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Priceline Treasurer Led Before Taking On a Leadership Role

  • By Nilly Essaides
  • Published: 5/5/2016
ThinkstockPhotos-187980499As a trader throughout his career, Douglas Tropp, treasurer of The Priceline Group Inc., had numerous experiences as an individual contributor. What he learned was how to lead through influencing when there’s not a direct reporting relationship. “A big part of leadership is the ability to influence others,” he said. “I picked that up at an early age. It’s about translating ideas and concepts for others who may not have the same experience and learning to influence them and bringing them on board to move things along.”

After graduating from Syracuse University, Tropp took a role at Fuji Bank Ltd.’s New York branch. He began as a desk clerk and assistant trader and later became a proprietary trader. When the Japanese banks were hit by the Asian crisis and the LTCB scandal in the late 1990s, he decided to earn his MBA and switched paths to the corporate world. This afforded him the chance to trade similar instruments, in a less stressful environment with career upside.

After earning his MBA, Tropp joined The Hertz Corp. as manager of corporate finance, primarily in a capital markets capacity and later taking a bottoms-up approach to managing FX risk. Then he moved to IBM, where he was charged with implementing FAS 133 by restructuring IBM’s complex portfolios of interest rate derivatives in due course. “IBM was very team-oriented. It also strongly believed in rotation and developing strong generalists who could back up each other,” he said. During his time at IBM, he held positions in interest rate derivatives, debt capital markets, financial and insurance risk management, as chief dealer of IBM’s in-house bank in Dublin, Ireland and later as global head of foreign exchange.

However, throughout this time, his experience revolved around the trading floor. He realized that to become a senior treasury leader he needed to gain business experience, so he joined GE Capital, where he held various roles in business treasury. In his last role there, he served as a treasurer of various commercial lending and leasing businesses. The business treasurers worked with the units’ CFOs and finance teams. “My job was to translate the business results and requirements into corporate treasury and back in order to make sure the businesses didn’t take excessive risk and that treasury had a transparent view of what the business lines were doing,” he said.

With his experience at GE, Tropp had all the ingredients he needed to move to the next level. “I had the exposure management, structuring, cash, payments, and business collaboration, and the leadership and people skills needed to be a successful treasurer,” he said. When the job at Priceline Group became available, he jumped on the opportunity.

Learning to lead

Tropp’s leadership skills came in handy at IBM, which at the time was a very flat organization. It was not until he was sent to run the in-house bank in Dublin that he had to manage direct reports. “It was a trial by fire,” he recalled. Not only was it his first management role, but he was sent to run a group that was averse to management in the U.S. interfering in its business and by an American to boot. “There was a lot of political frustration on both sides,” he said. “My mandate was to get everybody to play nice.” To overcome the sense of distrust, he chose not to sit in an office but right on the trading floor. “I listened to them and valued their contribution. “With that, all of that frustration went out the door,” he explained.

A big part of leadership, according to Tropp, is shortening the feedback loop and not letting any bad situation fester. At the same time, leaders have to make sure that people are being appreciated. When he got back to the U.S., he continued to practice the same discipline as he managed a team of six traders.

His experiences along the way came in handy at The Priceline Group. Priceline evolved overtime through acquisitions of companies like Netherlands-based Booking.com, agoda.com, KAYAK, rentalcars.com and OpenTable—all independently managed and operated. The corporate entity is organized as a holding company, with each entity operating some treasury activities, such as cash and transactional FX management. Treasury at the corporate level handles capital markets, investments, insurance and setting strategy and policy. There’s no treasury team at Priceline’s headquarters; Tropp manages remotely, mostly the largest team, based in Amsterdam. “I work with the various treasury teams. A lot of them report directly to local CFOs,” he said. So while he has complete ownership of treasury, he doesn’t control the staff. “I manage through a lot of discussion and influencing. That’s more in line with my management style and the corporate culture,” he said.
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