Latest from BLT

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!


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… 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

Indirect Tax: Who’s in charge – employer or applicant? by Guy Barrand

We all know (and bemoan regularly) that the numbers of talented Indirect Tax professionals is not enough to go round. The Indirect Tax recruitment headache is becoming even more of a migraine for many firms and companies – it prevents professional services firms from delivering the best in class service they want to; it restricts growth plans; it demands quick fix solutions that may or may not work out, taking existing staff away from what they want to be doing or indeed are best at doing. It plays havoc with work/life balance due to the need for staff to work longer hours than ideal and we haven’t even touched on the lost benefit of a new hire reinvigorating a team dynamic. As for the in-house world, who have also comparatively recently also started to feel the Indirect Tax recruitment pinch – you can well imagine the lost opportunity and potential compliance problems that an unfilled Indirect Tax role causes.

Much as I lie awake at night dreaming of a utopia where all the Indirect Tax roles are filled (it’s like collecting football Panini stickers – do you ever get to the stage where you’ve fully completed your book?); the likelihood of that ever happening is minimal. A shame really – just think of all those happy and replete clients and candidates; let alone the benefits for my bank balance and retirement plans. I guess there’s no avoiding another 20 years in the Indirect Tax CV saltmines for me….

I digress. It’s probably worth reflecting on what’s got the Indirect Tax world in this recruitment pickle to start with – here’s my view for what it’s worth: (Health Warning, controversial statements to follow):

  • An over-reliance on the Big 4 intake programmes as effectively the solitary way to enter the Indirect Tax advisory discipline, by and large.
  • The ACA qualification offered by many of the firms – it gives these preciously nurtured Indirect Tax specialists an escape route from the world of Indirect Tax, which wasn’t there when Indirect Tax specialists just did the CTA route. Whilst the accounting qualification undoubtedly develops broader-based skills and of course that’s a plus for the individuals concerned, it’s harmful for Indirect Tax retention.
  • The increasingly low exam pass rate resulting in departures when individuals struggle to get through the exams (whether because the individuals get kicked off their training contracts when they fail, or whether they simply become disillusioned with the career when the hurdle denoting success is set so high)
  • The volume of graduates recruited every year into the discipline doesn’t allow for the fall out described above.
  • Initial attraction into the field – what do you want to be when you grow up? A rocket scientist or a VAT Consultant. Errr….
  • Identifying individuals at entry point that are actively choosing to pursue a career in Indirect Tax career (and are appropriate for it), not just because they haven’t got in anywhere else or ‘audit’ was full up. Dare I mention, but when BLT helped set up the graduate training programmes for the firms in the late 90’s, we found people fully engaged in wanting to pursue this career – and 71% of those BLT grad hires from those 3 years are still operating in the field 20 years later. I bet the grad retention stats since then are nowhere near as high! Are the firms going about finding their talent at the junior levels the right way, and are the right people making the right decisions on who to hire?
  • The ‘patchy’ quality of technical and professional skills developed in HMRC and the varying quality and volume of the government department’s own recruitment into the discipline.
  • Poor education of existing Indirect Tax talent about the benefits of a long term career in the field – where it can take you and how you can get there.
  • An increasing apparent demarcation between individuals pursuing Indirect Tax advisory careers and individuals pursuing Indirect Tax compliance careers. It has become two different populations with different skills developed in each, with little cross-over deemed possible between the disciplines.
  • Over-reliance on LinkedIn, generic advertising and internal direct sourcing models as ‘allegedly’ a way to save money on recruitment costs. I’m not suggesting not using these routes to market, but one runs the danger of roles and firms’ identities losing their lustre when exclusively and solely handled by non-specialists in this niche market. You wouldn’t go to a butcher to buy a chocolate bar, now would you?!
  • Accountancy firm mergers resulting in fewer venues where Indirect Tax talent is nurtured and developed, resulting in fewer places to recruit from.
  • Cultural/social ‘mores’ resulting in departures. Accusations of sense of entitlement, an inflated sense of self-worth, and a lack of loyalty are often levelled at Gen Y/Millennials – I dislike this negative and generic concept myself. There’s nothing wrong with having confidence, and an enthusiasm and willingness to make the most of one’s potential and skills. Loyalty can after all indeed be misplaced. When taken to extremes however….

