How To Build A Tax Team From Scratch

Building a tax team from scratch
Building a tax team from scratch

Henning Lauritsen is a leader in the tax profession and has created internal tax teams for a number of large international companies. Having worked with Henning to build the tax team at Wyelands Capital, SRM Recruitment asks for Henning’s advice on how to build a tax team from scratch.

What kind of people should you look for?

It’s critical to source people who understand how to work with the business if you want to successfully build a tax team from scratch. Of course, a tax professional needs to understand compliance, but they need something more than that. It goes beyond being up to date with operations, they have to really understand the business approach.

When we set up the tax team at Wyelands Capital, we partnered with SRM Recruitment because we wanted to build a thinking tax team, not an operational tax team. We partnered to create a strategy, which was approved by the CFO, and SRM helped me to fill a number of roles. In the past, the Group’s tax department was too operational – we wanted to be real advisers. Now, the team are in place and my boss has relocated so we’ll be even closer moving forward. It’s fundamental to work closely together so the senior management can understand tax.

I think it’s more important to find balance in your team than to try and hire the ‘perfect candidate’ on paper. When we were creating our tax team at Wyelands Capital, we had some very strong theoretical tax knowledge, but we needed someone who brought more practical experience. We sourced a candidate from South Africa who had really strong practical skills, and this complemented the strengths others had. You have to think of the team as a whole.

How do you run your team?

We have one central Group tax department, but we also have satellite tax departments in Bucharest, Ostrava, Sydney and Dallas. The local knowledge is invaluable, and it keeps the dynamic fun – they love visiting the London team, and vice versa. I have always tried to set up tax teams to reflect the countries we are operating in, as well as having a gender-balanced, multicultural team. When you have the opportunity to build a tax team from scratch, I think it’s important to mirror the real-world environment and have that diversity.

In terms of rewards, teamwork is key, so for example, a bonus wouldn’t be awarded unless people work well together. They don’t have to like each other – that doesn’t matter in our department – but everyone must cooperate. I have a strong belief in the power of the team.

We hold a weekly meeting to ask everyone what they’re working on. This is also a great opportunity to share our knowledge with the business, by inviting colleagues from other disciplines e.g. procurement to talk about what they are doing and how we can help.

How can you work most effectively with tax authorities like HMRC?

The first thing to understand is that tax authorities do want to work with you. By having an honest, respectful dialogue, you can work more effectively. For example, in Malaysia, we advised the authorities that we couldn’t work to their timetable, and also that our system is approximately correct (we called it our 80% rule.) That is not unusual by the way – no matter how much you go into the detail, something will always be wrong. So, we try to be practical and realistic and explain any limitations. It actually helps us be more accurate because we are not sweating the ‘small’ stuff but making sure we are putting time into what really matters. We explained we were following OECD guidelines, and they understood.

We have a good relationship with HMRC because we are open and transparent. They joined us at a risk review and we had a very good meeting. They don’t actually like court cases – they want to solve problems.

It’s really just a case of being good corporate citizens – and not just the tax department. We’re here to help and assist, and by doing so we protect our business.

When do you bring in external expertise?

We do need to use outside experts from time to time. We did an acquisition in seven countries and to aid our understanding we used the regional PWC advisors to do the local due diligence work. We know when to ask for help and use external advisors for difficult situations.

Partnering with SRM Recruitment to build our tax team from scratch was a good use of external expertise to find the best talent for our roles. SRM acted as true consultants to our business and helped shape our hiring strategy, as well as filling the positions.

If you are planning to build or expand your tax team, please contact us to discuss your needs. For more information about Henning’s career and for his thoughts on the Future of Tax, visit our Insights section.

Lessons Learned From A Career In Tax

lessons learned from a career in tax Henning Lauritsen
Henning Lauritsen lessons learned career in tax
Henning Lauritsen, Acting Head of Tax at Wyelands Capital (GFG Alliance)

Henning Lauritsen is Acting Head of Tax at Wyelands Capital (GFG Alliance). Originally from Denmark, Henning started in international tax at petrochemicals company Borealis. He started Carlsberg’s tax team from scratch, and since then has led several global organisations through periods of transition and merger. In the latest of our ‘Lessons from Leaders’ series, we find out what Henning has learned from his career in tax.

How did you arrive at your current role?

In 2009 I was working in Hong Kong for a global commodity group. I travelled a lot – it felt like I went around the world in two weeks. Jules Verne had nothing on me! It was a very interesting company, but jet lag plagued me.

I moved to London for a new role, where I set up the global tax department. I was still travelling, visiting the US and parts of Asia to get closer to the business. When they closed the London office in 2017, I wanted to remain in the City.

