AFP spoke with Robert Whitaker, CTP, who was recently promoted from treasurer to senior vice president corporate finance for DHL. Whitaker, a member of AFP’s Board of Directors, explained how he essentially designed his new position by branching out beyond treasury into other areas.AFP: Can you tell us how the promotion came about? Was there one specific thing you did that led to it?
It’s a long story. When you’re out in the field, supporting the business in moving things forward, you tend to pick up lots of projects and activities that weren’t in the original scope of the job. That willingness to jump in and help the business on various projects leads to people ultimately saying, ‘Here’s a department we want you to go and fix.’ And so, you start picking up additional departments. Then at some point, you raise your hand and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t the same job I had before.’
From there, the company looks at the scope of the job, what functions you’re responsible for and how it’s grown. And then, at the culmination of that, is the realization that this is, in fact, a higher-level position at the company. AFP: So it sounds like, through your hard work and ingenuity, you more or less built your own new position.
Yes, and I think how that comes about is having a willingness to work outside the constraints of your defined job. If you’re willing to pitch in and help in areas that aren’t traditionally considered treasury, then you’ll find that people start to recognize that. In the corporate treasury and finance world, we have skillsets that can be applied to a lot of areas. People will start coming to you, asking you to assist with various projects. And the more you help, the more exposure you get, and then things just start rolling from there. You can actually start to build and create additional responsibilities. People are always happy to give you more responsibilities if you’ve shown you can be successful in taking on new activities and adding value.AFP: Would you say then that it’s essential for today’s corporate treasury and finance professionals to go outside of their traditional roles if they want to ascend up the corporate ladder? Do they need to work cross-functionally with other departments and step outside of their comfort zones to really get noticed?
You can have a successful career within corporate finance, just staying within the narrow confines of how people might see it. But I think, to really be successful, you have to go outside. You can’t be pigeonholed into something. I think that we probably have the strongest skillset, particularly within the finance function, because of the nature of the work and the issues that we deal with. And I would encourage people not to use those skillsets strictly within their functions, but to try and find ways to apply them to other areas.
I also would say, don’t get caught up being a support function or a back office function. This can happen, because treasury is essential; cash runs everything, so moving cash around is an important function. But you should never lose sight of the fact that you’re ultimately trying to make the business successful and meet your customers’ expectations. So anything you do within your area and outside your area should be very customer-focused.