The best tool a treasurer can have is a great team, says Michelle Dovey, Group Treasurer, National Express. In this interview, she shares her views on the benefits of gender equality in corporate treasury functions and outlines the importance of a collaborative workplace environment.
Michelle Dovey started her career at TI Group plc (now Smiths Group plc) in administration roles following a lengthy gap year in Spain. She moved into Group Treasury as a Treasury Assistant in 1997 then was promoted to Treasury Dealer in 1998, Dealer/Analyst in 1999 and then Chief Dealer in 2000.
Following the merger with Smiths Group in 2001, Michelle moved to AEA Technology plc as Treasury Manager.
After two and a half years at AEA Technology, Michelle moved to Imperial Tobacco Group PLC as Head of Group Treasury Operations. After working on a number of transformational acquisitions on the Group, Michelle was promoted to Deputy Group Treasurer.
With six and a half years at Imperial Tobacco under her belt, Michelle moved to National Express Group Plc as Deputy Group Treasurer in 2010, subsequently being promoted to Group Treasurer, the role that she continues to hold.
Do you feel that women bring something different to a treasury team?
Every team member, whether male or female, brings something different. But it’s true that men and women typically approach tasks in different ways, which is useful for problem-solving in the treasury function. So, gender diversity is definitely beneficial.
Balancing professional and family life is tricky – is the business world heading in the right direction?
Since technology now enables remote access, progress is being made towards flexible working arrangements which allow for a better balance of priorities. I feel strongly though that flexible working should be a society issue rather than a gender issue.
Men and women, regardless of whether or not they have children, should be able to have a balance between their work and personal lives. This flexibility is something that responsible business leaders should be pushing, not just female groups. I believe that we need to get to a position where employers do not know whether a woman or man that they are interviewing will be the primary child carer or not. To achieve true equality requires a fully flexible working model.
Are quotas the answer to equality in the workplace at all levels?
Quotas might work in the short term, but we need a better long-term solution that stops women leaving the workplace and enables the promotion of talented women to senior positions on merit. Only then will we see a balance of men and women in senior roles.
What is the biggest treasury challenge you are facing right now?
EMIR is a real hurdle. It’s extremely difficult to get internal buy-in for it because there is no financial payback to allocating staff to work on regulation. And at a time when Western economies are teetering on the brink of recovery, this kind of regulation puts an unnecessary burden on corporate resources.
The best tool you can have is a great team. That means having a supportive and inspiring boss together with a supportive and talented team that share your vision for treasury. At National Express, I’m very lucky to have both. They help me to be the best corporate treasurer that I can be.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
As with many successful women, I have a very strong role model in my mother. She has shown me throughout my life that it is possible to marry strength and determination with a nurturing and caring nature. I, together with my brother and sister, had a lot of encouragement to be the best that I could be, whatever my gender.
“Men and women, regardless of whether or not they have children, should be able to have a balance between their work and personal lives. This flexibility is something that responsible business leaders should be pushing, not just female groups.”
Heading up a corporate treasury department was not an obvious choice of career for Michelle Dovey. In fact, it was quite by chance that she had the opportunity to fall in love with the world of treasury. While working in an administrative role at TI Group (now Smiths Group) in 1997, a vacancy became available for a treasury assistant. Ambition, and a healthy dose of curiosity, propelled Michelle to apply for the position. Soon, she found herself working in a 12-strong treasury function under the guidance of the enigmatic Carol Power.
“It was fantastic having Carol as my first boss because she had also taken an administration into treasury route, so she was incredibly inspiring and gave me a lot of good advice. As for the role itself, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to find something that I really enjoyed doing. And when you enjoy what you do, it makes the world of difference to your performance,” says Michelle.
With plenty of on-the-job training from those around her, and the AMCT Diploma in Treasury under her belt, Michelle was soon promoted – on several occasions in fact. By the time TI Group was acquired by Smiths Group in 2000, she was Chief Dealer. “After the acquisition, I was offered the role of Treasury Manager, but I decided it would be good for me to make a move to a different company and experience something new. It was time to push myself outside of my comfort zone,” she explains.
In July 2001, Michelle joined AEA Technology as Group Treasury Manager. She subsequently moved to Imperial Tobacco in May 2004 as Head of Group Treasury Operations. After three years, Michelle was promoted to Deputy Group Treasurer and after three and a half years in that role, Michelle landed the position of Deputy Group Treasurer at National Express. True to form, after only 15 months at the company, she was promoted to Group Treasurer.
Equality and openness
It seems then, that being a woman in a male-dominated profession has not hindered Michelle’s career progression. Although she has not been held back as such, she does believe that the glass ceiling still exists. “It might be a little more brittle than it used to be, but it’s still tough. As a woman in business, you have to accept that certain people will always judge you first on your gender. Their opinion of you will be led by that, even before they have seen the quality of your work or capabilities. Women often have to work harder to win the trust or respect of these people, which can be quite exhausting.”
It can also be quite lonely. “As you become more senior within an organisation, gender gaps become more obvious. You often end up being the only woman in the room at both internal and external meetings,” she observes. “Nevertheless, I am very heartened by my team at National Express where I’ve been lucky enough to work with a few bright and strong women. My team is a very supportive and collaborative one.” In terms of gender balance, National Express’ treasury team of four is equally split between male and female professionals. “Previously we were actually an all-female department – which is pretty unusual in the world of treasury,” she jokes.
The collaborative team environment at National Express has also helped Michelle to recognise the importance of aligning her values, and those of the treasury team, with the values of the Finance Director and the Group. “Often, criticisms or tensions arise in companies because the treasury department, like many other functions, works in a silo and sets its objectives independently. What I have learned is to take the time to consider how my actions will impact other departments and group strategy. It’s also important to think how I, as treasurer, can make the company (not just the department) more successful.”
Adopting this approach should also help treasurers to make their voice heard within the organisation, she advises. “Treasurers, especially women, need to learn how to better employ their relationship skills within the company. Raising your profile internally will give you greater exposure and access to board executives, building trust and credibility. This can only be good for your career prospects, and for the standing of your treasury team.”