Around that time, the GFG Alliance called me and asked me to focus on their M&A business – Wyelands Capital. They did things differently there, and it seemed like a great opportunity to learn, so I joined them as Acting Head of Tax. It’s a year since I started – I think they still like me!

You’ve had a very successful career in tax – what has driven your progress?

It sounds like a contradiction, but I think I have survived by not becoming too focused on the tax world. You have to understand the connections an organisation has within and outside itself, and then to work with the business to translate tax into their language. It’s just as important to understand accounting and cross-border challenges, as it is to understand people and cooperate with them.

To be successful, a tax leader cannot operate alone, and I’m a big believer in synergy. One person can dig a ditch of three metres in two hours but two people can dig seven or eight metres of ditch at the same time. That’s the power of the team.

What lessons have you learned as a tax leader?

There are three main lessons I would share with someone wanting to pursue a successful career in tax:

  1. It’s important to be a good leader. This means working as a team – you’re only as strong as the weakest link. You have to take care of people, lead and guide them, then they will deliver.
  2. You must think broadly. I analyse the company accounts. That’s not my job, but I proactively look for anomalies, such as the effective tax rate, so I can spot any errors sooner. I do what I call ‘the sniff test’ – if it smells wrong, it probably is. I look at the whole business through the lens of tax and take a broad view of the situation.
  3. When you do speak to people, be clear – the way we communicate as tax professionals is critical. I can guarantee that the business does not understand what I’m talking about if I use phrases like ‘future relief’. Terminology also differs from country to country, so an international team must be sensitive to that. You have to be able to explain simply – no long stories! It’s important to pitch your communications to the person’s level of understanding.

How do you advise the business as a tax leader?

In tax, as in many other disciplines, the more experienced you are, the more you need to consider the real question you are being asked. You may only be told parts E-Z of a story, and you have to first understand A-E yourself, and research the background. To properly advise, you need to ensure answering the right question. Never take a risk if it makes you think ‘I hope no one sees’ – you are there to protect the business.

Any career regrets?

Not really! I’ve tried so many different companies, all with different cultures. I’ve had a very interesting career, and I always think that that job I have now is the most important one. I say to other people ‘don’t complain about your situation – you took the job!’. Take control, drive things forward – if you want a salary rise, ask for one and explain why.

I’m happy I chose tax – it was the right decision for me. Tax is like a piece of art of me.

How is tax like art?

If you know your legislation and how to see connections within the business, tax professionals can figure out beautiful plans to save money and serve the business. We must always consider the ethics of our actions – we don’t just do things because we can. But there is pleasure in finding solutions for the business.

For example, I had just joined one organisation and due to the way we were structured and set up historically we had to pay £5m in tax. Working in partnership with PWC, we found a solution that reduced our exposure, reduced risk and was ethical – all by understanding the law, the detail and thinking creatively.

We’ve seen how a broader understanding of the business, clear communications and the power of teamwork have driven Henning’s career trajectory. For more in our ‘Lessons from Leaders’ series, and to discover Henning’s thoughts on the future of tax, visit our Insights page. If you’d like to discuss your next tax role, please get in touch.

The Future of Tax

Future of Tax HMRC Building
Future of Tax HMRC Building

Henning Lauritsen is Acting Head of Tax at Wyelands Capital (GFG Alliance). We hear Henning’s three predictions for the future of tax

A closer relationship with tax authorities

In recent years, businesses have cooperated more and more with tax authorities, and the future of tax will see this trend increase as a lack of resources forces efficiencies. The authorities will ask us to implement policies, state our tax strategy on the website and get the whole company behind that strategy. If those policies are put in place, then we won’t need their audits – we have protection around the company and that makes us stronger.

Greater internal controls

The more internal controls a company can implement, the better that company will function. As technology allows our procedures to be digitised, I expect this area will grow in the near future. We can already see that digital VAT and tax creates efficiencies so that we as tax professionals have more time to focus on the company more broadly, rather than the detail.

The world is changing very quickly, and the future of tax will see many more tasks becoming automated. For example, automated transfer pricing reports will allow us to easily consult the business quickly on the markets it should sell to. These processes will also become more accurate over time.

The future of tax teams

The tax department must start to look like a thinking team, focused more on strategy and overall policy than the detail. Automation will mean the tax team reduces in numbers, and those left in it need to shift from being operational to more consultative. The tax department will be more involved in the business than they are today – among the C-suite you may see more tax professionals, lawyers and accountants. Closer integration with the business, perhaps as a virtual team rather than one separate, centralised department, will ensure the tax specialists can better guide the various teams as to what’s best for them.

In summary, it’s clear to see how better cooperation with tax authorities, more automated and efficient internal controls and a more consultative approach will shape the future of tax in the very near future. Stay up to date with the latest trends by following us on LinkedIn. To discover Henning’s thoughts on building a tax team from scratch, to learn about his career path and to access our ‘Lessons from Leaders’ series, visit our Insights section.

