Why I chose tax
On a train I met a lady. After a meandering conversation, she gave me some insights into the world of auditing. It turned out that she was married to a partner at Grant Thornton and had herself worked for a number of global professional firms.
Strangely enough, that was the start of my career in tax, but by that time the entire Graduate Audit Department intake places at Grant Thornton in Leeds had been filled. Fortunately an email chain found its way to a tax partner and I was asked to attend a plethora of interviews and assessments. At the outcome of these, I was told to go travelling for a year and join the firm the following year.
‘Why stay in tax?’ In short, I am able to be whatever is needed for the occasion. A tax professional is a hybrid: of an accountant crunching numbers and a lawyer scrutinising words; of an academic painstakingly researching and a decision-maker using principals to steer these choices.
Why I work at Diageo
Passion is intrinsic to Diageo’s work. All decisions, small or large, usually have a tax risk or opportunity. A tax executive has an enviable position in the business as opportunities are available to own the outcome of an initiative, something which can be absorbing. Being able to control the outcome means you have a great feeling of pride when a job is done well that is well-worth the sacrifices.
At the moment we are rightly concerned with growing the business – organically or inorganically. Those who work in Group Tax, such as myself, are both enablers, that bring projects together, and gatekeepers, that help moderate them. In either guise we are business leaders with responsibilities to manage risk, deal with tax authorities, explore new ventures and ways of working and ensure decisions see a return on investment.
My first challenge at Diageo was to make the control environment of corporate tax return preparation more robust. This involved delegating work to accountants specialising in compliance processes at an intra-group shared service centre in Budapest and understanding base data sources of a multinational organisation. Adapting to cultural differences was eye-opening, while trusting and truly valuing others’ opinions over my own was liberating. An additional challenge during this whole process was upskilling colleagues in Budapest by striving for Association of Tax Technician (ATT) qualifications and promoting ownership of results.
Tax itself is not inert and we must react to the external environment. I have a responsibility to stay up to date with law changes due to UK Government changes in the Finance Act each year. Real-time consultation with tax authorities is becoming the norm for me and the team. At the moment, our prime concern is reform of the UK controlled foreign companies regime. Therefore, my day job is about shaping commercial operations to be continuously efficient, communicating to senior stakeholders and working with tax advisers.
Throughout my career, I have relied on the foundations that Grant Thornton gave me in their corporate tax department. The clients were owner-managed corporations and their founding directors and my role was to look at the interaction of taxes and work closely with the accounting.
While at Grant Thornton I became an unofficial social secretary on visits to Bradenham Manor, the first class Grant Thornton learning facility and I think this had a part to play in being approached to becoming the face of Grant Thornton Graduate Tax recruitment. My diary was not as absorbing as Adrian Mole’s, but given the subject matter of: life as a tax trainee – I was relatively proud.
Having completed the ATT, I wanted my next adventure in London and to work with clients of the ‘Big Four’. My time at PwC was a crucial period in my career and one I look back at fondly. At PwC, I became immersed in BP’s corporate tax compliance outsourcing, reporting, process improvement and other related advisory engagements. Senior oil and gas tax specialists guided me through the taxation of exploration companies who operate on the UK continental shelf and worldwide. I became responsible for managing PwC’s delivery of the UK corporate tax returns for BP’s entities, as well as other worldwide Compliance Relationship Manager roles for other clients.
A restructuring of the way of delivering corporate tax compliance at PwC occurred which prompted me to consider what I wanted from my career. I joined Deloitte who were growing an Energy Infrastructure and Utilities team, with an Oil and Gas specialism at its core. At this time I also chose to continue my training and study for my CTA exams.
Intrinsic to the role was providing full service delivery to clients, utilising compliance, consulting and transaction support experience. At this time I also realised something about the internal market for projects – doing a job well for one client for a Partner/Director often led to more fruitful work on consulting engagements for other clients.
During my time at Deloitte my career took a varied and interesting path. I spread my client base from Mining and Utilities, to also include nuclear new build. Outside my specialism I joined a group that sought to understand the technical intricacies of changes to the taxation of leased assets. This meant I was fortunate enough to accompany clients to the Tax Council on a number of occasions to seek clarity on points of law.
The unprecedented economic conditions of a few years ago led to mixed emotions – those of us left after redundancy rounds, while grateful to not be out of work, had at least a temporary ceiling placed above us and carried the burden of workload from those who had left. I sought some personal development to stretch my role by facilitating the graduate trainee course in-house. This provided a very relevant string to my bow for that first challenge in Diageo Group Tax.