Meena Dafesh is busy integrating the treasury operations of Ingram Micro’s recent two acquisitions in the Middle East and Africa. She identifies moving from managing treasury at a country level to managing a region as a career-defining moment.
Director of Treasury, Asia Pacific
Meena Dafesh is Director of Treasury, Asia Pacific at Ingram Micro Asia Pacific, a Fortune 100 company and the world’s largest technology distributor. Dafesh has responsibility for the treasury function across Asia Pacific, and more recently Middle East and Africa. She has been with Ingram Micro for over seven years and is currently based in Singapore. Prior to that she held various treasury roles while based in her native Sydney. Dafesh is Certified Practising Accountant (CPA) (CPA Australia) registered and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business (Accounting and Finance) from the University of Technology, Sydney.
What is your career defining moment?
Early in my treasury career, I was thrown into the deep end by my boss, which forced me to work things out for myself. I spent five years building up basic treasury skills and laying the foundations of my career. My second career-defining moment was moving from managing treasury at a country level to managing a region. This was a big challenge and outside my comfort zone, not so much in terms of treasury but more in terms of working across different cultures.
Which women in business most inspire you and why?
There are some amazing women who run large corporations such as Marissa Mayer, CEO at Yahoo!, and Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi Co. But I am also impressed with the “real” women I see on a daily basis. Some of the women I work with juggle work, children and home life, and also contribute to the community – these women are also inspiring.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing just now?
Integrating the treasury functions of two recent acquisitions is the biggest challenge I face today. Although I have been involved in a number of acquisitions in the past, the integration work has not been on this scale before.
What couldn’t you manage without?
The people I work with, including those in the regional and global treasury functions, as well as the other business units that treasury works with. My interaction with the business determines the success of treasury, so I couldn’t manage without them. In addition, I couldn’t manage without the strong relationships that we have built with our key banks; they provide us with invaluable support, specifically when entering new markets.
What advice would you give to other women in treasury?
I would advise planning your career from an experience perspective and not base your decisions on remuneration. If your experience is broad across all areas of treasury and you also have in-depth knowledge, then the money will follow. Too many times I have seen people specialise in one area of treasury (such as cash management or FX) because they are following the money instead of looking for the right experience.
What would you have done differently if you could?
The only thing I can think of is learning another language – Mandarin would be my first choice.
“If your experience is broad across all areas of treasury and you also have in-depth knowledge, then the money will follow.”
Although her job title covers the Asia Pacific region, Meena Dafesh has recently seen her responsibilities expand to include the Middle East and Africa, following two recent acquisitions by the world’s largest wholesale technology distributor Ingram Micro.
Dafesh joined Ingram Micro in 2005 as Treasury Manager for its Australian business, based in Sydney. Eighteen months later, she was promoted to a regional position in the treasury team for the Asia Pacific region, based in Singapore. She was senior manager for about four years before taking up her current position as Director of Treasury.
“When you are working in a regional office in Asia Pacific, you cover a number of countries,” she notes, pointing out that dealing with different cultures can be a challenge. “I think the best thing to do is to try to be humble and realise that there is a lot to learn from the people around you. I didn’t come in with an attitude that I knew everything and I was open to learning from my co-workers in these countries, who in return have been very supportive.”
Dafesh faces a further challenge, as not only does she have to tackle the relatively large Asia Pacific region, she is now responsible for two geographical areas which are new to her in terms of banking and regulatory environment.
“It has been interesting to say the least, but I like a challenge,” she says. “It has been a fascinating journey, discovering how Middle Eastern and African countries operate in terms of treasury and regulatory frameworks. It has certainly been a steep learning curve. I have embraced the expanded remit along with the challenges and opportunities it brings, and importantly, I have a great team to support me.”
Born in the Middle East, she moved to Australia when she was very young. Dafesh entered the treasury sector through a twist of fate rather than as a planned career move. She was working in a small public accounting company as a junior accountant, doing the books for a few clients; but a few months into the job, she realised that it was not for her.
She applied for an accounting position with Hutchison Telecommunications in Sydney, hoping that accounting in a corporate environment may be far more interesting, but was offered a treasury position instead. And she has not looked back since. “I took the chance and it was the best decision I ever made. I have been in treasury for the past 13 years and I love it.” She is not shy to admit that she is one of those “fortunate people who love their work”.
“The best thing to do is to try to be humble and realise that there is a lot to learn from the people around you.”
So what does Dafesh like about treasury? “The diversity of the work. There are so many things happening. You are juggling a number of balls in the air at the same time, whether in cash or debt management, or negotiating with the banks, as well as talking to the business about funding needs.”
And it does not stop there, especially with an expanded geographical remit. She is now busy integrating the new acquisitions’ treasury activities.
Moving to Singapore to take up a regional post at Ingram Micro was the easiest thing Dafesh has done, she says. “Singapore is such an effortless place to settle in, as everything is easily accessible. The vibrancy of the city is appealing to me as I grew up in a similar environment in Sydney. The lifestyle is great,” she notes.
Dafesh achieved her accountancy education in a different way to most of her counterparts. She did her first year at university as a full-time student but switched to part-time studies the following year, graduating from the University of Technology, Sydney.
“I decided to get a full-time job in accounting while I did the rest of my degree part-time. Training while on the job made sense to me because I believe that there is no point in learning without applying what I had learnt. I needed my education to be relevant, to be able to apply it and see the purpose of what I was learning. This path of development really worked well for me,” she said.
So what new challenges lie ahead for her? “The next 12 months will be about integration and ensuring the treasury function continues to support the business during a time of change and opportunities,” she explains.