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

I am delighted to present the sixth 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 sixth interviewee is Astrid Krause, Senior Manager, Global Oils Europe (Indirect Taxes) at BP.

Astrid Krause

After qualifying as a solicitor, Astrid joined the Corporate Tax practice of Arthur Andersen in Johannesburg. The decision to transfer to the London office twenty years ago marked the start of a career in Indirect Taxes, initially with Andersen and subsequently with Deloitte. She took her first industry role with a FTSE250 engineering company, managing the group’s UK VAT as well as R&D credit activities. A move to BP in 2012 offered the opportunity to work in a dynamic and multi-faceted business, where she first supported the Upstream segment before moving into a global indirect tax risk management role.

A return to the UK portfolio in 2016 saw her lead the team of VAT and Customs & Excise advisers supporting all of BP’s segments during a time of considerable transformation internally, but also in the external environment. Early in 2019, she moved to BP’s trading and supply business where she oversees the UK and European advisory and compliance activities, and also supports the business’s global growth agenda.

Astrid is a member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation as well as the CBI’s Indirect Taxes Working Group. She is also a mentor for the BP Aspire programme, aimed at identifying and nurturing emerging talent within the organisation.

Astrid Krause

  1. What gets you up in the morning?
    Morning Report on BBC Radio Five Live!
  2. Can you describe your current role to me in 1 sentence?
    I lead the Indirect Taxes team supporting BP’s Supply & Trading business in the UK and Europe.
  3. What led you to your current position?
    A series of great opportunities within BP have opened a number of doors for me during the last seven years. I have been continuously challenged to step out of my comfort zone to where I now partner a very dynamic business with a remit beyond just Indirect Taxes.
  4. How did you get into Indirect Tax in the first place?
    I studied Law and was subsequently recruited by Arthur Andersen’s Corporate Tax team in Johannesburg. When I interviewed for a role in the London office, the vibe in the VAT team appealed strongly. So.. like many of my peers, I ended up in Indirect Taxes more by accident than design, but certainly no regrets.
  5. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Indirect Tax industry right now?
    The level of scrutiny from fiscal authorities has never been greater and the challenge we face to remain compliant whilst also adding value to operations continues to be an area of focus for leadership teams globally.
  6. What advice would you give to young professionals – especially women – starting out on their Indirect Tax careers?
    Trust your ability to learn new things, have the courage to challenge existing ways of working and take responsibility for the consequences of your actions – good or bad.
  7. What barriers have you had to overcome during your career to date?
    Upon reflection, I think I created my own internal barriers..! Thinking here of second-guessing myself unnecessarily or waiting for others to take the initiative. So many opportunities missed….
  8.  Have there been times when you considered changing career tack?
    The dynamic nature of global Indirect Taxes has always appealed to me. I guess the only time I changed tack was the move from practice to industry. 
  9. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
    A professional tennis player..!
  10. What advice would you give to your younger self?
    Be brave enough to make your own decisions – you know more than you think you know, and you are stronger than you thought.
  11. What are your honest thoughts on social media?
    I am mindful of social media’s ability to be disruptive in a negative way, but I am also encouraged by the opportunities it offers to introduce us to new sources of information and different ways of thinking. As with many things, it is all about balance.
  12. If you won a big award, who would you thank?
    My parents – who have never (let on that they) doubted my ability to achieve whatever I put my mind to.
  13. What’s the one word you’d want people to describe you with?
    Enthusiastic!
  14. Books or kindle?
    Kindle… all day, every day!
  15. If you could have a Skype chat with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
    Roger Federer for sure – what an inspirational icon, on and off the court.
  16. What is your best time saving tip?
    We do lead very full lives – sometimes self-imposed but mostly not. I find that meticulous planning in advance mostly seems to pay off when trying to keep all the plates – at home and in the office – spinning as they should.
  17. What has been the best part of your day today?
    A member of my team being publicly called out by the business for a complex project very well delivered. Nothing beats the feeling of seeing someone making the most of their opportunities and being recognised accordingly.
  18. Favorite holiday destination?
    Anywhere hot and sunny, thank you.
  19. Tell me one thing that people might not know about you……
    Listening to Country & Western music while baking is my happy place… escapism at its finest.

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

I am delighted to present the fifth 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 fifth interviewee is Liz Maher OBE, Director at Centurion VAT. 

Liz Maher

Following her time at HM Customs and Excise, Liz Maher went to work for Ernst & Young in 1989 becoming its first ever female VAT corporate services director in the UK. Liz now runs Centurion, which is an independently owned VAT practice servicing clients across the UK and beyond. In 2013 it was awarded the National UK Taxation Awards “Best VAT Team” winning the premier spot.

Centurion supports clients in both the public and private sectors from large corporates, housing associations, charities, and education bodies.

