This much I know
Nestlé’s Alexandra Neely explains how treasury opportunities at the confectionary group can span global roles to becoming a financial leader within one of the divisions.
Alexandra has over ten years’ experience in corporate finance and treasury positions across multinational corporations. She joined Nestlé as Regional Treasurer for North America in 2019. In this role she heads up the treasury operations for the region, with responsibilities for cash management, foreign exchange hedging, supply chain finance and merchant services. In addition to supporting capital markets activity and overseeing the capital structure for the US, she continually seeks out opportunities to leverage new technologies and solutions. Alexandra holds an MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Economics from Wellesley College.
Tell us how you arrived at your current role.
Like many people I fell into treasury. After I earned my MBA in Finance, I joined a financial rotation programme at Constellation Energy where I served on their treasury and Financial Planning & Analysis teams.
My first rotation was in treasury, specifically capital markets. I loved it. And what I loved most about working in treasury was that every day was different. One day might be spent working on foreign exchange hedging; the next day reviewing capital structures – and the following day focusing on solving a cash management pooling structure problem.
After almost three years I had the opportunity to join Hilton. Although Hilton was a privately owned company, it was planning to go public, which meant there was the opportunity to really improve and transform the treasury function.
Then about 18 months ago I moved to Nestlé to be Regional Treasurer for North America.
How much opportunity is there for career progression in your role?
I am extremely fortunate to be able to work for a company like Nestlé – not just because it has such a global reach, but also because it believes that people are its most important assets. This shows in the coaching, training and empowering of each individual. Because Nestlé believes in investing in its employees, the opportunities could range from a global treasury role to a financial leader within one of the divisions. It really comes down to how you want to challenge yourself and grow your career.
What is the best piece of advice that you have been given?
There are two pieces of advice that I have received in my career that have been helpful to me. The first is that just because you might fail doesn’t mean you should not try. And the second is to always ask ‘why?’
What advice would you give to junior treasurers to advance their careers?
If you want to develop a career in treasury you must always be prepared to learn new things. Change is a constant and you will need to adapt.
Since the best way to learn is through hands-on experience, junior treasurers should seek out many different opportunities and experiences, thereby gaining a solid understanding of the fundamentals of treasury. And if you can’t change positions, I would recommend volunteering to lead short-term projects. As you expand your experience you will begin to see how the different parts of treasury interrelate, and how treasury’s activities impact the rest of the company.
Because Nestlé believes in investing in its employees, the opportunities could range from a global treasury role to a financial leader within one of the divisions.
Catalyst for change
In order for treasurers to make their voices heard within their organisations, Alexandra believes that they need to show the ways in which treasury is a strategic partner to the business – not just by highlighting its focus on stewardship and continuous improvement, but also by driving solutions that add value.
“Treasury should always be focused on understanding a business’s strategy, developing solutions to support those priorities and finding new technologies that can be leveraged,” she says. “Our treasury team is focused on understanding key gaps or obstacles to overcome, applying our financial expertise to introduce new solutions to our businesses.” Alexandra believes that in these ways, treasury can be an effective catalyst for change and help to drive transformation: “It’s important to demonstrate the positive impact of solutions in a quantitative way, and communicate that to as wide an audience as possible.”
For women who wish to advance their careers in treasury, Alexandra believes that seizing all available opportunities, combined with a willingness to learn, is key. “Identify opportunities to start building skills such as managing or coaching, or leading cross-functional projects outside of treasury,” she advises. “Experience has taught me it is not about the title, or about how many people report to you. It is always about learning. If you are not learning anything in your current role, start looking for a new challenge. It’s also important to seek feedback on how you perform in these areas, so don’t be afraid of that.”
In addition, Alexandra believes that gaining a strong understanding of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and robotic process automation, is becoming more central to day-to-day treasury management.
You don’t have the opportunity to have an impromptu chat, share a coffee or go out and celebrate as a team. You have to work harder to on-board new members, to develop a sense of camaraderie and team spirit.
Although Alexandra focused on developing a deep understanding of treasury early on in her career, she says that she sometimes found herself saying yes to projects or initiatives that she was not sure that she could achieve. However, she has also come to understand that the most important thing is having confidence in her own abilities. “I loved my work in treasury and believed becoming a technical expert would make me a stronger treasurer in the future,” she says. “However, having had more experience, I have come to realise that you don’t need to have all of the answers to be a leader in treasury.”
In fact, she believes that having experience in other areas such as operations can help with gaining a greater understanding of the impact treasury can have on the rest of an organisation. Treasury should not exist in an ivory tower, but should maintain good communications and collaborate with stakeholders across the organisation.
“We can’t just assume that everyone understands what we do and why we do it, whether it’s hedging foreign exchange or handling intra-group loans in a certain way,” says Alexandra. “Treasury needs to explain the benefits of what it does and the reasons why, and how it brings a positive impact to the business. It also needs to understand why other departments do what they do. Because at the end of the day, it is the business that drives the value in the company.”
As a leader, Alexandra acknowledges the challenge of keeping the team fully engaged and motivated in a virtual environment. “You don’t have the opportunity to have an impromptu chat, share a coffee or go out and celebrate as a team. You have to work harder to on-board new members, to develop a sense of camaraderie and team spirit,” she explains.
However, for all the difficulties the past year has presented, Alexandra remains focused on helping the team stay motivated and engaged. “When I joined Nestlé, my team and I have developed a vision for the kind of treasury department that we want to be,” she says. “Last year we launched a number of initiatives and changes. It has taken a huge amount of effort and a lot of hard work, and now those labours are beginning to bear fruit. We are not there yet, but we are well on the way to becoming the strategic partner for the business that we envisioned from the beginning.”