Regardless of the cumulative effect of all these points, and whether any of them can be tackled individually to help the overall whole, we are where we are as of today. What’s more concerning is how firms and companies have been reacting to the recruitment challenges, and judging by the increased numbers of appointments not lasting that I’ve noticed over the last few years (heaven forbid, not BLT placements I hasten to add!), a number of hirers are getting it very wrong indeed. I’d suggest that it’s time for employers to wrestle back control of the recruitment process, even in the age where Candidate is King. Some pointers on how to walk the tightrope of recruiting right when you come across a candidate you like the look of as follows:

  • IDENTIFY what’s so special about your role and company. Find unique points of difference that makes you stand out from the competition. BUT don’t get bogged down with generic platitudes about your company values. In an era where most companies and firms talk about diversity initiatives and flexible working, it goes without saying that you’ll need to give specific examples that you live and breathe these values. You’re better off focusing on the specific advantages of joining your specific team. And that’s not just about the role content or prospects, it’s about the team dynamic and even more specifically, you as a person i.e. your mentoring capabilities and leadership. Without coming across as self-absorbed of course!
  • SELL. Your candidate is likely to have a few different options, and won’t join you unless you’ve told them why they should join you. BUT don’t oversell; you need to talk to them honestly about what you might deem the less attractive parts of the role too.
  • BE HUMBLE. Be nice. The candidate will need to buy into you as person, and there’s nothing more off-putting to a potential employee than a boss who appears arrogant or unlikeable. BUT be yourself! Don’t end up being vanilla in your efforts to tone down your more ‘interesting’ character traits.
  • SIMPLIFY the interview process. Psychometric tests/personality profiling, case studies, formal technical interviews should go out the window. As should any idea of making candidates go through three interviews. Candidates don’t like formal tests, and you run the risk of appearing stuffy and rigid in your style. In worst case scenarios, candidates won’t apply if they think the recruitment process is too lengthy or complex. BUT still assess. Delve deep into an individual’s motivations and personality to find out what makes them tick over the course of two relatively informal interviews. Cover the technical side of things with a few verbal scenario type questions – you’ll quickly be able to work out if they know what they’re talking about.
  • ACT QUICKLY. In both arranging interviews and at offer stage. Cut through the red tape and get things done, otherwise another company will beat you to it. BUT don’t get carried away by the desire for speed. Take the time to listen to any concerns you have in your mind, and find a way to allay them (or not…in which case don’t hire!)
  • FEEDBACK in detail promptly (positively or negatively, but always constructively). Silence is perceived as ‘not interested’ and there’ll be other employers that could pip you to the post. BUT don’t forget to do the same for the candidates that you’ve decided not to take forward. These will talk to their friends/colleagues, leaving a bad impression of your firm if you haven’t had the decency to explain why they aren’t the chosen one.
  • LISTEN to any concerns that they’ve identified. Tackle and reassure. BUT don’t whitewash over insurmountable differences; they’ll only come back to bite you after the person has joined.
  • INVOLVE your team. Get their buy in as to the reasons why you need to hire. If you don’t, you run the risk of your current valued staff looking to depart, due to feeling threatened or just irritated by your secrecy. BUT don’t forget discretion! Only release the name of the potential employee to those that absolutely need to know/are part of the decision making process. In worst case scenarios, a loose tongue could result in word getting back to your preferred candidate’s current employer and then you’re in trouble in more ways than one.
  • TAKE A RISK. Perfection is unlikely to exist. BUT listen to your concerns; anything less than 85% sure should mean ‘don’t hire’.
  • OFFER WELL. Make your best and most attractive financial offer to your chosen candidate. There’s no point offering someone less than they’re earning currently, and seeing if you can get away with less than your very best financial offer can appear rather penny-pinching. No-one enjoys negotiating over salary. BUT don’t go overboard. Offering miles more than someone is worth, often in desperation, will cause you problems with your other staff when the person comes to join you.

