Becoming a Group Treasurer, with Christof Nelischer

Treasury has risen in significance, emerging as a vital element in business operations crucial for financial stability and success. Group treasurers wield substantial influence within companies, working closely with executive leadership to craft corporate finance strategies and navigate intricate financial environments.

Christof Nelischer Headshot

Join me in conversation with Christof Nelischer, an esteemed group treasurer at S4 Capital, a leading digital media and advertising firm. Responsible for global treasury and insurance management, Christof shares insights into treasury’s evolution, leadership roles, and upcoming trends. His journey underscores the importance of strategic career planning, ongoing education, and adaptability in managing the complexities of treasury.

Rachael Turquand: “First and foremost, thank you for your time today, Christof. I’d like to go back to the beginning and talk about how you got into the Treasury. Is it something you always knew you wanted to do?

Christof: “How I got into it was originally quite by chance. I think that is not untypical for treasury people; they end up in it through some coincidence, and that was the case with me. Unusually, I got into Treasury straight out of university, where I studied European Finance and Accounting. It was the best job I ever had. I started out as an assistant to the group treasurer initially and then became assistant treasurer soon after, which isn’t typical for a 26-year-old. The new group treasurer was great; he was very patient, informative, and effective. I loved every minute of the job and, from then on, never wanted to do anything else.”

Rachael: “Becoming “No. 2” at 26, how did you look to progress your career? What was the next step for you?”

Christof: “I was with the company for 4.5 years, which is quite a long time considering the stage of my career, but eventually, once I had exhausted every aspect of the role, I was aware I needed to move. Despite a strong start to my career, I knew I wasn’t going to be the next group treasurer for another 15 years. I wasn’t experienced enough at the time, and my boss wasn’t going to move, so […] my wife and I looked around and agreed to return to the UK.

Rachael: “Aware that you didn’t have the experience to step into a group treasurer role, what was the next step in your career?”

Christof: “I knew I wanted more hands-on managerial experience in a plc, and what followed was my role at Kellogg Company. I became their first-ever European Treasurer. It was a fantastic move for me—a real step up. I was no longer number two; I was number one, albeit on a regional level. Kellogg’s was moving towards a centralised, shared service centre operating model. They realised they would need a treasury structure behind them to support this transition. That’s where I came in and facilitated the banking and cash management operations, found and implemented a TMS, and built a team. It was a challenge for me but a huge achievement in my career, and it taught me a lot. However, there was no room to progress from this role, so once I had fulfilled my duties, it was time to move on again.”

Rachael: “What do the progression opportunities within Treasury look like?”

Christof: “In my experience, the more senior you become in treasury, the slower the progress, as people tend to hold onto their positions for a longer period of time. I think there is also something to be said for the lack of scale. For me, early in my career, if I wanted to move forward, that meant I had to move company.

Rachael: “How important are qualifications, and what advice would you give someone starting out in the field?”

Christof: “As treasury establishes itself as a strategic function within many, if not all, organisations, with treasurers reaching executive levels of influence, qualifications have become increasingly important. Having an MBA in addition to Treasury qualifications is something worth thinking about; the more you move on in your career, the tougher the competition will be. It has definitely served me well. If you’re competing with people with similar qualifications, think about how you can stand out. Think strategically and work backwards to build the necessary experience and skills.

Rachael: “When was it that you became group treasurer yourself, and how long did that take you?”

Christof: “That was probably the most challenging step in my career. It took a good couple of years and countless attempts, but it did not work out straight away. And then, I was approached by former colleagues to become group treasurer at Fiberweb plc. Once I was there, it was fantastic. It was what I wanted all along. I felt the number one role suited me, and I was comfortable in this position.

Rachael: “How crucial do you believe guidance and mentorship are for reaching the highest levels of Treasury management?”

Christof: “I have always had a problem with the phrase mentoring; it implies you have a coffee and a nice chat once in a while, and it is not particularly targeted. If you have a bright spark reporting to you as number two, how do you keep that individual engaged, keep them motivated, and keep them committed? During my time as Head of Treasury at John Lewis, I recognised the potential of one of my direct reports. To retain their talent, I initiated a succession plan, exposing them to stakeholders and showcasing their capabilities. I had previously done the same at Willis Towers Watson for three different high performers on my team.

Demonstrating the significance of the broader team beyond just yourself is crucial. By showcasing the talents and professionalism of team members, stakeholders and senior management become aware of their value.

Rachael: “In delegating projects to your assistant treasurer and wider team, how do you delineate between collaborative efforts and individual tasks, and what is ultimately your responsibility?”

Christof: “I want to answer this by building on the leadership philosophy in that you want to let people have as much discretion and autonomy as you can justify given their skill and ability. The more someone develops and the more skills they acquire, the more I would step back and say, You can take the lead. I have to feel assured that the responsibilities you take on are within your capabilities, but as head of the department, I am responsible and accountable for everything, whether I work on it directly or not. The high-level strategic direction will always stay with me.

Rachael: “What distinguishes roles like Head of Treasury, Regional Treasurer, and Assistant Treasurer from the ultimate position of Group Treasurer?”

Christof: I would describe it as the leadership gene. It varies depending on the organisation and management style, but taking initiative without explicit instruction makes the difference. There are a lot of people out there who have the technical skills but lack the combination of vision, personal drive, initiative, and courage to stand up and say, ‘Let me take the lead’.

Rachael: “What advice or tips would you give to someone looking to make those next steps? What type of exposure would someone need to move to Group Treasury?”

Christof: “As you can imagine, I have been interviewed for GT roles a number of times now. I had to be interviewed by CFOs, the head of legal, and other managers. Competency across fundamental treasury areas is crucial, with corporate finance and funding often the most challenging but essential aspects, typically overseen by the group treasurer. Think with the head of an interviewer and think about what they need to hear, and use this as a way of organising and planning your career path and necessary exposures. You need to be able to credibly show that you have covered the fundamental areas of treasury well, or at least demonstrate familiarity with the areas you have less experience with.

Rachael: “How would you distinguish treasury from wider finance?”

Christof: “Treasury is a brain teaser and an intellectual challenge. Out of all the finance disciplines, this is the one that gives you the broadest remit, where you can design something, build something, and call it your own. There is nothing that I would rather do.”

Rachael: “How do you see the Treasury progressing as a function?”

Christof: “Treasury is all about money, and there will always be money and currency. I don’t see that disappearing. While new channels like central bank digital currency emerge—and this is something I am hopeful for—the core Treasury tasks are with us to stay; we will always need to manage payment systems and funding structures. It might look different on the surface, but behind the scenes, we’re doing the same thing.

“There will always be a need for funding. We will always have a capital structure that is made up of debt and equity in different forms. Similarly, risk will be around for as long as we have currencies and interest. It goes hand in hand. There will be evolution, as we have seen already, such as digital currencies and bitcoin, but currencies as a form of payment are here to stay.

Therefore, the task for the treasurer is to anticipate and navigate change, serving as the communicator and facilitator of adaptation.

For more on how to become a group treasurer, check out our latest blog, “Your Guide to Becoming a Group Treasurer.”

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