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.”