Liz also enjoys delivering VAT training on behalf of Centurion including annual VAT updates for professional bodies including the AAT, ICAEW and ACCA and through the British Universities Directors of Finance Group (BUFDG).

A keen volunteer Liz has been the Independent Auditor for Wales on the Investing in Volunteers Awards Program, a former Trustee of the Volunteer Matching Charity REACH, is a founder member of the Friends of Newport Cathedral Choir Charity and has served as a local board member of Young Enterprise Wales.

She is a past President of the South and Mid Wales Chambers of Commerce and is an elected member of the CBI Wales Council.

Liz was recently awarded an OBE for her role in the Diversity Agenda and Economic Development. She had her inauguration at Buckingham Palace last week.

Liz Maher 1

  1. What gets you up in the morning?
    The fact that there is so much to do and the belief that you can make a difference to family, to clients we look after and the wider community, locally and beyond.
  2. Can you describe your current role to me in 1 sentence?
    I’m one of the three Directors of Centurion VAT – an Independent specialist VAT Advisory firm – supporting clients with complex VAT issues.
  3. What led you to your current position?
    My husband Alan had been approached by the University of Wales, Newport to form Centurion VAT in 1998 as a specialist VAT support to Universities – such had been the success of this that the team had grown and when I made the decision to leave EY in the Spring of 2002, I joined Centurion in the Autumn. Centurion continued its successful ethos of expert VAT support outside of the Big 4 pricing and environment – developing our sector offering and geographical remit. In 2007 we became an Independent VAT consultancy and currently are the largest VAT team here in Wales and arguably the South West. Centurion was the Winner of the Taxation’s Best VAT Team in the UK 2013.
  4. How did you get into Indirect Tax in the first place?
    By accident! I did the Civil Service Graduate Entry exam – didn’t put HMCE or Wales on my department or region choice list and ended up being sent to do VAT in Cardiff – I’m not a numbers person but VAT is about problem solving, interpretation of law and evaluation of facts and information – I found I actually enjoy it, especially when you can use those skills to actually help a client move forward.
  5. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Indirect Tax industry right now?
    Access to the level of technically skilled VAT people who really do understand that they have to add value not just know the public notices. The challenge from the way in which HMRC is approaching taxpayers at the moment especially the lack of good communication links for taxpayers with the department and the difficulty of getting any technical decision that you can actually rely on from the department. For Centurion the direction of travel of the Big 4 teams is creating lots of opportunities for us to support new clients with their complex VAT issues – like any SME it is the challenge of growing awareness of our offering into the wider markets.
  6. What advice would you give to young professionals – especially women – starting out on their Indirect Tax careers?
    Make sure you like doing VAT, decide where you want to operate in that sector – you’ll need technical knowledge and communication skills to work in the advisory sector. For women I suppose I’d say look at it as a work/life blend rather than balance – balance infers one aspect is always a counter to the other and that immediately creates a pressure so try not to do that. On building confidence especially when going out to network events I pretend to myself that the event is something I’ve organized and that gives me the confidence to approach any group – male or female and start the conversation with “Hello – how are you enjoying this?” Chat usually follows from there I find. Equality of treatment is still an issue but part of the solution is in our own hands – self belief and recognizing that talking more openly about inequality or areas of discrimination will lead influencers that are male to be part of the solution. At the CBI Wales Council we agreed a policy we call “PlusOne” where at quarterly Council meetings the Council members are encouraged to bring along a junior female colleague to sit in on the discussions. It helps build confidence and gets more diverse voices round the table in what many might think is a largely white male business community. CBI Wales Council is one of the most diverse Councils in the network we are told – still more to do – but if you want things to change you’ve got to get involved.
  7. What barriers have you had to overcome during your career to date?
    Back in my early career days – the 80’s and 90’s it would be the issues familiar to many – in the civil service being told by the Leader of the Investigations team that he didn’t like women in the team as they “disrupted” things. In the Big 4 it was largely about progression being linked to whether you were prepared to be the corporate clone image they wanted and who you knew in the existing partner network that would be onside.
    I remember being at a Regional Senior Manager development dinner and hearing the lead partner tell a joke that his boss had said years before as evidence of past views and how things had moved on. It was along the lines of “there was only one thing worse than a female partner and that was a Catholic one as she’d have even more children”. As the only female at the dinner I looked around and felt I needed convincing things had changed. That was 25 years ago now and from the outside it looks like the diversity agenda has moved forward in that corporate environment – which is to be welcomed.
  8. Have there been times when you considered changing career tack?
    Yes, when I left EY as my two children were under 5 but then I realized how much I enjoyed the VAT world and the business environment – I just wanted to find a way of doing it without timesheets! Luckily that’s what Centurion offered!
  9. And if yes – what made you stay?
    I love the way we work at Centurion – the way clients trust us based on what we deliver and not on a big brand name. I love the growth we’ve achieved as an SME and that clients stay with us and tell more people about us.
  10. What has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
    I’d have to say getting an OBE last week for my role in the Diversity agenda and Economic Development – don’t think I’ll beat that as a personal recognition. On the work front it was the business winning the Best VAT Team in the UK Taxation award – fab team, great achievement.
  11. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
    Teacher or psychiatrist
  12. What advice would you give to your younger self?
    Believe in yourself more – understand your own potential
  13. What are your honest thoughts on social media?
    I tweet a bit – I don’t do Facebook or other platforms. I do pick up news from Twitter but increasingly I wonder how much manipulation is out there.
  14. If you won a big award, who would you thank?
    The people who nominated me for it as I’d be amazed that what I do is anything extraordinary. I’d also have to thank my hubby for being supportive – luckily he knows what VAT and business world is like – and my team mates in Centurion.
  15. What’s the best thing anyone has ever done for you?
    Hubby took me on a surprise trip on the Orient Express to Venice.
  16. What’s the one word you’d want people to describe you with?
    Committed
  17. Books or kindle?
    Both but on balance I love the tactile bit of holding a book
  18. If you could have a Skype chat with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
    Emily Pankhurst
  19. What is your best time saving tip?
    I’m rubbish at time management – writing a to do list seems to help
  20. What has been the best part of your day today?
    Having a breakfast cuppa at home looking out over the Welsh countryside and planning the to do’s of the day.
  21. Favorite holiday destination?
    Just back from New Zealand – an amazing country and I would love to visit again but Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands is a personal favourite.
  22. Tell me one thing that people might not know about you……
    I took up trampolining in my late 40’s

