My Life in Treasury
Patrick Verspecht, Experienced Treasury Professional
In this edition, Helen Sanders, Editor, talks to Patrick Verspecht who has enjoyed a long career at Dresser Industries, Halliburton and GE. After more than 35 years in the IT and treasury professions, Patrick talks about his career and emphasises the importance of retaining experience in treasury.
How did you come into treasury and what attracted you to the profession?
I have to say that my career is not a typical one. In short, I started as a computer operator and became the global treasurer for a €4bn business. Having originally planned to go into medicine, I left university after a year in 1978, qualified as a programmer and became a computer operator the following year at the EMEA headquarters of American multinational Dresser Industries Inc. During the 1980s, there was a big expansion in demand for IT resources, so I quickly became an analyst programmer, and, having gained a degree in IT through night school, by 1983, I was responsible for the suite of financial applications running on the mainframe. I worked in IT for Dresser for about 19 years, including a variety of positions in UK, France and Belgium, and working on internal projects in Italy, Holland and Germany. These roles involved spending time in both the corporate offices and at various manufacturing plants. These 19 years gave me an in-depth view of a multinational corporation, and as I mostly handled finance-related projects, I gained experience in accounting and finance, supplemented by three years of accounting courses at the Belgian Chamber of Accountants.
After nearly 20 years in IT, I was looking for a new challenge, and in the late 90s, I became UK Controller for the Valves division of Dresser, which had since been acquired by Halliburton. In 2001, Halliburton sold this division to private equity investors, and the ‘new’ Dresser was born, of which I was a part. One of my main tasks at that time was, in collaboration with the group treasurer, to be the primary contact for treasury in Europe.
How did your career progress through to the role that you hold today?
In 2004, I was promoted to the position of European treasurer, then quickly became treasurer for EMEA. In 2011, we were acquired by General Electric (GE), and I supported the integration of both the Dresser business, and Converteam, acquired from Alstom into the GE treasury organisation. I then became the global treasurer for part of the oil & gas segment of GE, a €4bn business known as GE Measurement and Control.
There was a remarkable difference between working for Dresser and GE. Dresser was a highly leveraged company, so I spent a great deal of time seeking time with banks, of which we had at least one in each country, to support our $2bn debt position. The situation at GE was quite different: whereas I had been the one knocking on banks’ doors at Dresser, the opposite applied at GE. Personally, I found the scenario at Dresser more rewarding, as I think treasurers can add more value in a more leveraged environment. When working for a company with large cash balances, the role of treasury becomes more operational and less strategically important.
I remained at GE until February 2016 when the position was made redundant, and although I was offered other treasury roles in the US, UK and Italy, I decided that after 37 years working for US multinationals, I wanted to seek for other challenges in the treasury management space. I am currently working with a Swiss advisory & fintech company, FinMetrics, that specialises in financial risk management.
When trying to get a position in the corporate treasury world, I realised that, even for relatively high level roles, many HR departments are looking for younger people, when in fact experience is a valuable asset in treasury.
How have demands and needs in terms of treasury changed over the course of your career, and what particular skills does it now require?
Few corporate treasurers will forget 15 September 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed. I was in a hotel room in New York, glued to Bloomberg TV, when our CFO called to ask for an accurate report of counterparty risk. While today this would take most treasury departments no more than a few hours, it was two or three days before we could provide something accurate. So today, while treasury is still focused on the traditional disciplines of cash management, funding and foreign exchange/ interest rate risk, counterparty risk management and compliance have emerged as additional areas of responsibility.
Tax is also moving higher up treasurers’ agenda, previously to manage issues associated with transfer pricing, and now to consider the implications of BEPS (base erosion and profit shifting). Technology is another key area of focus: in one respect, it helps treasury enormously, but it is still something to get to grips with, including emerging technologies such as blockchain.
I would say that today, the treasurer of a large company must be able to rely on a good team for the day-to-day tasks, but largely spend time developing internal and external partnerships: internally with the tax manager, the compliance officer, and a wide range of other departments within the company and externally with banks, fintech companies, vendors and service providers, treasury associations etc.