AFP Conference 2012 Show Report – Day 1: Opening Session and Being Bold
Florida is one of the key ‘home states’ of the US space programme and Miami, host to the 2012 AFP Conference, is of course its premier city. It is perhaps appropriate therefore that the event, with its theme of boldness, should be held in such an energetic space-age place. As Jim Kaitz, the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP), said during his welcome address at the Miami Beach Convention Centre, US, on 14 October, the astronaut Neil Armstrong set off on his bold leap forward to land on the moon from nearby Cape Canaveral in Florida, obtaining just reward for his audacity. Boldness does pay, he stressed, despite whatever economic or practical difficulties might lie in our way.
According to Kaitz, Neil Armstrong, who sadly died two months ago, was also a humble man, however, who liked to remind everyone that his famous “one small step” on the moon was only made possible by the collaborative efforts of countless others. Thousands of “small steps” had to be made by scientists, engineers and others to successfully advance the space programme, and indeed humanity, over the years. The point being that you don’t get anywhere without teamwork, added Kaitz, and that goes for treasurers talking at a conference and sharing experience and knowledge as much as it does for anyone else.
Kaitz’ welcome speech during the opening session of the AFP Conference 2012 pointed out how close the 6,000 plus treasury attendees were to the launchpad for that famous inaugural moon landing and exhorted the audience to tap into the same kind of energy. “It is amazing what we can achieve if we all pull together [like Armstrong encouraged us to do],” he said, before going on to thank all the treasury speakers, workers and volunteers who put the four-day AFP Conference together, encouraging attendees to “learn from the great speakers and sessions we have lined up for you [over the coming days].”
The Pinnacle Award and CCI survey
With knowledge sharing, collaborative effort and education in mind, the Pinnacle Award recognising the best treasury project of the last year was then handed out to Toyota Financial Services (TFS) during the opening session of the AFP Conference. The corporation received the grand prize for a treasury-led cross-organisational effort to establish consistent transfer pricing across product lines. Instead of using a benchmark rate as an approximate cost of funds, each loan at TFS is now match-funded based on its characteristics and expected monthly cash flows. The impact has helped treasury, finance, analytics, sales, and marketing at TFS make better informed decisions, enabling more-accurate funds transfer pricing and an additional US$10m in income per year.
The 2012 Pinnacle Award was handed out by Steve Ellis, executive vice president and head of wholesale services at the sponsors Wells Fargo. The bank also donated US$10,000 to TFS’ charity of choice, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. (To read more about the innovative practices at TFS please download our gtnews Awards 2012 Winners Book, which contains two TFS winning projects).
The runners up for the 2012 Pinnacle Award at the AFP Conference were Microsoft, which introduced a completely automated international zero balance account (ZBA) structure into its global liquidity management function, and Cliffs Natural Resources. The latter grew its treasury team from four to 14 people over the last year or more and implemented a global risk management policy to better manage its foreign exchange (FX) exposures after it acquired new business units as part of its international expansion.
“The AFP is extremely proud to honour the 2012 Pinnacle Award grand prize winner,” said Kaitz. “Toyota Financial Services’ solution certainly meets the high standards we expect of our winners and conforms to the theme of this year’s AFP Conference, which is to encourage bold visions for the future.”
The dire need for boldness was amply demonstrated by the simultaneous release of the latest AFP quarterly Corporate Cash Indicators (CCI) survey, which showed that corporate treasurers in the US who participated in the survey are continuing to hoard cash due to the tough economic picture at the moment. As Kaitz warned, “only when uncertainty dissipates, confidence in the economy improves and companies release their cash will the job picture significantly improve.”
New Chair and Keynote Speaker: Michael J Fox
The opening keynote speaker of the AFP Conference 2012 was due next and was introduced by Michael Connolly, vice president and treasurer at Tiffany & Co, and the outgoing chairman of the board of directors at the AFP. He lauded Michael J Fox as a speaker who had lived a remarkable life as an author, actor and activist specialising in raising awareness and treatment for Parkinson’s disease from which he suffers.
In one of his last acts before vacating the position of AFP chair in favour of the newly elected Susan Glass, global cash manager at Hallmark Cards Inc, who has been on the AFP board since 2006 and was previously vice chair, Connolly promised that “[Fox] will take you on a unique, inspiring journey that draws on his own experiences to make a case that real learning and growth can happen when life takes a challenging turn [such as an illness].”
It amounted to quite a billing for Michael J Fox to live up to as he finally took to the stage. His speech entitled ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future’, referencing his famous ‘Back to the Future’ movie trilogy, more than lived up to the introduction, however. The actor’s enduring popularity was also evidenced by the big crowds that had gathered outside the conference hall doors well before they opened 30 minutes before the speech.
Fox entertained the audience with an inspirational speech well-stocked with one-liners. Referring to the film that propelled him to the big time, he joked: “The one question that I’m always asked is ‘Where can I get a hover board?’”, although this wish is set to become a reality following Mattel’s recent announcement of plans to create a replica.
Dealing with Parkinson’s and Philanthropy
Moving through his early career, which began with bit parts and progressed to sitting next to Princess Diana at the royal premiere of ‘Future’, Fox also dealt wittily with how the first symptom of Parkinson’s disease first manifested itself in 1991, when he was still only 29 and shooting another big-budget film, ‘Doc Hollywood’. However, the news of his illness was only revealed seven years later, shortly after he had undergone brain surgery in a bid to mitigate the worst effects.
Fox said that once he had made the decision to go public with the news, the two vehicles he used were television broadcaster Barbara Walters and People magazine, which ensured maximum publicity. “I then saw myself on the TV in slow motion, which usually means only one of two things – you’re either dead or under indictment.”
More seriously, he realised that he was in a position to educate people about Parkinson’s and its effects and founded the Michael J Fox Foundation to champion research and assemble a knowledgeable team. “The pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to invest heavily in new treatments, even those that are promising ones, as it’s such a complex disease,” he said.
To date, the Foundation has raised nearly US$3m and is the second-biggest funder of Parkinson’s research after the Federal government. Nor is Fox’s acting career yet over. Recent television appearances have included ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ and ‘The Good Wife’, and in August 2012 NBC announced that he would star in a planned new comedy series based on his life.
Opening Night Party
As Fox’s speech came to an end the 6,000 plus corporate treasury delegates at the AFP Conference 2012 exited towards the opening day welcome party in the evening, via the newly opened exhibition floor where hundreds of banks, technology vendors, consulting and ratings agencies are gathered to display the latest products, models and ideas in the treasury sector.
Some attendees mingled, took samples, caught up with old friends and launched early ‘freebie hunts’ before going on to the welcome reception during the evening at the famous Fontainebleau Hotel, where Elvis Presley and the Rat Pack once played, on Miami Beach. It would take a bold performer to match those illustrious stars of the past but a few brave souls appeared to be clearing their throats to sing along with the latest hits as the evening wore on, although none thankfully in a karaoke style. The numerous late night live entertainment clubs, venues and bars in the big hotel complex looked set to be busy late into the evening.