My Life in Treasury
Alexis Wattinne, Director, Finance and Treasury, Bonduelle
This month, Helen Sanders, Editor, talks to Alexis Wattinne, Director of Finance and Treasury at Bonduelle, a French family-run company that is the world leader in prepared vegetables, operating in over 100 countries, about his career and experiences in treasury.
How did you first get into treasury, and what attracted you to the profession?
I started my finance career as a trainee whilst at university, and although I knew I wanted to develop my financial experience, I had not identified a specific direction that I would take at that stage. For a new graduate, the opportunities that treasury offers are not necessarily clear beyond those of a general finance career. When I was considering my first job after graduation in 1994, I decided to qualify as an accountant, as I realised the importance of establishing the basics before pursuing a career in finance. I started working at Leroy Merlin (part of Adeo Group), a large family-owned home improvement company in France and it was here that I first came across treasury, and ultimately became treasurer for four years. When I joined, currency risk was a major issue, and helped to take the company through its Euro migration path.
How did your career progress to the role you hold now at Bonduelle?
By 2002, I had a well-established career at Leroy Merlin, but there was little upward mobility by that stage in my career, so from 2002-2007, I expanded my experience by working for a bank, again in treasury. The contrast between a corporate treasury and bank treasury was considerable, not least as the activities were quite different. For example, not only was treasury responsible for short term cash and FX, but I was also responsible for proprietary trading in instruments such as bonds, asset-backed securities and asset and liability management for the bank.
In 2007, by which time I had become head of finance, the bank went through a merger, and my role would have changed to becoming head of asset and liability management. Although I had experienced five very interesting and dynamic years, I wanted to return to corporate treasury, and by chance, I was approached by Bonduelle around this time. Bonduelle’s treasury was small, only three people, and was part of the accounts department. At that time, liquidity was abundant and cheap, but the global financial crisis soon followed.
The financial crisis was accompanied by a new CFO at Bonduelle and a renewed focus on treasury. The Board was aware of the substantial liquidity and FX risks we had as a business so I was provided with additional resources to guide the business through this challenging time. Treasury was split out from the accounting department, and we built a strong treasury function that demonstrated industry best practices in our policies and processes, with a direct link to the group CFO, giving treasury an important strategic role in the business.
How do you think demands on treasurers have changed during your career so far, and what additional skills are required to meet these demands?
Treasury is a relatively new profession, so it is still changing and evolving. I have been very fortunate as a treasurer as I have witnessed some of the major changes that in turn will inform a generation. Since the crisis in particular, I think people are starting to see treasurers as more than simply an accountant who deals with cash management, but as the owner of market and credit risk who plays a vital strategic role in the business. The events of the past ten years: 9/11, collapse of banks that were ‘too big to fail’ and the very real prospect of Euro exit showed the world that what might seem impossible is entirely possible, which needs to inform our whole view of risk.