People, Treasury

Chat with the Corporate Treasurer: Mr Chris Emslie Regional Treasurer General Mills

October 17, 2017

Chat with the Corporate Treasurer: Mr Chris Emslie Regional Treasurer General Mills

We had the opportunity to speak to Mr Chris Emslie Regional Treasurer for General Mills in Singapore. Chris is a frequent speaker on the Corporate Treasury scene and he serves as a member on the Executive Committee of the Association of Corporate Treasurers (Singapore). Many fellow Corporate Treasurers will recall his debates on Excel vs TMS and his candid opinions and pragmatic approach towards the adoption of Technology.

In our chat with him, we try to ask him on other less known aspects of his professional life and get him to share more about his experiences working in different countries. And we hope that his views and advice will help our readers, some of whom are pretty young and junior and who are contemplating about joining the Treasury industry.

TFAGeeks: Hi Chris, once again thank you for joining us for a chat and agreeing to sharing your views and experiences with our readers. You came from South Africa, had lived and worked in many other countries and had held leadership roles in a number of MNCs, notably Regional Treasurer General Mills Singapore, Country Treasurer, ABB Singapore. Will you be able to share your experiences garnered over the years working in different countries, time zones and cultures?

Chris: Hello, thank you and it is my pleasure to contribute and share with your readers. I have had many different roles over the years from auditing, finance, SAP integration specialist, Credit Management to Treasury.

In terms of working environment, there is a big difference working in Johannesburg looking after Africa from structured to a very unstructured environment, things are always different you need to be able to find solutions, work on the individuals strengths to accomplish tasks. You need to assess how things are done differently in different setups, learn from other senior managers, seek their advice and most of all have an open mind to discuss, ask questions and learn.

It is not always easy working away from your comfort zone but you need to learn to adapt. For many of us our head office usually operates in a different time zone and it is not always easy to pick up the phone and ask for advice. Thus it is crucial that we learn to be self-sufficient and prioritize what is important and what isn’t. Also, one has to utilise the networking that you have, email or reach out to your business partners to get assistance.

TFAGeeks: Is it necessary for a modern Treasurer to be cognizant and be able to adapt to cultural differences? You are very settled in your new environment here in Singapore, how do you adapt to the culture here, could you give some advice for our readers, some whom might have to move out of their comfort zones and sometimes work in setups with norms that might differ from theirs?

Chris: First of all, I believe I’m adapting well to Singapore, it’s a colorful culture with interesting practices. I really think one need to take the time and effort to learn the culture and understand the nuances as it will always be different from where you originate. Sometimes, one can be surprised at how just the little things can really go a long way in earning the trust of your peers and employees. This unfortunately does not happen overnight and it is important to be patient when integrating into a new position in another country.

In my opinion, the key to success is to be flexible and remain open minded; learn the cultures; understand the dos and don’ts; and ensure that you are ready to embrace the new and differing cultures. Having such a mind-set will help you integrate far quicker both in the working environment and in your personal life.

TFAGeeks: As a Regional Treasurer, what are your key challenges and main concerns? In recent years, many MNCs are setting up Regional Treasury Centers in Singapore, and by far and large, most have relatively little experience in Treasury or have the necessary talent or staff for their new setups. What advice will you give to these organizations and the new Heads of Treasury?

Chris: Yes, it is exciting times in Singapore and for myself too. I think the best advice is to be patient, set up a strategy that is both long term and yet retain flexibility to cater to change. As we have seen and witnessed, there are changes in many countries almost on a daily basis and the risks are not just currency, financial but also geopolitical and regulatory – you need to be able to adapt as quickly as possible to your surroundings. If you plan well enough, everything will fall into place and you will be able to work around the barriers or roadblocks that might unexpectedly occur.

TFAGeeks: You have been a notable speaker at many events, either as a moderator or a guest speaker, you are actually quite tech savvy and active on online social platforms. Technology has changed the way people are interacting and sharing knowledge, some has opined that we have an overload of information, and some think that the traditional events/seminars are facing challenges from the online social platforms, what are your thoughts on that?  

Chris: Whether it is the sharing of ideas on a social network or using the latest technology to do your job, Technology is revolutionizing the way we perform our jobs and making our lives much simpler in the long run. However, I still believe that the basic act of human interaction is still the best mode to share ideas, hear what other people are doing and to be engaged. Things like having a healthy debate over pros and cons and challenging one another over what is the best practice for the way forward. I still believe that the traditional events do add value and given the right content continues to help the modern Treasurer in their journey of improving and constant learning.

TFAGeeks: What are your views on technological disruptions? Do you think this will last or soon it will be just another passing fad?

Chris: This is a difficult question and like anything yes, it is a fad but it is not going to disappear soon. We will continue to see technological disruption and when one fades away it will be replaced by another. I believe that this is good for the modern Treasurer as it raises our ability to find the right solution and it is making our current partners (banks or service providers) sit up and improve their product offerings and capabilities.

TFAGeeks: As a Treasurer & Finance Leader, what are the issues and problems that will cause you to lose sleep at night?

Chris: I do believe that there are a lot of things that you could worry about. Whether it is currency volatility or the political tensions in the region, but my biggest concern is always about the things that we don’t know, the things that are happening in our organizations that are not flagged by our controls, and the risks where we have not fully mitigated as the landscapes are ever changing. Here I refer to issues like cyber risks and the risks of fraud where the perpetrators are really becoming far more sophisticated and smart in how they go about in executing their crimes.

TFAGeeks: There are many aspiring undergraduates and finance professionals who wish to join the Treasury industry, whether in the Buy or Sell side. What advice would you give to them? Apart from the necessary technical skills and knowledge, what other factors are necessary for outstanding performance?

Chris: This is always an interesting and exciting question, in my view, the most important thing is to build relationships. One needs to have people and partners you can call and ask for good advice, frankly we do not know everything and from time to time we will need good contacts and people to assist or even point you in the right direction. Get yourself a mentor or a good sounding board to share ideas, check your logics and thought process. Lastly be patient, everything comes with time and don’t be afraid to take on more responsibility to grow your knowledge and expertise.

TFAGeeks: Many young men and ladies aspire to be a CFO, Finance Director or Group Treasurer. What advice would you give them? Do you think it is necessary to embark on a paper chase in order for them to rise up on the corporate ladder, i.e. doing the MBA, CFA etc.?

Chris: I am a big believer in experience and working your way up the ladder with hard work and a commitment to the cause. Paper is always a good tool, to have a degree or an MBA is certainly helpful but nothing beats work experience, making tough decisions, learning from your mistakes and celebrating your successes. These build you into a well rounded individual that companies would want to hire because you have been there, done that and have proven to have the capacity to make the tough decisions during difficult times.


about author

Seng Ti is currently heading a Treasury & Finance team in a MNC and is active in the Corporate Treasury scene. He enjoys reading and discussing about current affairs, politics, life, wine and lives a normal life with his wife and 2 young kids.