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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.

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  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.

Thought of the Human Impact of the ‘B’ word?………by Liz Watt

A recent conversation with my colleagues about the difficulties of predicting business activity and trends in the current uncertainty around Brexit got me thinking about how this high-level uncertainty filters down to those working within these businesses. It stands to reason that if major corporates are feeling the pressure as to what decisions they should make in the run up to Brexit, then the impact on individuals within those businesses must be equally tough.

We talk about the importance of ‘tone from the top’, and how the values and actions of those in leadership positions has an impact on their employees. So if the prevailing mood in the business at Board level is uncertainty or inertia, this is bound to have an impact and the ripple effect is only too easy to imagine.

There have been myriad reports on how Brexit might affect the UK employment market, employment law and employee rights, but very little in my view on the human cost of the uncertainty affecting the people working hard to keep their businesses on track.

In an era when businesses are – quite rightly – focusing more than ever on the mental health and wellbeing of their staff, it would make sense to keep a close eye on how the Brexit debate at a macro level is affecting the mood and behaviors at a micro level.   Experience tells us that this time will pass, ultimately there will be a resolution to the current uncertainties, and when that happens it is vital that businesses are ‘match-fit’ and in a good position to take advantage of the new economic landscape, whatever that might be.

So – the questions I would ask any business leaders are these – are you looking out for the wellbeing of your staff in a time of unprecedented uncertainty? Is your business resilient from an employee perspective? Are you future-proofing your business at all levels to ensure that you survive and thrive in a post-Brexit landscape?

If any of these questions give you pause for thought but you are not sure how to respond, you might consider offering Coaching as a way to help your people manage the issues they are experiencing, and provide them with the tools and coping mechanisms to benefit them as individuals and you as a business.

If you would like to have a conversation about how Coaching can impact positively, please contact Liz Watt.

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

I am delighted to present the third 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 third interviewee is Julie Park, Managing Director, VAT and Customs Duty at The VAT Consultancy. 

Julie Park 

Julie is the owner and managing director of The VAT Consultancy and advises clients in a wide variety of sectors on broad range of UK and global VAT and customs duty issues.  She regularly spends periods of time embedded within indirect tax teams in industry working on projects with them and providing additional resource, meaning she is well placed to understand the issues facing clients.  Prior to The VAT Consultancy Julie worked at Deloitte in London for 16 years and before that for HMRC as a VAT auditor.  She is a Chartered Tax Advisor (CTA).

