My Life in Treasury
An Interview with Jan-Martin Nufer, Director of Treasury & Funding, Borealis
As winner of multiple TMI Corporate Recognition Awards, Jan-Martin Nufer needs little introduction to regular readers of TMI. We have been delighted to feature a variety of articles from him and his team at Borealis over the past two years, and in this feature, Jan-Martin discusses his career with Helen Sanders, Editor, and offers advice for aspiring treasurers.
How did you come into treasury and what attracted you to the profession?
My career can perhaps be characterised by ‘seizing opportunities’ right from the beginning. My first role after vocational training as a banker and studying economics at the University of Mannheim in Germany was in banking, when I joined Bayerische Landesbank’s excellent trainee programme. This involved a rotation across different departments, and a variety of assignments internationally to gain some breadth of experience. During this time, I received recognition for a project on regional airports I was engaged with, and was offered a new opportunity with VIAG AG, a long-standing client of the bank, which subsequently merged with VEBA to become E.ON AG. VIAG, one of the ten largest industrial groups in Europe at the time, was moving its corporate headquarters from Bonn to Munich, and needed help in treasury to support the new set-up. I didn’t know much about corporate treasury at that stage, and had expected to pursue a career in banking. However, with only 24 hours to make a decision, I researched the company and corporate treasury as best I could, and ultimately decided to make the move. What was clear at the time I joined VIAG in 1995 was that the corporate treasury profession was not yet very clearly defined, and being part of the generation to shape and extend the treasury remit has been an exciting element throughout my entire career.
How did your career progress through to the role that you hold today?
VIAG was a huge, diverse conglomerate with a very professional treasury set-up, which was an excellent start for a corporate treasury career. We had established our own trading room and aimed to be a centre of excellence across our operations. Although we acted as a centralised treasury and advisory function for the group, subsidiaries were not obliged to work with Head Office treasury. As a result, we had to offer better conditions and a better experience than a bank, which gave me valuable negotiation experience. Furthermore, as a conglomerate incorporating a range of industries from production, through logistics and trading to utilities, each business unit had quite different treasury and corporate finance needs and cash and risk dynamics, so it was important to understand their requirements in detail. I was responsible for the telecoms portfolio which gave me an ideal background to my next role in Connect Austria, when we received the local licence. From then, I fulfilled various treasury, finance and consultancy roles besides others at Babcock & Brown and Swiss International Airlines, and ultimately joined Borealis in 2006.
How have demands and needs in terms of treasury changed over the course of your career, and what particular skills does it now require?
Treasury has only been shaped over the past 20 or 25 years in Germany and the surrounding countries, although it has existed for longer in the UK and US. This meant that there was some uncertainty about the role and content of treasury, especially during the early years of my career, but this also gave more flexibility and ability to shape the function, and indeed, there is still lots of marketing to be done about what treasury is and what it does. When I first started in corporate treasury, technical skills were the priority: cash management, risk management and hedging, systems, financing, etc., but it has evolved to become a partner to the business, and needs strong links both internally and externally to support the organisation and bring professional strength through expertise and relationships. As treasury’s sphere of influence has expanded into areas such as long-term funding and other contracts, M&A, investor relations, insurance, credit and many others, the breadth and diversity of relationships has expanded. As a result, while treasury earlier used to be relatively secluded, there is now a far greater focus on interpersonal skills, influencing and management of complex, multi-disciplinary projects.
The complexity of the business environment has also grown dramatically, and treasury is responsible for managing a wider range of risks globally in an environment of increased market volatility. While mathematical and other techniques are important, treasurers also need a clear sense of risk and the confidence, skills and mandate to react quickly.
What is your greatest professional achievement to date and why?
I have been fortunate enough to have seen both treasury and banking from the perspectives of each other, which has given me a unique insight into the needs and constraints of each party. In addition, I have been involved in major milestones at the companies for which I have worked. For example, during my time at Connect Austria (later Orange Austria), we went from effectively being a start-up with 30 people to a mature company employing 1,200. As one of the very few original finance people, this presented me with a huge opportunity to get involved in a wide range of issues and build a high performing team from scratch that could support the company’s ambitious growth strategy.