My Life in Treasury
Michal Kawski, Head of Treasury, Gazprom Marketing & Trading
This month, Helen Sanders, Editor talks to Michal Kawski, whose career has spanned both consultancy and corporate treasury. Although most of his early career was based in Central & Eastern Europe, Michal is now based in London.
How did you first get into treasury, and what attracted you to the profession?
Treasurers often enter the profession ‘accidentally’ as part of their finance career. In contrast, it was my ambition to become a treasurer while I was still at university. A society that I belonged to at university was helpful in highlighting potential career routes and establishing external relationships with banks and corporations, so I initially got to know treasury through these contacts.
My original interest was in derivative instruments, as I appreciated the combination of innovation and logic, and the concept was relatively new in Poland. I soon realised that hedging was only part of the treasury picture, and I was further attracted to the breadth of a treasurer’s responsibilities across liquidity, risk, investment and financing.
How did your career progress to the role you hold now at Gazprom Marketing & Trading?
Career opportunities in treasury were relatively limited when I started my professional life. Whilst still at university, I worked for a publisher of a quarterly derivatives magazine Rynek Terminowy based in Krakow. This was a very helpful step in developing market contacts and expanding my knowledge of the industry. Once I had graduated, I realised the importance of gaining a wide breadth of experience so I joined Arthur Andersen that at that time had an excellent treasury practice in Poland. I started in audit but then moved into the derivatives team, whilst continuing to develop a strong grounding in accounting. I later joined a new derivatives and capital markets team at Deloitte in Warsaw where I spent four and a half years. As a new business, this was a great opportunity to gain exposure to a wide variety of treasury-related topics, mostly with corporations (particularly commodity companies) as well as some financial institutions. I need to stress that I was lucky to have worked with extremely talented individuals like Zbyszek Szczerbetka, Adam Kolaczyk (still partners in central European practice) and the rest of the team. They always were a great inspiration for me and helped to shape up my career.
Having spent my career so far in consultancy, I decided I wanted to gain some direct exposure to the corporate world. I had worked with more than 50 clients by this time across Central and Eastern Europe, and wanted to put what I’d learnt into practice. The timing of this decision was very fortunate as Gazprom Marketing & Trading was looking like a company with a great potential in 2006 and I decided to join the team there. At that time, the business was still very young and ambitious for growth. During the first year, we all had to be involved in every aspect of Gazprom Marketing & Trading’s finance function but shortly afterwards, we structured the treasury business into formal functions with specific roles and responsibilities and segregation of duties. In 2008, at the time of the global financial crisis, I was formally appointed as treasurer, although this was the job I had been doing previously. Like many other treasuries, the crisis was a rollercoaster for us, but in reality it was the best year we’d ever had, both in P&L terms and in the energy and dynamism we saw in the business. We had a clear vision of a global treasury function and we recognised that the crisis was an opportunity to realise this vision that we were unlikely to see again. Therefore, we centralised and optimised many of our cash and treasury management activities in a very short period of time, and we continue to focus on developing bank relationships, securing competitive access to financing and improving our FX and investment approach.
How do you think demands on treasurers have changed during your career so far, and what additional skills are required to meet these demands?
When I started my career, treasury was a very new profession in Poland and only the largest companies had a defined treasury function. Of these, many were less developed than comparable businesses in UK or US, while others were world-class. I have gained a great deal of experience and knowledge by developing and maintaining my contacts with many of these businesses, not only while I was working in Poland but also since moving to London. In the early years, the growth of treasury was prompted in part by the need to develop the skills to understand and manage the increasing variety of derivative products that were offered by the banks.