Julie Park

  1. What gets you up in the morning?
    Invariably an alarm clock, either to head to a meeting or on a weekend to take my son swimming at 6am as he swims 6-7 times a week.
  2. Can you describe your current role to me in 1 sentence?
    Managing Director and Owner of The VAT Consultancy, a boutique practice providing global VAT and customs duty advice to a wide range of clients.
  3. What led you to your current position?
    I have BLT to thank for that! I was looking to leave Deloitte after 16 years and wanted a change to something slightly more ‘left of field’. I had the opportunity to meet with John Crawford who founded TVC and was immediately attracted by the opportunity to be his succession plan and take over the business when he retired.
  4. How did you get into Indirect Tax in the first place?
    As with most people in VAT of my generation – completely by accident. I was working as a Russian linguist at GCHQ and wanted to relocate to the Hampshire/Surrey area. The only civil service transfer I could get was as a VAT inspector in Woking. I was fairly devastated at the prospect but have to say I have never looked back. A great example of thinking you know what you want to do throughout your School and University life and then switching to something completely different and finding you really enjoy it. 
  5. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Indirect Tax industry right now?
    Finding the right staff with the perfect mix of commercial understanding, sound technical knowledge and a good understanding of how VAT works with ERP and other accounting systems.
  6. What advice would you give to young professionals – especially women – starting out on their Indirect Tax careers?
    From a career progression perspective, stand in the shoes of your more senior colleagues and clients and work out what they need from you – be proactive and try and look at things from their perspective. Confidence is also key but I don’t believe this should mean you have to shout from the roof tops about every achievement – remaining true to yourself and inspiring confidence in clients/internal colleagues by demonstrating you understand their needs and can deliver on these is far more valuable in an in house or client service role.
  7. What barriers have you had to overcome during your career to date?
    Working out how to balance a full time career in London with having a young family – this is very difficult to juggle unless you find a way to compartmentalise – having help at home (my husband is a house husband) clearly helped me hugely but it does not deal with the natural desire you might have to be at home with your kids at the end of the day rather than at a networking drinks event with colleagues.
  8. Have there been times when you considered changing career tack?
    Nothing beyond the obvious ‘selling ice-creams on a beach’ desire I assume we all have when we are on holiday somewhere nice and warm!   The entrepreneur in me also spends time trying to think up great ideas to take on Dragons Den but the reality kicks in (as does the lack of good ideas) and I tell myself again that a career in Indirect Tax is right up there with the best you can have. The world of indirect tax is full of extremely talented people and I’m grateful to have had the chance to work with many of them.
  9. And if yes – what made you stay?
    I genuinely find my job interesting and enjoyable most of the time as you get such a fantastic insight into different businesses and applying your technical knowledge to the different scenarios is mentally challenging at times which means time flies by! I’m always puzzled by people who aren’t in the know thinking it sounds boring but I’ve pretty much given up trying to persuade them otherwise.
  10. What has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
    Leaving Deloitte and moving to a tiny practice, having spent all of my career in very formal Civil Service and Big 4 environments. I had a fantastic time at HMRC and Deloitte and wouldn’t change those experiences at all if I had my time again, but the time had come for a change and I am really glad I took a brave step to try something different. I think risks are fine as long as you have an exit plan if it doesn’t work out. Mine would have been to retreat back into a big corporate which I guess would have been fairly easy, but luckily I didn’t need to.
  11. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
    Initially a holiday rep and then a linguist as I did languages at A level and University and in my first job.
  12. What advice would you give to your younger self?
    Be more confident about speaking up as you do have something valid to say.
  13. What are your honest thoughts on social media?
    I can’t say I envy today’s generation growing up in an environment where it is such an important part of their lives. There are of course many great aspects to it and I use it mainly on a personal rather than professional level to keep up with far flung friends. Balance is key I guess.
  14. If you won a big award, who would you thank?
    TVC did win one a few years ago which I was extremely proud of. I didn’t get to do an acceptance speech but would thank colleagues present and past and of course clients without whom there’d be no award!
  15. What’s the best thing anyone has ever done for you?
    In my early Deloitte days we had an indirect tax conference and it’s fair to say I overindulged at the bar in the style of a true VAT specialist.  I had complained to my then boyfriend (now husband) that there was no mini bar in the hotel room so I’d be really dehydrated  from the lack of water etc in the room the next morning when I had to get up for the conference.  He secretly called the hotel, paid for an ice-bucket of diet coke to be delivered to my room which was waiting for me when I staggered back at 4am.  As a result I was bright eyed and bushy tailed, once our fabulous group EA Tracey Sherman had found my contact lenses in the sink for me. One of my favourite gifts ever.
  16. What’s the one word you’d want people to describe you with?
    I’m going with 2 words in a work context – ‘really good’.
  17. Books or kindle?
    Both
  18. If you could have a Skype chat with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
    My nana, she was always very supportive and proud of my achievements at school and when I was the first in my family to go to University and I would love to catch her up on what she has missed out on as she died whilst I was at Uni.
  19. What is your best time saving tip?
    Learn to be really good at working out how long something will take to do/somewhere will take to get to so you can cram as much into as little time as possible. 
  20. What has been the best part of your day today?
    Apart from reminiscing about my Deloitte conference days whilst answering the questions, resolving what could have been a hideous penalty issue for a client where I know the individual will sleep much better tonight.
  21. Favorite holiday destination?
    Santa Monica in California hands down.
  22. Tell me one thing that people might not know about you……
    Last time I answered a question like this for BLT I was dabbling in amateur Irish Dancing. I swiftly moved on from that disaster and over the last few years I have been doing Karate – I’m about to go for my 1st Kyu which takes me to one before black belt.

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