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

I am delighted to present the ninth 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 ninth interviewee is Liza Drew, FSO APAC Indirect Tax Leader at EY.

Liza Drew

Liza is EY’s FSO APAC Leader for Indirect Tax. She has 22 years of experience in Indirect Tax, with a large part spent in the financial services sector. Liza is currently based in Singapore after recently moving from Hong Kong. Prior to that she spent two years in Malaysia where she led several large banking and capital markets projects relating to the implementation of Malaysian GST, including the National Stock Exchange and a number of local and global banks. Liza’s experience in the financial services sector has given her a deep technical expertise across banking and capital markets, insurance and wealth and asset management. Prior to joining EY Liza spent 6 years as EMEA Head of Indirect Tax for Nomura International Plc which is Nomura’s European broker/dealer in London. She successfully integrated the legacy Lehman equities business into Nomura following the 2008 acquisition. Previously Liza undertook the EMEA Head of Indirect Tax role at Bear Stearns and later joined JP Morgan where she was responsible for integrating the legacy Bear Stearns business into JP Morgan following its acquisition of that entity. Liza holds a Bachelors Degree in Law and was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1995.

Liza Drew

  1. What gets you up in the morning?
    The thought of coffee.
  2. Can you describe your current role to me in 1 sentence?
    I lead EY’s FSO APAC Indirect Tax business.
  3. What led you to your current position?
    In 2014 I got headhunted to set up EY’s FSO APAC indirect tax practice based out of Hong Kong and the rest is history.  In the last 5 years I’ve worked in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore and the team continues to expand.   Australia comes on board later this year and China to follow.
  4. How did you get into Indirect Tax in the first place?
    That is quite a long story but also shows the length of my career in indirect tax.  I qualified as a barrister in 1995 and spent some time in Chambers completing my pupillage.  However, I really wanted to go into tax so I joined the indirect tax practice in Deloitte in 1997.  The idea was to get some tax experience with the view of going back to Tax Chambers at some point in the future (I never did).
    In 2007 I decided to leave Deloitte and go into the banking industry as EMEA Head of VAT for Bear Stearns International.  My timing was not so great given the onset of the global financial crisis but having said that, it was a great experience to later work at JP Morgan and finally Nomura (post its acquisition of the Lehman equity business).
  5. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Indirect Tax industry right now?
    In Asia Pac I would say the continuing pace of change across the region and the focus on going digital.   Also, our roles as indirect tax professionals are changing.   I do much less pure indirect tax advisory than I used to.  Now my projects usually involve some type of systems implementation/automation which requires a different skill set altogether.
  6. What advice would you give to young professionals – especially women – starting out on their Indirect Tax careers?
    As your career progresses, your priorities in life may also change.   Do not be afraid of recognising this and communicating the same when you are having your career conversations.  Find yourself a mentor or several as they usually prove invaluable throughout your career.   Finally, don’t underestimate the power of networking, start early.
  7. What barriers have you had to overcome during your career to date?
    I can honestly say that I haven’t had any noticeable barriers to overcome during my career to date – something I am very thankful for.
  8. Have there been times when you considered changing career tack?
    No, not really.   For me the move from Big 4 into industry in 2007 was a significant change.   After an 8-year stint in the FS industry the decision to move myself and the family, lock stock and barrel to Asia in 2014 and back into Big 4 consulting was huge.   But I’ve never wanted to move away from indirect tax and I am very fortunate in that it has given me a variety of options during my career.
  9. What has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
    I have two. First qualifying as a Barrister, second when I made Partner at EY. Both occasions made me feel incredibly proud and still do.
  10. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
    A hairdresser – I had big plans to get my own brand of shampoo into Boots. I still think about it now!
  11. What advice would you give to your younger self?
    None, I’m probably no wiser than I was then. My younger self had lots of fun and that’s a good thing!
  12. What are your honest thoughts on social media?
    A necessary evil.   I am active on LinkedIn for work and have an Instagram account so I can follow my daughters. I have never had a Facebook account nor do I have Twitter.   I’m probably considered a dinosaur but I’m always a little wary of the impact of social media on our younger generations.
  13. If you won a big award, who would you thank?
    There are a handful of people who have been instrumental in my career and I am still in touch with most of them so they know who they are. I would definitely thank my husband and my daughters for their continuing support. I travel so much for work which means I am away from home a lot. This is only made possible by their support and I’m very thankful for that.
  14. What’s the one word you’d want people to describe you with?
    Genuine.
  15. Books or kindle?
    It was always books, I thought the Kindle was a terrible invention until I got one. Now I tend to use both, my Kindle is much better for travelling but I still find it hard to walk past a book shop and not come out with something.
  16. If you could have a Skype chat with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
    Coco Chanel
  17. What is your best time saving tip?
    I don’t have any, probably why my days are always pretty long.
  18.  What has been the best part of your day today?
    Confirmation of some key promotions within my team.
  19.  Favorite holiday destination?
    Since we moved to Asia in 2014 we have been very spoilt as to holiday destinations but I think Bali would be up there along with Langkawi in Malaysia.
  20.  Tell me one thing that people might not know about you……
    As part of “my mid-life crisis” I took up triathlon as a hobby at the end of 2015.   I really don’t have the time to do it properly but I have really enjoyed the challenge in learning to swim in open water, riding a bike and running for long distances.   It has been a great way to make new friends, challenge myself and travel round South East Asia. This year I have travelled to Thailand, Vietnam and my next two events are in Indonesia and Shanghai!

