Treasurer SpotlightQ&AHilton’s treasurer talks technology and people

Hilton’s treasurer talks technology and people

Austin Clark sits down and chats with Fred Schacknies, Treasurer at Hilton to find out what it takes to lead a successful treasury team.

Technology continues to transform the role of treasurers, but the role also requires human skills. Since no treasurer is an island, they also need a team that is flexible and willing to incorporate new ideas and technologies.

Fred Schacknies, Senior Vice-President and Treasurer at Hilton Worldwide Holdings is keen to espouse the human element of treasury and at this year’s Treasury Leaders Summit, Austin Clark managing editor at The Global Treasurer caught up with Schacknies to discuss how technology is changing the treasury landscape, the type of people you should hire and why it all begins with knowing your company and customer.

You mentioned in your keynote presentation at the Treasury Leaders Summit that one of the keys to treasury success is knowing your customer. Can you expand on that?

This belief stems from my experience both at Hilton and other organisations. It comes down to understanding the company that you work for. The finance principles, management principles, they are universal, so nothing is really going to change there. It’s really the circumstance, time and place and how they’re applied that will impact on your treasury function.

In the time that I’ve been at Hilton, the company has changed tremendously, going from public to private and back to public. Shifting from highly leverage to less leverage, adding assets then shedding assets. That does change how you apply treasury principles.

Looking at my career prior to Hilton, I worked in technology, energy and banking; and the fundamentals of treasury are the same. But circumstances change and the priorities change. The personalities change too, understanding the leadership of your company and their thought process is equally important. To be successful in what you do in treasury is understanding the circumstances of your company, how it’s changed and who’s running it.

Within that, there’s a lot of people management. How did you lead your team through the changes that took and indeed continue to take place?

It starts with vision. At Hilton, we’re very fortunate to have a clearly defined vision. Our mission and values go back 100 years to Conrad Hilton. That’s really the grounding point for everything that we have across the company.

More specific to treasury, the framework of people, process and technology. The circumstances of one project to the next project is iterative and incremental. Each project is one baby step after another, but as long as you maintain a consistent vision, and that the vision is communicated and articulated to everyone involved, it’s the best you can you can do in terms of providing an end goal.

In terms of teams and projects, do you have to treat leaders and laggards differently?

Within the context of teams and projects, there is usually multiple things going on at the same time, they don’t often all proceed at the same pace, even though you’d like that. This does cause reflection, what’s stalling progress in some cases. There are lessons to be learnt from sharing personal experiences, especially around what’s been successful in one project that maybe be applied elsewhere.

You’re adding new people to your department all the time. What sort of skills sets you’re looking for now that you perhaps looking for five to ten years ago?

To be clear, we are adding people sort of incrementally. Although the company growth has been quite tremendous. Some are proud to say our growth in headcount has lagged behind company growth, which is a good thing. But we are adding headcount.

To your point about the skill set, that’s also evolved as well. Five to ten years ago, it was about needing a person with this skill set to do this function. It was about filling gaps. Looking forward, we’ve brought in people with different skill sets and we’re growing the skills knowledge and capabilities internally. After that it’s about culture, and how does everyone work together. It’s how does the group be better than the sum of its parts. What we are looking for now is functional expertise. If you don’t have that, there’s an assumption that you bring in people smart enough to learn on the job. Most importantly, what you need to look for is people who can work together and people who can help make the group better than the sum of the parts.

What role does technology play within those skill sets and the team itself. For example, treasurers are using automation more frequently in their day to day tasks.

Technology is an essential enabler of everything we do. I used to think of myself as a bit of a technology expert but, as years go by, I realised I’m relatively less so than the new people who come in, which is somewhat to be expected. The technology will evolve faster than we will.

That’s why I think bringing in people who have technology skill sets is essential. People who understand how technology can be applied can look at a function and think ‘well that’s kind of broken and I’m sure there’s a better way of doing it’.

How do you see things moving forward for treasury departments?

It’s about sharpening the focus of our process. There’s taking all the technology on the platforms that we’ve built turning the data into intelligence, integrating it so it’s seamless. Then it’s bringing the people together, thinking long term, thinking outside of your job and how my job can be better served by the next person who sits where I sit. While it is a little bit morbid, to think past your own professional lifetime. It’s important to reframe how you think about your own job and look at what the future might hold.

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