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  • Bio: John’s interest in case law and talent for research made for the ideal background with which to join the tax profession. He’s since become a specialist in product liability, and is proud to be an authority on the subject when helping clients.
  • Role: Indirect Taxes Manager
  • Organisation: PwC

John Dowd

I enjoy dealing with VAT queries and I’m not ashamed to admit it! I work for PwC in the Manchester office where I joined as a graduate in October 2006. I initially worked in the corporate tax department, but I started work in the VAT department during a busy period and after passing the ACA exams. The proudest moment in my career so far was achieving the highest marks in the country in both the UK VAT and EU VAT papers in the CTA exams.

Why did you choose a career in the industry?

I studied law at Durham University and had dreams of being a high flying solicitor, but after several placements I discovered the reality was somewhat different. I liked researching and case law but other aspects of the role didn’t appeal. It was a bit of a worry as I was approaching the end of my time at Durham with no job offer on the table and I needed to look for other career options that might suit me better.

I was familiar with PwC, as I’d been offered a place to take part in a commercial awareness course that they ran one night each week. I spoke with a PwC recruiter who suggested I should apply for a position with them in tax as it seemed to match my interests. I did some further research and tax seemed like a natural choice as it’s largely driven by legislation and case law, so my legal background and my research skills were a good fit.

What is a typical day like for you?

My day starts at about 6am and involves walking our cocker spaniel, Alfred, while slurping coffee and then catching a glimpse of the breakfast news before I dash out the house. I live just under an hour and a half away from Manchester and have flexibility around my core hours, so I can start at 8am and finish at 4:30pm – although I typically leave at sometime between 5pm and 6pm. PwC offer flexible working and it suits me to start and finish early as it gives me more free time in the evenings.

Once I’m in the office, the first thing I do is check the local press to see what’s going on with my clients and targets. I’ll then start working through emails and responding to queries. A key part of my role is keeping up-to-date with any case law developments or legislative changes and making sure my clients are well informed.

I work on some of the major clients based in the north of England region and have a focus on the retail sector as well as working on mergers and acquisitions. In particular I’m a product liability specialist, so I assist clients in determining the correct VAT rate applicable to all the products sold at their stores. The legislation in this area is very complicated with a large volume of case law setting precedents – the most famous case of this kind concerned whether a Jaffa cake was actually a biscuit or a cake, and therefore whether it was zero rated or standard rated for VAT purposes.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy being regarded as a specialist for product liability queries. Although it took some time and dedication to accumulate the knowledge on the relevant cases and the legislation, it has been worth it. There are cases heard in VAT on a weekly basis, so it’s always a challenge to maintain your knowledge and apply it to your clients. The introduction of a so-called ‘Pasty Tax’ last year was an example of how VAT amendments can affect our clients and also the general public.

The other aspect of the job I really enjoy is the team spirit and the ‘banter’. There are sometimes days when things don’t go smoothly or you’re under pressure, but my team is really great and we have a great work/life balance. At some point in every day someone will make me laugh-out-loud, and that is really important when you spend so much of your life at work – you need to make sure you have fun.

What would you like to achieve in the future?

I’d like to go all the way and become a partner at PwC. I really appreciate all the opportunities I‘ve been given by the firm and enjoy my role working in VAT. It’s challenging and the route to becoming a partner is not easy, but you have to aspire to be the best you can.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?

The best advice I can give is to talk to as many people who you know within the industry and get as much insight as possible. It’s also a good idea to look at the websites of professional qualification bodies involved in accountancy and tax, such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), to find out about the exams you’ll have to sit.

My final piece of advice would be to build up a network of contacts as early as possible and consider joining sites such as Linkedin, as social media is becoming increasingly important as a method of interacting with our clients.

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