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms. 

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Environmental, Social, Technological – any change is good for Management Consulting – by Tariq Siraj

The UK announcing a policy of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 should be welcome news for all of us and was a resonant example of the power of the peaceful protest.

To many it does not go far enough; many eminent academics and Extinction Rebellion members continue pushing for a 2030 target and of course Greenpeace protestors made the headlines recently at a City event with senior MPs.

However the 2050 policy – while achievable – will already require quite seismic changes in public consumption, habits, industry approaches and further government policies. And here we see the introduction on the management consulting sector.

Any change is good…

Every major shift in government policy or public expectation or any technological advance or industry-shaking acquisition creates huge opportunity and revenue for the advisory sector. Think about the digital revolution and growth of AI, blockchain, cyber security and the Internet of Things; or think about the rise in flexible working, maternity/paternity rights and the gender pay gap.

Shifts in policies, technology or the ‘national conversation’ like these can create almost entirely new markets in themselves. All of it feeds into the management consulting machine.

Like in recruitment, the mantra in the consulting market is that ‘any change is good’.

“Has the landscape changed? Do you have some new challenges you haven’t dealt with before? Well, you’re gonna need some advice on how to navigate it…and wouldn’t you know it – we have a whole team of experts in that area!!”

The job seeker…

For firms big and small, public perception is perhaps even more influential than government policy. Commercial organisations (consultancies included) are ever-more conscious of how they are perceived by an ever-more environmentally and socially aware customer base – particularly the younger generation.

Carbon footprint, female representation at management levels, CSR work and flexible working policies are among a raft of genuine considerations for the modern job seeker. Issues never previously on the radar (or never previously existing as ‘things’) are now deal-breakers.

The new landscape…

We’re told we are in the midst of a new industrial revolution driven by the emergence of AI and new technologies. That’s true to an extent – but maybe it’s all underpinned by the environmental and social revolutions?

This is all profoundly changing the landscape for organisations across every sector. It affects manufacturing, supply chains, retail, travel, waste, technology, people management, working patterns and just about everything else. All good news for consultancies.

As firms in all markets and of all shapes and sizes come to terms with what the 2050 policy will mean for them, they will no doubt need some expensive hand-holding along the way.

- Tariq

green money

Does Mindfulness ‘Work’? by Catriona Cookson

Do I hear you groan, or perhaps raise your eyebrows at the mention of Mindfulness ….? newspapers, magazines, apps, experts, the topic is everywhere and featured prominently in the recent Mental Health Week. Every large corporate seemed to be offering Mindfulness classes to employees , although I did wonder though whether the issue is really – “Is it healthy to be working 80 hours a week?” rather than the underlying implication of “Mindfulness will help you to be more focused / efficient / cope with working long hours “

At this point, I declare an interest …eight weeks ago my yoga teacher announced she was starting a Mindfulness class immediately prior to the yoga class. I’m all for making my life easy, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to try it out. And the verdict …. well, it’s hard, not easy at all – the practicalities are difficult – frankly, sitting on your knees without getting agonising pins and needles is a challenge it itself. Added to that tuning out from the background noise of the slimming group next door is tricky but that’s all part of it…. life is not perfect, and you have to work with what you’ve got! Some exercises are easier for me than others …but like all these things it’s supposed to become part of your life rather than an activity at a class.

So, will I continue? …. yes I’m going to stick at it. Has it made any difference? Well, I don’t really know but I have introduced one change in my life which I would recommend to everyone! Do one thing at a time with your brain and give it your attention. So, if you’re watching television, don’t be scrolling through your phone or doing your online grocery shopping at the same time. If the television programme doesn’t keep your interest switch it off and do something else. If you’re listening to a podcast on the train, then focus on that (and enjoy it) rather than trying to answer emails or catch up on the magazines from the weekend papers at the same time. Try it, it’s a simple change but you might just find it makes your head feel a bit clearer!

Mindful

Women In Consulting – what’s happening ? by Catriona Cookson

The 2019 Times Top 50 Employers For Women listing was published recently. Based on a wide range of criteria, all the featured employers make gender equality part of their business strategy at all levels.

It’s encouraging to see 10 consulting firms on the list – all the usual suspects are there and good to see Baringa and Mercer making the list too. You can take a look at the full list here, in an ideal world we really wouldn’t need such a list but until then …..

Meanwhile, Deloitte have appointed their first female UK Managing Partner in the UK, as Anne-Marie Malley is promoted to lead the Consulting Division in the UK…..more cheering news.

However, there’s still a long way to go….Consultancy.uk reports that all of the largest consultancies operating in the UK have reported significant gender pay gaps , and the proportion of women in UK consulting has fallen, despite a recruitment boom, meaning the best paid executive jobs are far more likely to go to men. While consulting firms seem to be able to attract female entrants….keeping them seems to be a bigger challenge!

Women in Consulting

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