My Life in Treasury: Lisa Dukes

25th May 2020

You have to be bulletproof to succeed in treasury, as well as being not only a Jack of all trades but a master of them all, according to Lisa Dukes. But if you can view your department as a balloon rather than a ladder, your roles will expand according to your knowledge and experience, and you will never have a boring day at the office.

How did you come into treasury and what attracted you to the profession?

I qualified as an accountant at a very young age and quickly decided the life of an auditor wasn’t for me. As a newly qualified accountant I sought out the more niche and interesting roles and spent time across mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and captive management in the UK and the Cayman Islands.

It was in Cayman that I became interested in treasury, although studying with the Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT) at that time was too logistically challenging for me. But when I moved back to the UK, I targeted a role that had elements of treasury within it and became hooked. I later moved to a pure treasury and corporate finance focused role at Drax and have never looked back. For me, the attraction of treasury is the fast-paced complexity and variety, which means you know you are making a difference, adding value and paving the way for the future rather than reporting in the past. I can get bored easily and treasury is anything but boring.

How has your career progressed through to the role that you hold today?

I joined Drax in 2009 as a treasury analyst and have been very fortunate to see treasury from every angle in an ever-changing, complex business. As the team grew from just two or three people to 10 or more, I have been able to shape the department, which now offers exposure to a broad array of treasury and corporate finance challenges, and grow with it. I often refer to treasury as a balloon rather than a ladder because each role will expand with gained knowledge and experience – enabling you, over time, to build on the foundations and master everything from the day-to-day detail to the complex structuring.

How have the demands and needs of treasury changed over the course of your career, and what particular skills does the role require today?

A treasurer increasingly needs to not only be a Jack of all trades, we need to be a master of them all too. The treasurer’s role can span a multitude of disciplines including operations, liquidity management, working capital, financial derivatives, debt and capital markets (DCM), ratings, insurance, defined benefit (DB) pensions and M&A. Treasurers are now so much more entrenched in the core management of business and can be seen as holistic financial risk managers. In addition to the technical skills required, stakeholder management (internal and external) is hugely important as the public face of the business.

What specific, or perhaps surprising, qualities do you look for when recruiting treasury personnel?

Strong numerical and analytical skills are very important, as is being able to make quick but informed decisions. But equally, I joke that you need to be bulletproof to work in treasury – being able to roll with the unexpected, adapting and delivering without being fazed – is critical. I would also look for a healthy interest in markets and what is happening in the world.

How important do you think a formal treasury education is, as opposed to (or as well as) more general finance or accountancy qualifications?

While complementary, general finance/accountancy perspectives and skill sets are different from those of treasury. In my view, anyone thinking of focusing on treasury will find a specific treasury qualification extremely valuable. I encourage all of my team to take the ACT exams and the benefits of their studies are clear to see.

What about wider experience in the world of business? Is that valuable too?

Absolutely. Understanding business in general and, more specifically, that of your company, is vital. It is also key that you are familiar with the workings, requirements and objectives of the businesses and stakeholders you deal with on a regular basis.

Based on your career so far, what would your advice be to finance professionals who are perhaps in their first treasury role?

Make sure you understand treasury from the ground up. A solid foundation spanning the day-to-day to the complex is invaluable. Aim to gain exposure to as many treasury disciplines as you can to obtain broad experience before choosing to specialise.

What would your ideal holiday be?

It would involve time away from the hustle and bustle, enjoying family time – without any sand! Staying in a luxury private villa in the sunshine, watching the kids playing around the pool would be my dream.

What book have you read recently or what film have you seen recently that you would recommend, and why?

As a full-time working mother of two my film and book lists probably leave much to be desired – that is unless you have a soft spot for Toy Story 4, Moana and The Incredibles (on loop!). Although I have to admit the ever-increasing satirical elements in many children’s films these days have turned them into a guilty pleasure! 

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