My Career in Tax

Lisa Stott, Deloitte Global Leader – International Tax and Vice Chairperson

Hi Lisa… How long have you worked in tax for?

I graduated in 1988 and started work in the Tax Department of Arthur Andersen at that time. I actually didn’t necessarily want to work in tax, I wanted to do computer programming, but Arthur Andersen at the time had a software development part of the business in tax, and so, that’s what attracted me into the business in the first place. I actually got more excited by the tax legislation than the computers, in the end. So, I stayed in the tax advisory business.

And did you start in corporate tax?

Well, back in 1988, it was, kind of, just tax. Most of the accounting firms were only recruiting people into audit and it was once you qualified as a Chartered Accountant that you would move out into other specialist areas. Andersen were pretty early to recruit directly into tax, so, I was the second or third year into tax, but it was just tax. In those days, we did corporate tax, indirect taxes, employment taxes, the works, really.

And what do you most enjoy about working in tax?

Well, I think I’m quite logical. I’m a mathematician at heart and so, I quite like the problem solving that tax enables you to do. There’s a huge array of laws that are out there. I work in international tax, so, I’m advising global multinationals and most of the time, we’re just helping them to navigate their way through this myriad of complexity and overlapping rules and regulations and just trying to find a path through all of those, to enable them to get on with their business. I’ve never got bored, because the great thing about tax is that it’s ever evolving, ever changing. There are new laws being issued, I used to say on a weekly basis, and we thought that that was very complicated to deal with. But right now there are laws being issued on an hourly basis, around the world; mainly incentives to help businesses cope with the disruption caused by this awful pandemic. But all of these rules and regulations are being pumped out by governments round the world and we’re monitoring those, identifying them and then trying to work out how they apply to our clients and help clients to deal with them. It’s an industry that never sits still and, is always changing, always evolving, so, it makes it a very interesting place to be.

Are there any particular specialist areas of tax that you most enjoy, and why?

When I first started as a graduate I touched all aspects of tax but quite quickly I got very heavily involved in international tax. I lived through the dotcom bubble and burst and there was a huge amount of international work that came from investment, mainly from US companies, into the UK. I really enjoy the international tax aspect of work. I love working with colleagues and clients around the world. It brings different dynamics and different perspectives to my daily job. I’m lucky enough now to be in the position of being the global leader for international tax for Deloitte. So my role and responsibility is to make sure we attract people into international tax and we motivate them to be as good as they can be in helping their clients with what can be quite complicated matters.

What advice would you give someone who’s ambitious to fast track their career in tax?

Gosh, that’s a big one! There are so many bits of advice. First of all, I would definitely say, pick a part of tax that you enjoy. I mean, it sounds obvious, but tax is quite complicated and it requires a lot of deep thinking and a lot of hours of training. If you choose an area that you’re really not that excited about, then, it’s going to be harder than if it’s something you’re passionate about. Even within international tax there are specialists and specialisms. It could be somebody that’s focused on the Japanese, UK or US market, technology or life science companies or else a particular part of the legislation. There’s a lot of opportunity for people. I would say ultimately, it always comes down to the client. You’ll only be as successful as the number of clients that want to work with you. So, I would advise people to really reflect on how they can make a client’s life easier and reflect on the fact that the clients are human too. Bring all of your human skills, as well as your technical skills, to the table. If you’re able to do all of those things, then clients will enjoy working with you and they will come back for more. On top of that the team that that sits behind you will grow in your shoes and bring in their own work. I think success is the outcome of all of these things.

Is there anything you would do differently now, if you were just starting out in tax?

I really wouldn’t. I’ve loved every part of my job and I’ve been fortunate enough to have lots of opportunities and to work with lots of great partners and great clients. I suppose I would encourage people to say yes to everything, without exhausting themselves. If opportunities exist to take part in initiatives, or campaigns or projects, take as many as you can. I think that having a broad experience gives you a lot that you can pass on, and it also makes the day job really interesting. I’ve been fortunate enough to have that. So, no, I don’t think I would change anything.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing tax professionals over the next decade?

I think it’s dealing with the volume and the complexity of law. I think a tax professional does have to be a bit super human, in terms of keeping abreast of all of the rules and regulations that are rapidly changing. So that aspect will always be a challenge. I think the tax professional of the future will have to be part Technician and part Technologist.

I think that across the industry people will need to have all of the soft skills and the client handling skills that I’ve talked about, have the logical skills to interpret and analyse law, but also be able to work with machines to collate and absorb data and turn it into something valuable. I think that’s going to be the main difference as we look forward. In the past tax people sat in dusty libraries with lots of books around them. I think in the future we’re going to be sat at computer screens running financial models.

What do you most enjoy about your current role?

What I enjoy about my role now is the opportunity, to use the experience I’ve had of working for 32 years, to influence our strategy and approach across the world. Having a global lead definitely opens up all sorts of diversity in terms of maturity of the practices and maturity of economies. It’s really nice to be able to take the policies and strategies that work in one location and help to apply that in a consistent way across the rest of the world. I’m enjoying the strategic side of further developing our global international tax practice.

Why would people come and join Deloitte?

It’s hard to answer the question, without sounding like you’re criticising others or comparing yourself to others. I think all of the Big Four are amazing, in terms of the licence you get to engage with and advise, some of the world’s most exciting, interesting and biggest companies. It gives you an amazing calling card. At Deloitte we’re incredibly proud of the fact that we’re the biggest professional services firm in the world and are outgrowing the competition and all of that good corporate stuff that we count on each morning. For us that are working within Deloitte, it also feels like a vibrant, exciting and innovative place to be. It could be quite hard to be a mammoth organisation but still have creativity, innovation and entrepreneurialism at your heart and yet, I think, we do manage to do that. People talk about the freedom that they get when they join Deloitte, the delegated authority, the fact that we’ve got a culture of trusting the people that we employ. Our approach is to give everyone the authority to do what they want, to allow people to get on and run their own business within our business. We apply the approach of we’ll let you know if it’s going wrong, as opposed to you need to come and ask for permission and I think that works well for some people. I think the structural stuff that we’re doing around globalising our own business is perhaps more important now than ever before – as the world retreats into its own different territories. We’re formally and legally consolidating our businesses to create a true global entity that’s consistent and working as one, as opposed to a network of affiliates, which is how all of the other firms work. It makes a difference to how we feel within the organisation and how we work together with colleagues around the world. I think all of these things are pretty important for the people that are already here and I think could be attractive for people that want to join.

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