Liz Watt of BLT regularly interviews senior female indirect tax specialists. 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.
Julie Park 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).
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• What advice would you give to your younger self?
Be more confident about speaking up as you do have something valid to say.
• 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.
• 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!
• 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.
• 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’.
• Books or kindle?
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• Favorite holiday destination?
Santa Monica in California hands down.
• 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.
Many thanks to Liz Watt for allowing etaxjobs to share this article.
If you are an indirect tax specialist looking for coaching advice, do please contact Liz via her linkedin page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lizwatt/ or speak to one of the BLT team at https://www.blt.co.uk/