I lead a tax department with more than 900 people, operating in over 20 offices throughout the UK and which is part of the international GTI network. We cover all the main UK taxes and specialise in advising dynamic organisations of all sizes.
How I got started
My career path to this role is certainly not out of any text book. I began training as a lawyer, even qualifying to become a barrister, but in my twenties I decided I wanted to travel. I also decided that law wasn’t for me, although my job today does involve understanding legislation and new tax rules. I managed to find an accountancy firm that was willing for me to defer my start date for a year so I put on my backpack and went around the world.
On returning I headed into audit and did the hard graft of the ACA qualification alongside stock takes and all the basics of being a trainee in an accountancy firm. On qualifying I wanted to experience other areas and did a number of secondments before settling in the international tax department. I have stayed in tax ever since.
However, again my tax career has been a little unconventional. It has involved being a journalist on Taxation magazine, developing a successful tax lecturing business, running the technical department of the Tax Faculty of the ICAEW and setting up a national tax office for a top ten accountancy firm. Now, I work for Grant Thornton as Head of Tax.
The reality of working in tax
Tax doesn’t always get a great press as a career choice – visions of paper pushing and calculators, but of course it is not like that. Instead, to advise a client, you need to understand complex and ever changing rules, know how to explain them to a client and really understand your client’s business and personal aspirations to ensure that the right action is taken. So it’s both intellectually challenging and requires strong people skills.
Each day is different and it is that variety that gets me happily out of bed each day. I may be meeting with a client to discuss their tax needs and ensuring we are providing the best possible service. Or I might be looking at some new legislation or guidance from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to see how it impacts on taxpayers or at meetings with HMRC and Treasury looking at proposals for policy changes. I have responsibility for our tax policy approach in the UK and globally so I need to keep up to date on technical issues.
Participating in the work of tax representative bodies like the ICAEW’s Tax Faculty is a great way to keep informed of coming changes and to help shape the rules of tomorrow. I am particularly proud of working with the Tax Faculty on its ten tenets for a better tax system a decade ago and to have the Treasury Select Committee recently acknowledge it was an excellent framework for taking legislation forward in the UK. By pushing for change with Government you can make a difference.
My core role is to lead the tax practice in terms of its vision and strategy. This means working with all my fellow tax partners but especially our leadership team to make sure we are driving the practice forward. This also involves building our brand in the market place. Consequently I spend quite a bit of time marketing our firm, be that commenting on tax issues on radio or TV, providing analysis to journalists or lecturing on topical issues at venues all over the UK to tax professionals, clients and hopefully potential clients.
I have a terrific team who deal and support with all our tax issues that affect our firm nationally. These can include opportunities, risks or managing the staff for the needs of Grant Thornton’s clients. I therefore have regular catch-ups with the team and with other parts of our firm. We have over 4,000 people in our UK firm and it is important that we work as a joined up team. Of course, one of the big joys of my role is working with bright, interesting people be they fellow colleagues, clients, or other members of our tax profession.
A little career advice
My best career advice is to take those opportunities which are presented to you and strive to do what you love. If you are doing a role that excites you, you will tend to do it well and have the passion and energy to get through the tough times.