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.”