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

I am delighted to present the fourth 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 fourth interviewee is Heather Catlin, Head of VAT at HSBC Group. 

Heather Catlin

Heather Catlin is Head of VAT at HSBC group. She leads a team who are responsible for advising the business and managing indirect tax compliance and indirect tax risk. In addition to her VAT role, she chairs the People Committee for Tax at HSBC and also co-chairs the Inclusion In Tax & Treasury group, which strives for improved inclusion of all types. Prior to her role at HSBC Heather worked at Barclays and Lloyds Banking Group. She started her career at EY where she qualified as a Chartered Tax Advisor.

IMG_2463

  1. What gets you up in the morning?
    It is generally a race between the 6am news on Radio 4 and one of my children.
  2. Can you describe your current role to me in 1 sentence?
    I lead the VAT team at HSBC and also have responsibility for the Tax People Committee and Co-Chair the Inclusion in Tax & Treasury group.
  3. What led you to your current position?
    I really wanted the opportunity to lead a VAT function and be more strategic.
  4. How did you get into Indirect Tax in the first place?
    I spent the first two years of my career in media sales but was increasingly bored with it. I decide to resign and temp while I had a total re-think. I saw an ad for graduate trainees in VAT at EY and I was intrigued. I was offered the role and have never regretted the decision to accept.
  5. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Indirect Tax industry right now?
    Aside from the uncertain political and economic environment, the biggest challenge is ensuring we adapt. We are going to need to evolve to be tax professionals of the future, especially in the area of technology.
  6. What advice would you give to young professionals – especially women – starting out on their Indirect Tax careers?
    Look around you for role models – there were so few female role models when I started out and happily this is no longer true. Be ambitious and take control of your own career because no-one will do that for you.
  7. What barriers have you had to overcome during your career to date?
    The biggest leap of faith I made was into a career in tax in the first place. I was starting from scratch with a subject I knew absolutely nothing about and I found it daunting.
  8. Have there been times when you considered changing career tack?
    Not really. I genuinely believe that VAT is the most interesting of the taxes and for the last 20 years has provided me with a series of interesting challenges.
  9. What has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
    Being asked by a partner at one of the Big 4 firms to host a lunch for some of its talented women because they saw me as a role model.
  10. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
    Either a BBC Producer, a Barrister or a Historian. I wrote to the BBC when I was 10 asking for details of how I could get into it and to their credit they wrote back and sent me all kinds of leaflets about BBC careers.
  11. What advice would you give to your younger self?
    You are more able than you realize.
  12. What are your honest thoughts on social media?
    Most of the time I hate it but due to having family overseas and a child who uses it I can’t switch it off.
  13. If you won a big award, who would you thank?
    My brilliant team at HSBC and my husband because he is so incredibly supportive and has always believed in me 100%.
  14. What’s the best thing anyone has ever done for you?
    When my husband was my next-door-neighbour I was having a ridiculously busy time at work one Christmas and was being bah-humbug about the festive season. I came back late from work one night to find he had left me a fully decorated Christmas tree to cheer me up.
  15. What’s the one word you’d want people to describe you with?
    Trustworthy
  16. Books or kindle?
    Books.
  17. If you could have a Skype chat with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
    My great-grandfather. He disappeared sometime around 1919. I have spent the last 15 years trying to find out where he went with no luck. I have quite a few questions for him!
  18. What is your best time saving tip?
    Prioritise.
  19. What has been the best part of your day today?
    A discussion with my 7 year old about weekend break destinations. He initially suggested Argentina but we settled on Portugal.
  20. Favorite holiday destination?
    That’s tough as I love to see new places. I have been to Boston/New England a couple of times recently and I loved it.
  21. Tell me one thing that people might not know about you……
    I am season ticket holder at West Ham.

