ALL ABOUT YOU! The Life and Times of Senior Women in Indirect Tax…

I am delighted to present the tenth in a series of profiles of senior women in Indirect Tax. The aim is to showcase the talents, experience and stories of these amazing women, and provide some insight into their professional and personal lives, what inspires them and what wisdom they can share. My tenth interviewee is Ela Choina.

Ela Choina

Ela has been with EY since 2002. She started her career with EY Poland, enjoyed a brief rotation to the EY UK practice to work on international tax automation projects and then transferred to EY US in 2011 to lead the Central Region US VAT team. Ela graduated with a Masters Degree in Management from Jagiellonian University in Krakow (after obtaining her secondary education in the UK). Ela is responsible for supporting US based multinationals in a wide range of Indirect Tax issues, including:

  • International VAT planning and structuring,
  • Mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs, carve-outs, transaction structuring and post transaction integration,
  • Supply chain restructuring and planning,
  • Finance transformation projects (including shared service centers) and efficient VAT function structuring,
  • Implementing ERP systems and tax engines, system reviews tax automation projects,
  • VAT reviews,
  • VAT training and workshops.

Ela specializes in a broad spectrum of VAT matters. She has an in depth knowledge of EU VAT regulations and VAT regimes globally. She is a co-author of the commentary to the VAT Directive published in Poland by Wolters Kluwer, an author of multiple articles on the tax issues published in the specialist magazines and daily press, and is a frequent speaker at tax seminars and conferences.

Ela

  1. What gets you up in the morning?
    Usually flights or conference calls, which are an inevitable part of every global project. It’s hard to believe I was never a morning person. A cup of good coffee with my favorite oat milk helps me wake up.
  2. Can you describe your current role to me in 1 sentence?
    I lead EY’s VAT team in the Central Region in the US – impressively large territory from Minnesota and Michigan, all the way down to Florida.
  3.  What led you to your current position?
    Insatiable curiosity, constantly seeking new challenges and global networking. I started my career in a smaller EY office in Krakow / Katowice, Poland. By the time I became a Senior Manager there, I felt that in order to keep growing professionally I had to get out of my comfort zone. Some of my EY colleagues were already in the US and were excited about the unique chance to build an emerging practice in one of the most mature markets in the world. This sounded like a great opportunity to me. Three years after my transition I was promoted to Principal.
  4.  How did you get into Indirect Tax in the first place?
    In 2004, Poland was joining the EU and had to adopt its VAT law. New rules were transformative and unfamiliar. As a junior Consultant I had as much of a chance to become an expert as some of my very senior colleagues. I spent hours studying the new law and leading multiple technical discussions and quickly realized how much I enjoyed it.
  5. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Indirect Tax industry right now?
    The unprecedented pace of legislative change and digitization of tax administration,  enabling the exchange of vast volumes of data between different governmental bodies.
  6. What advice would you give to young professionals – especially women – starting out on their Indirect Tax careers?
    Don’t give up. In my first months with EY I had an ambitious goal to read VAT law as part of my self-study. I did it in the evenings and every single time I would literally fall asleep by page 5. It made no sense to me and was so dry!
    Have courage and be persistent so that you can turn your goals into realities. And don’t forget to build your network.
  7. What barriers have you had to overcome during your career to date?
    They were mostly in my head. I started my career in a local office in a relatively small practice – and had to work on my confidence level and insecurities, especially when I was taking on new roles, moving between the ranks, or switching countries (I also did a rotation in the UK).
  8. Have there been times when you considered changing career tack?
    Don’t we all? Multiple times and for different reasons.
  9. And if yes – what made you stay?
    Thankfully I have had great EY mentors over the years. I also had an opportunity to work with multiple external coaches provided by EY who helped me make important career decisions.
    But first and foremost, my team and people that I work with every day. I met most of my closest friends at EY.
  10. What has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
    Making partner in the US and being able to build a business case for my promotion after only three years in the country.
  11. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
    I really wanted to be a doctor. But then I started fainting seeing blood….
  12. What advice would you give to your younger self?
    Despite the crazy pace of work, it is important to take care of your own well-being and make time for things that make you happy. It took me quite a while (unnecessarily!) to realize that if I want to go to the gym, I just have to block time on my calendar and treat it in the same way as I would any work-related appointments. The same goes for important personal or family events.
  13. What are your honest thoughts on social media?
    While I value them for enabling truly global business networking, I think that they often absorb too much of our time.
  14. If you won a big award, who would you thank?
    My parents and my partner Bartosz. And of course my amazing team, as none of my successes would be possible without them.
  15. What’s the best thing anyone has ever done for you?
    My parents sacrificed a lot to continuously support my development and to stimulate my ambitions. I grew up in Poland behind the Iron Curtain. Economic reality was very different at the time and possibilities were limited – but somehow my family was always able to help me find them. They even agreed to send me to a boarding school in the UK (I got a scholarship to study at Charterhouse through the Stefan Batory/ George Soros foundation), even though at the time we couldn’t even afford flight tickets or out of pocket expenses, as the UK was so much more expensive than Poland.
  16. What’s the one word you’d want people to describe you with?
    Inspirational 
  17. Books or kindle?
    Very recently kindle – only because I travel often.
  18. If you could have a Skype chat with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
    Marie Sklodowska-Curie.
  19. What is your best time saving tip?
    Online shopping and meal kits. Thankfully some of them are finally organic.
  20. What has been the best part of your day today?
    Waking up in my own bed and making my own breakfast with the assistance of my 12-year-old Maine Coon cat.
  21. Favorite holiday destination?
    The more remote, the better. Somewhere far away with more wildlife than people. Mountains are always welcome. And ideally no phone reception.
  22. Tell me one thing that people might not know about you……
    I want to become a sommelier when I retire.

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