite of challenging market conditions.”
In addition to banking and liquidity, treasury at Omnicom is responsible for working capital management, with Robinson managing the working capital programmes in the regions she oversees. “We work with all the operations in those regions to improve their cash management activities, including billing and collection practices, processing of vendor invoices, etc, in order to improve our working capital. This was a big part of my job when I first arrived, as accounting makes up a large part of working capital – for example understanding how the billing process works. This was an easy conversion to make because of my public accounting background.”
Her favourite part of the job is discovering ways to make treasury more efficient, looking for “the next big idea” to streamline processes by, for example, implementing a new system. Since Robinson joined the company in 1994, the organisation has grown seven-fold and treasury staff has only increased by between five and ten people. “As a result of putting in new systems and automating processes, there is less manual intervention and manual error, which ultimately means less risk for treasury,” she says.