My Life in Treasury
Albert Hollema, Head of Treasury & Investor Relations, Endemol Shine Group
With an uncanny knack of turning negatives into positives, Albert Hollema explains how he has drawn on past experiences to further develop his treasury career. He also shares his best advice for rising up through the treasury ranks – and as former Chairman of the Dutch ACT, he’s certainly in the know.
How did you come into treasury and what attracted you to the profession?
When I was enrolling for my economics master course at university, there was a choice between following a treasury route or an accountancy path. My friends were keen to go into accounting, but I wanted to try something different. The concept of corporate treasury was pretty new at the time in Europe, so it seemed exciting. Treasury is also much more forward-looking, and about driving future value, not just reporting on what has happened in the past. I’d also read a magazine article that said that a trainee accountant could progress to become Chief Accountant, but a treasurer could become CFO one day. That made treasury an even more appealing career choice.
How did your career progress through to the role that you hold today?
I’ve held quite a few roles over the years, so you will be sorry you asked! I was lucky to have a great start to my career at Royal Dutch Paper Mills as assistant treasurer, which was a new position. I was heavily involved in the development of the corporate finance and treasury department there, which gave me a good grounding for the rest of my career.
After three and a half years, I moved to an investment firm called Robeco. My main role was to look after the cash and liquidity, foreign exchange (FX), and investment positions of the various investment funds of the group. Because it was an investment firm, I was working with people who knew the financial markets inside out, so it was a great opportunity to learn first-hand how the capital markets, money markets, and FX markets really work.
Five years down the line, I decided to move back into the corporate world as I wanted to be a bit more hands-on. I joined GUS, a UK conglomerate which ran a retail home shopping business. I think GUS was the largest cheque processor in the UK at that time. Burberry was part of the group, as was Experian (credit research), and well-known UK brands such as Argos and Homebase.
Before I joined GUS, the chairman basically acted as treasurer asking all the entities to report to him the cash generated in that week. My role there was to set up an international holding company and later on we split the conglomerate into multiple companies – Burberry, Experian and Argos/Homebase were separately listed and the home shopping business and international retail was sold off. Once I had completed the project, I had effectively put myself out of a job as the conglomerate no longer needed a group treasurer. But the experience was invaluable.
Next, I moved to Numico, which produced baby foods and specialist foods. My purpose there was to help turn the company around after some unsuccessful acquisitions in the US – and after four years of doing just that, Danone bought the company. I then spent a year with AkzoNobel on the ICI integration. Then, I moved to NXP, which is the semiconductor spin-off from Philips.
When I joined NXP, the company was in a critical situation. Suppliers were knocking on the door, demanding payment. I knew a restructuring had to be done. So, we sold off parts of the business in order to generate cash to repay the debts. Those were very stressful days, but we managed a successful restructuring and refinancing with the NASDAQ IPO as the icing on the cake, and we made it through.
After that, I decided to look for a role that would give me a better work/life balance as I had been working six days a week. So, I moved to VimpelCom, which was setting up a new head office in Amsterdam. At the time, the company was owned one-third by Norwegian shareholders, one-third by Russian shareholders, and one-third was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The company made a big acquisition in 2011 and while its revenues and EBITDA were doubling, so were its debts.
I had a portfolio of nearly $30bn debt and $5bn cash, but a lot of the cash was locked in countries where we could not get it out. The challenge for me was to build a treasury team from scratch, because the office in Amsterdam was new. That role was another great learning experience and it taught me so much about different treasury environments, and about different cultures around the world. I also spent six months in Algeria as part of that role, trying to get cash out of the country, which we managed to do at the end. The only downside was that the role at VimpelCom didn’t exactly give me more time with my family.
So, after five years at VimpelCom, I felt like it was time for some relaxation. My family and I spent a few months in Africa together and I also sailed the Atlantic Ocean. It was such a fantastic experience and it was great to be away from email for a while too.
I hadn’t really planned out a return to work as such, but when I got back, one of the agencies called me saying they were looking for a temporary treasurer at Endemol Shine. I was feeling nicely recharged after my break, so I thought why not?
I started here as an interim treasurer but have now become part of the fixtures and fittings! It’s a really interesting role because Endemol Shine is 50% owned by Apollo, which is a private equity partner, and 50% by Fox, which is more of a strategic partner, leading to interesting dynamics. We have a high leverage and a strong focus on liquidity, financing, and foreign exchange, which makes the job very engaging. It puts treasury in the spotlight of the organisation. Right now, I’m working on a big treasury transformation project and we have already implemented a new treasury system as part of that. It’s both exciting and satisfying. It gives me the opportunity to implement all my previous experiences into the new treasury organisation at Endemol Shine.