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Do footballers do psychometric profiling? by Catriona Cookson

I found myself wondering exactly this, yes really, I did, after Manchester United’s 3-1 win against PSG in the Champions League with Marcus Rashford’s last gasp penalty.

At BLT, I’ve covered most areas of the management consultancy sector – some more interesting than others I have to say! One of the most fascinating is the broad People and Change space …covering a range of topics from culture change and purpose to leadership development and assessment.

I also love football, and declare my interest as a Manchester United fan, ….and where do you begin with the People and Change transformation at this club recently? A change in leadership has brought a transformation in performance, results, attitude, confidence, self-belief, trust ….and the list goes on. And with the big changes come small ones too – arriving at matches in a smart club suits sets out a statement of intent which a casual tracksuit never does. Does this feed into performance…well it can’t do any harm that’s for sure!

I’m no organisational development expert but something special is happening when a team overturns a 2- 0 home leg deficit for the first time ever in the Champions League to progress to the next round. I vaguely recall reading that Gareth Southgate had introduced psychometric profiling in his World Cup campaign last year to help decide who the penalty takers should be, but this could just be one of those hazy half-truths from the time.

So, who knows if Marcus Rashford has been through any psychometric profiling exercise, or if he just had the self-belief and confidence to volunteer for that penalty? Either way, even if you’re not a big football fan you have to admire the victory on the night.

And on this International Women’s Day, let’s also remember the recent success of the women’s football team, winning the SheBelieves Cup beating Japan 3-0. Now for the World Cup in France this summer ….although I’ll have to be cheering for Scotland when they play England on June 9th!

Cat's Blog

A day to celebrate should be…celebrated – by Tariq Siraj

It’s both International Women’s Day and World Book Day today – both hugely significant and worthy causes to celebrate. The quote ‘when you educate a woman, you set her free’ ties both up very nicely.

Just like the rather more commercial Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Valentine’s Day, many make the point that we should celebrate these causes every day of the year so let’s ignore this ‘manufactured’ day being forced upon us. Additionally, there is the yet more cynical response of “why do they get a day, why not me?” or “Why isn’t there a ‘World Men’s Day’? – isn’t it some kind of reverse inequality to do it this way?”

Well….no. I think there might even already be a ‘World Men’s Day’ or something similar -though I’m not going to waste my time looking it up. The plain fact is that the global fight for women’s rights exists entirely because pretty much every day of the year is already World Men’s Day.

Rather than undermining the cause for the rest of the year, having a designated day where we celebrate, reflect, write about, think about or talk about a worthy issue simply raises that issue up. The Welsh don’t forget how proud they are of their country on all days outside of St David’s Day, nor do Americans forget their civil rights struggle outside of Martin Luther King Day – but they equally don’t think it crazy to have a day of celebration to honour the story.

What Does it Mean In The Real World…?

For many, World Book Day means finding a costume for your kid to wear to school and not much else. If you already read a lot, it won’t make a difference to your day-to-day existence – but then you’re probably not the target.

Readers will read regardless, and kids will dress up in costumes regardless…but if a particular day asks that that child to dress up as a character from a book they love and prompts them to read it, think about it and then read maybe read another – well that can only be a positive thing. If World Book Day only did that it would be worthwhile.

Of course its effect is far greater than that; both adults and children pick up a book when they may not have otherwise, it gives an excuse to nurseries, schools and colleges to emphasise the importance of literature, and it creates a forum for discussion, articles and debate around the role of literature and the use of language. This stuff happens every day all over the world…but a designated day just raises the consciousness a wee bit. To paraphrase This is Spinal Tap (any excuse); it turns the dial up to 11.

Thinking about real life and business, there a great Michelle Obama quote; “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens” – and that idea transplants perfectly onto the corporate world. How can any business – large or small – flourish, innovate and grow if it doesn’t encourage the potential of half of its available workforce? Half of its talent!

The promotion of books and reading, and the fight for women’s equality and rights are ongoing ones – but the focus and momentum can dim without an agreed day to write, think and talk about it. For all these reasons, let’s celebrate the forced celebrations that are World Book Day and International Women’s Day.

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