Creating a positive impact, both in and outside of the office, is of paramount importance to Ilkim Saracel, treasury manager at Flex, the global supply chain and manufacturing company, based in Silicon Valley.
While clearly ambitious with an engineer’s razor-sharp focus on detail and desire to create efficient solutions to complex problems, Saracel also exudes enthusiasm for people and a desire to help.
“I’ve always been interested in working with people and understanding the inner workings of processes, systems and how things work. Grasping people’s needs and developing solutions in alignment of those needs typically leads to a positive impact, professionally and personally. Many of my coworkers at Flex have influenced and inspired me to always be helpful and contribute where I can. And, I think that’s really important,” she tells SCF Briefing.
Six years ago, she joined Flex, a global company that designs and builds products for a wide range of industries, including automotive, healthcare, industrial, and cloud, among others, with a degree in Industrial Engineering from Baskent University in Turkey and an MBA from San Jose State University in California.
In 2013, Saracel started out as a treasury analyst, managing the company’s account receivables financing, looking after a factoring and a securitization program of more than $1 billion in size involving several major banks. She, then, moved into a more senior role in foreign exchange trading, managing the company’s Americas and Europe FX exposure, overseeing trading volumes of more than a billion dollars and covering more than 15 currencies.
At the beginning of the year, she assumed the role of treasury manager and oversees cash management, covering anything from cash forecasting to the transfer of funds between countries and the company’s supply chain finance programmes. She is currently spearheading the creation of the company’s second supply chain finance program, which is about to launch.
Alongside this career growth and outside of work, she volunteers to teach children how to read and write. Saracel is also a certified yoga teacher and teaches dance and yoga classes in her spare time. When SCF Briefing spoke with her, she said she was looking forward to volunteering at a local food bank in the coming weeks, a community involvement activity supported by Flex.
Teaching is one of her long-standing passions, she says, and a skill and interest she has clearly tapped into both at work and away from her desk.
Setting up the company’s new supply chain finance platform has called upon her skills to educate colleagues, articulate the benefits and inspire stakeholders to see the platform’s value.
“I need to influence a large team as well as clearly communicate and demonstrate why the supply chain finance program is important, including how it’s going to make an impact and the size of the opportunity,” she says.
Flex already has one supply chain finance programme, set up more than six years ago and run in collaboration with a bank. Saracel says the programme is well-established with participating suppliers familiar with the bank, which has an established global network and can offer liquidity and localized as well as global solutions in a variety of countries.
Given its footprint of more than 100 sites in 30 different countries and wide customer base, Flex needs a solution that can quickly scale and adapt to different markets and countries. The company has a complex network of suppliers supporting its ability to build products for some of the world’s major brands.
The new programme is being created with an external fintech provider, explains Saracel. While this is new ground for the company, she says it brings the speed and scalability that are so crucial.
“The fintech provider is bank agnostic and offers faster supplier onboarding and less KYC work. With more than one million suppliers in its network, it’s able to provide us with market intelligence. But, each program has its unique strengths,” she says.
It has been a challenging yet highly rewarding process of developing the new platform, she says.
“My positivity is an attitude that has helped me approach people. I am always ready to help others and open to hearing and understanding my colleagues’ needs. Usually, this is met with a positive reaction and support from them,” she says.
But, she adds, to be successful in influencing and winning people over you must put in the groundwork to gather all the relevant data points and establish relationships with the right departments over several years. You can’t turn up and expect people to listen to you overnight, she emphasizes.
Combined with her positive attitude, Saracel’s technical know-how and engineering degree have also proved useful during her time both developing the new supply chain finance platform as well as earlier in her career at Flex.
“My inner engineer is always at work. I am always looking to improve systems and increase productivity,” she said.
“I am a curious person,” she adds. “I never wait for someone to tell me what to do, and I question everything and ask why things are the way they are and how we can make a change. How can we focus on building faster systems? How do we collect FX exposure data? How to do we record important documents,” she says.
In her first years at Flex, she and her team set up a fully in-house accounts receivables factoring platform, automating all the manual steps of selling accounts receivables from the point of extracting invoices from the ERP systems to when invoices are paid back to banks. “I’m really proud of that as I think it speaks to my engineering-thinking of focusing on systems,” she says.
These skills were used once again when Saracel carried out the selection process for a financial technology firm to run the new supply chain finance platform.
“I took a very systematic approach,” she says, explaining how she created questionnaires for each prospective fintech to complete, asking the same series of questions to help compare each potential company.
Attention to detail is also vital in the creation of a successful supply chain finance platform, she adds.
“You need to know the specific needs of the business and the specific needs of the suppliers. No one supplier is the same, so one strategy won’t work for all suppliers. You need to know how each supplier runs its business as well as what the financial needs of the supplier and buyer. How do the supplier and buyer manage invoicing processes? What ERP systems does the buyer have,” she says.
Despite its complexity and challenges, for Saracel, supply chain finance is an exciting area to work in as it brings together many different disciplines such as operations and finance, among others.
“Supply chain finance is very impactful. You can see the working capital impact immediately,” she adds.
Only six years into her career, Saracel already sets a positive example for the next wave of graduates looking for opportunities in treasury, cash management and supply chain finance.
She offers aspiring professionals a few works of advice. “New supply chain finance professionals will need to be patient as it can take time to implement new ideas,” she says. Flex has moved to create a new platform six years after the company’s first supply chain finance program. She explains, noting: “It takes time to build up awareness.”
Future graduates will have to juggle many different skills, she adds. “The next generation will bring in knowledge of programming and big data and other new technologies combined with traditional treasury know-how. Additionally, it will be critical to bring a sense of humility, team spirit and an ability to influence wide audiences,” she says.
To succeed in supply chain finance management, it is always useful to have some form of technical background in engineering or programming, combined with excellent organizational skills, Saracel suggests.
“You need to think about scalability,” she says, noting how supply chain finance programmes will require delegation of tasks to a wider team. One or two people alone can’t answer everyone’s questions.
When looking to the future, Saracel is resolutely upbeat, speaking about her constant desire to improve.
“I would like to continue contributing and growing in roles that make a broad, positive impact for the company and my colleagues. I am always working on my skills in treasury and finance. Who knows where that will take me?”
So far, she’s certainly put in the groundwork to be well on the way to continued career growth.