For Marlies Janssen, Head of Treasury at Van Oord, there is a solution to every problem, including managing a career, alongside family life. In this interview, Marlies candidly discusses the challenges between creating a healthy work/life balance and shares her views on the corporate treasury profession and her career to date.
Head of Treasury
Marlies Janssen started her career as an after-graduate intern at DiverseyLever (at the time part of Unilever) in 1996. In 1997 she joined Bausch & Lomb’s European treasury centre as a Treasury Analyst. After a short period at Rabobank International, she moved to the group treasury of Royal Vopak where she performed various roles from Cash Manager to Treasury Controller before being promoted to Senior Manager Corporate Treasury in 2009. During her time at Royal Vopak she lead various international project financings. In 2010 she was offered the opportunity to become Head of Treasury at Van Oord, a large Dutch marine contractor, the role she continues to hold. In her current role she is responsible for the worldwide treasury and heads up a team of six professionals.
As a busy professional, how do you balance work and family life?
I believe it is a matter of honing your organisational skills to make sure you are flexible and able to improvise, whilst having backup plans in place. It’s also important to be realistic about the time that you have available: sometimes I leave the house thinking ‘what a mess!’, but that simply isn’t my biggest priority.
Fortunately, the balancing act has been less of a burden for me due to the consistent support of my husband. We have both been able to develop our careers because we are committed to putting in equal efforts to our family life.
Do you think the business world is progressing in the right direction to enable women to achieve a good balancing act?
Possibilities for women to balance their personal and professional life are expanding. However, steps should be taken towards ensuring men are given the same chances. For example, the male employees on my team are offered equal opportunity to take care of their children.
Only focusing on women doesn’t help the business world head in the right direction – but giving men the same options opens up possibilities for both genders.
Do women bring something different to the needs of a successful treasury function?
In any business, diversity is important. At Van Oord, having a diverse age range and representation of international identities is just as important as gender balance, but having a combination of men and women ensures a great team atmosphere. That said, I think women bring something different in any profession – generally being better at motivating others, recognising their talents and encouraging them to be pursued.
What advice, that has helped you become a better treasurer, would you pass on to others?
It is sometimes difficult to see the vast opportunities that are available in the business world. I have always tried to keep my eyes open and not be too focused on a singular aspect – choosing to investigate everything in order to make informed decisions.
Finally, what is your motto in life?
There is a solution to almost every problem. However big the challenge is, I remain a solution-oriented and driven person. To make the most of the options and solutions available, however, you need to be flexible and well organised.
“I think women bring something different in any profession – generally being better at motivating others, recognising their talents and encouraging them to be pursued.”
Shortly after graduating from Rotterdam University, Marlies Janssen was first drawn to treasury during an internship at Unilever. Placed on a project to implement a somewhat less-advanced version of the cash management software that she uses today, Marlies explains “I had never considered treasury previously. Like many other people at the time, it was a relatively unknown subject to me. During that project, I realised it was something I would like to gain more experience in and I started at a regional treasury centre for Bausch & Lomb.”
Marlies credits an American colleague at the company for putting her on a great, but sharp, learning curve to treasury. “It was the eye opener to the forward-looking financial profession that is really close to the business, and my heart.” Early experiences obviously struck a chord with Marlies who has stayed in treasury for her entire career.
Ambitious and driven, Marlies advanced through various roles, from Cash Manager to Senior Manager of Corporate Treasury, within the nine years she worked for her previous company, Royal Vopak. The skills and knowledge demonstrated throughout her progression at the company resulted in Marlies leading the project financing team in a major joint venture between Royal Vopak and NV Nederlandse Gasunie. A project which she is rightly proud of, the development of Gate terminal (Gas Access to Europe) was often referred to as her third child! With initial costs of approximately €800m, the project was a huge success in meeting – and continuing to meet – the capacity needs for gas imports due to growing demand. As one of her key responsibilities in that role, and her current position, Marlies describes project financing as a hobby – second only to treasury.
This admission is typical of Marlies, who certainly knows how to prioritise. “You have to accept that you cannot complete everything with absolute perfection. Being realistic helps me prioritise.” But prioritising isn’t always glamorous, or easy. “Unfortunately, I don’t always have enough time for my friends. It’s probably my last priority at the moment and spending time with friends is definitely something I wish I had more time for.”
Ambition and action
Marlies credits the strong partnership between her husband and herself for enabling the progression of both of their careers. “By putting in equal efforts towards home life, our balancing act between personal and professional time is, well, balanced!” Therefore, when Marlies wanted to pursue a new challenge, one where she didn’t feel held back by being the second in charge, it is unsurprising that she jumped at the chance to be Head of Treasury at Van Oord in 2010.
Unphased by a company where treasury was a fledgling topic and only an under-developed department existed, five years later, she heads a six-strong department that is responsible for treasury activities worldwide. Marlies continues to add value to both the company and her career, but her contributions are not solely business-related. By emphasising the importance of not only discussing but putting into action notions of gender equality and international diversity in her team Marlies shows she is as forward-thinking as the profession she values.
In addition to outlining her ideals, Marlies is happy to share some good advice for others, such as: keep your eyes open for possibilities that you may not have considered, or even been aware of – just how being a flexible individual steered her into the career she remains passionate about.
Furthermore, Marlies emphasises that experience gained from different companies is invaluable. “Between companies, treasury departments will have different objectives and pose different challenges. I believe you become a good treasurer by seeing a few of these roles, the assorted experience bringing value to your career. Encountering the treasury department within a contracting business (such as Van Oord) in comparison to a company which deals with consumer goods, for instance, offers involvement in overcoming different obstacles.”
Despite her obvious experience in the industry, Marlies remains keen to learn. “There is still a lot to do in treasury if you look outside your normal routine. Just because people may have spent 15 years in one role, it doesn’t mean that is the only way the world works.”