Q&A with Ricky Thirion, gtnews Global Corporate Treasurer of the Year

Ricky Thirion is vice president, treasury at Etihad Airways. He formally created the company’s corporate treasury department in 2007 and has built up a unit that has supported the rapid growth of the airline while implementing the entire corporate treasury infrastructure (people, policies, processes, systems, controls). The function is now a fully fledged corporate treasury function supported by a global base of banking partners. Thirion was named Global Corporate Treasurer of the Year at the gtnews Global Corporate Treasury Awards 2010.

Q (gtnews): First of all, could you outline your organisation’s global cash management structure in terms of cash management techniques, treasury headquarters and banking relationships?

A (Ricky Thirion, vice president, treasury, Etihad Airways): We operate a centralised global cash management structure, collecting cash in almost 100 countries around the world and hold it in a central fund in Abu Dhabi net of any outflows in each location.

As we operate across a range of markets we are not able to operate on a single electronic banking platform, but rather we have a number of transactional banking relationships, some of which span multiple markets.

We face issues in some markets like all international treasury do. We manage our global cash position on our treasury system and we have integrated as many accounts as possible with electronic banking portals in order to automate balance reporting.

Q (gtnews): What does your typical day as a treasury manager involve? Could you describe some of your key responsibilities?

A (Thirion): In my role as vice president, treasury, I am responsible for the treasury, corporate finance and insurance functions at Etihad Airways. In 2007, the Etihad treasury team developed a comprehensive financial strategy for the airline and we are now realising this vision through our diversified financing, corporate governance practices and risk management.

Due to the breadth of this role my days are varied, including both operational and strategic issues such as policy, hedging and financing. Cash and liquidity management is at the core of treasury function, so this is our primary responsibility and a daily focus.

As we reach maturity in our treasury practices, I am increasingly dedicated to the strategic areas of aviation treasury such as long term capital planning, exposure analysis and communicating with the markets and our counterparts.

Q (gtnews): What are your main challenges? For example, what’s on your treasury wish list at the moment?

A (Thirion): We have developed a solid foundation, but we are conscious that we must continue to strive for best practice, not just in the aviation industry, but more broadly across the treasury discipline.

We continue to manage our risk while balancing the alignment between accounting policies and corporate objectives, which often compete.

In 2011, we plan to move towards SWIFT as a direct channel to our partners and the roll out of this system will enable more efficient financial practices.

Over the next year we look to leveraging our experience to create sophisticated risk modelling for our exposures and to create more reliable exposure forecasts.

Q (gtnews): Operating in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and in the aviation industry, are there are any tax, legal or regulatory issues that you need to be particularly mindful of when it comes to the company’s cash management?

A (Thirion): The UAE provides a flexible and open regulatory environment, in terms of cash management, but like any major organisation we are fully compliant with all regulations in the markets in which we operate.

Q (gtnews): What steps will you be taking to make your treasury and cash management operations more efficient in 2011?

A (Thirion): As one of the key milestones in our treasury and finance strategies, we will be moving the majority of our remaining manual payables onto our integrated and automated environment over the coming year.

We will also be consolidating our finance functions around the world into regional centres in order to simplify our operations, reduce bank accounts and improve efficiency.

Q (gtnews): And finally, if you didn’t work in treasury, what would you choose to do?

A (Thirion): If I did not work in treasury, I would be interested in a role that keeps me engaged with complex businesses, the markets and involves travel!

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