If you get the above right, then you’ll have taken back control of your hiring, and will have a better chance of getting the right candidate through the door for the long run. Even in the age of the counter offer. However… isn’t over yet. When they start, you’ll need to go to considerable efforts to:

  • RETAIN them. Create the environment where they will ENJOY coming to work; where they feel they can ACHIEVE and where they are VALUED.

Struggling with Indirect Tax hiring? Think you’re getting it wrong? Or completely disagree with everything I’ve said? Do get in touch with me at or 0207 405 3404

GNB Blog

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

I am delighted to present the eighth 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 eighth interviewee is Abi Briggs, Indirect Tax Partner at Deloitte. 

Abi Briggs

Abi is a Partner based in London leading the UK and EMEA Indirect Tax TMT team. Abi has over 20 years of experience in advising predominantly multinational businesses on the indirect tax issues around supply chain (including optimisation), new product launches and entering new geographical territories. Abi’s industry focus is businesses within the technology, media and telecommunication sector.

Abi Briggs

  1. What gets you up in the morning?
    My alarm!  But seriously, I like what I do and therefore although no one relishes jumping out of bed and I’d always like another hour to sleep, I never dread going in.  Always said that the day this happens is the day I need to have a rethink.
  2. Can you describe your current role to me in 1 sentence?
    Indirect Tax Partner leading the national TMT team in the UK.
  3. What led you to your current position?
    Hard work and a willingness to step outside my comfort zone and try/do different things along the way.  
  4. How did you get into Indirect Tax in the first place?
    I never set out to do Tax, although I always wanted to do something in Finance.  I originally applied for a pensions role elsewhere, but was asked to submit a graduate application form.  This came through with a brochure on all the graduate roles which I duly read and realised Indirect Tax sounded so much more interesting than pensions.  
  5. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Indirect Tax industry right now?
    Risk management – my clients are global with a fast pace of change.  There is a clear and determined focus on being compliant but with constant business change and rapidly evolving tax rules, managing the risk of non-compliance is key.
  6. What advice would you give to young professionals – especially women – starting out on their Indirect Tax careers?
    Do something you enjoy.  You have to enjoy Indirect Tax and the ambiguity we have to deal with daily.  As such, if you like things to be black and white, this is perhaps not the career for you.  Also, make sure the industry focus you have is one you’re interested in – you’re far more likely to read around the topic if you do this and therefore know your sector.
    Be genuine and authentic – people buy from people and it’s a long career to pretend being someone you’re not.
    Find mentor(s) that you like and admire – these don’t have to be female, but they should hopefully reflect the principles you want to live/work by.
    Have principles and do the right thing.
  7. What barriers have you had to overcome during your career to date?
    I’m not sure whether they’re barriers or simply harder times.  This comes back to putting yourself outside your comfort zone which makes things a little uncomfortable at times.  I’m not sure there are barriers as such – and mine are often in my head like the imposter syndrome.    
  8. Have there been times when you considered changing career tack?
    Not really – fleetingly thought about moving to industry and away from practice, but as I was happy in practice it seemed odd to move away.  
  9. What has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
    Promotions throughout my career rather than one single moment.  Each time someone (or more than one person) has backed me and encouraged me.  No career is easy and therefore you need people you can trust who you know believe in you and push you forward.  
  10. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
    A hairdresser
  11. What are your honest thoughts on social media?
    This depends on from what perspective – as a mum I worry about my kids growing up feeling they need to look perfect all the time.  As a user, I’m fine with it – I think there is a lot of good that can come from social media when it is used properly and effectively.
  12. If you won a big award, who would you thank?
    My husband first, and then assuming it’s a work related award, all those people who have had my back along the way.
  13. What’s the best thing anyone has ever done for you?
    No grand gestures – simply listened when I’ve needed them.
  14. What’s the one word you’d want people to describe you with?
  15. Books or kindle?
  16. What is your best time saving tip?
    Not sure I have any – I’m just ruthlessly efficient in how I use time so that even when commuting I’m doing either work or life’s admin. This isn’t great though – I miss time to read, listen to music etc.   
  17. What has been the best part of your day today?
    Taking the kids to school – it matters to me and I love the chats on the way to school.
  18. Favorite holiday destination?
    Zambia, Dorset/Devon coastline, New York – too many to choose.


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