Henning Lauritsen lessons learned career in tax

“We can already see that digital VAT and tax creates efficiencies so that we as tax professionals have more time to focus on the company more broadly, rather than the detail.”

Henning Lauritsen, Acting Head of Tax at Wyelands Capital (GFG Alliance).

If you’d like to discuss your tax role, or if you’re looking to make your next career move, please get in touch to talk about your needs.

A successful career in tax

“The work I’m doing around sales and building the business is very different to anything I’ve done before.”

Drew Wardrope – Head of Tax Insurance at Howden

Public speaking isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you’re listing a tax professional’s required skills. It certainly wasn’t something Drew Wardrope gave much thought to whilst he was heading up M&A tax at Barclays. A lot has changed for him over the last 18 months – his public speaking responsibilities included. We spoke to Drew about the early days of his career, his impressive rise through Deloitte, RBS and Barclays and how a call from Rory MacSween at SRM Recruitment set him on a new and exciting path to insurance specialists Howden.

What attracted you to a career in tax?

I’d love to say I have this amazing story about how I always wanted a career in tax… but I didn’t. I basically fell into it. I was studying maths at Nottingham university and I got a job mid-way through my third year – I was going to be an actuary. That was great, I was set up, I could relax a bit. I deferred and took a year off to go travelling. I taught football in the States, toured Brazil in a campervan and then went to Asia. I was getting into a bit of debt, but I wasn’t worried as I knew I had a job to go back to in September and I’d be able to pay it off.

I’m sensing something’s about to go wrong…

This was 2003, way before smartphones, and I was checking my emails in an internet café in a railway station in Cambodia. The actuary company in London had emailed, asking me call them urgently. I found a payphone and was told that the company was laying off all its graduates. I remember sitting outside the internet café almost laughing to myself and thinking, ‘What the hell do I do now?’ I needed to find a new job pretty sharpish but when I got back to the UK in August, most decent firms had already hired for the year.

You secured a graduate role with Deloitte – how did you manage that so late in the day?

Deloitte had just gone through a big merger with Arthur Anderson, so they’d put their recruitment on hold for six months. I was living with my mum in Newcastle and I went down to London for a graduate fair expecting to speak to the Deloitte actuary guy. But I was told, ‘Sorry – all the actuary jobs were filled yesterday. But you can speak to the tax guy – he’s still got jobs available.’ So, I did and that’s how I fell into a career in tax.

You clearly settled into tax well because by year four, you were rated in the top five percent of the population at Deloitte. Then you left for a job at RBS. What made you go in-house rather than pursuing the partner track at Deloitte?

I saw moving in-house as a stepping stone to the partner track. Working for a big accountancy firm, you’re advising businesses all the time, telling them what to do and how to do it. I thought, how am I supposed to give this advice when I don’t really know what it’s like to implement it? In the real world, does this stuff actually work? Is it practical? Is it realistic? So my plan was to go in-house, get some commercial business experience and then effectively go back to Deloitte.

How was life in-house?

It was nerve wracking but exhilarating. When you work for an accountancy firm at a junior level, typically in client meetings you just listen in because you’ve got at least two people more senior than you doing the talking. I went from that sheltered environment to being told by my new boss in my first week, ‘You’re going to a meeting on funds. Do you know anything about funds? No? Well, you had better learn fast because you’re our funds expert now.’ I had a morning to read up on everything and then I went to this meeting with the front office and 10 or so other infrastructure groups and was asked, ‘So, what’s your opinion on tax?’ It was very steep learning curve, but I learned quickly.

You joined RBS in 2007, a year before it went into government ownership. How did that play out for you?

I look back now and think I lived through the eye of the storm. Senior management weren’t saying much – we got most of our information from Robert Peston on the BBC. We saw Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin in the treasury effectively pleading for money from Gordon Brown to keep the bank afloat. We watched other banks collapsing and people walking out of Lehman Brothers with their possessions in boxes. There were pay cuts and lots of extra work and day to day I’d go into the office not knowing if the bank would still be functioning. But we just got on with it. There was a real sense of camaraderie – we were all in the same boat and none of us had a clue about what was going to happen. You get rich, interesting experiences from something like that.

You stayed with RBS for two more years and moved to Barclays, which in 2012 found itself in its own media spotlight…

Yes, I somehow chose to work at two companies at the centre of some of the biggest corporate scandals in UK history! At Barclays it wasn’t our financial stability that was in question, it was our reputation. I think it changed the bank for good in that pre-financial crisis, banks were participating in tax schemes that were legal but morally questionable. Post financial crisis, people started thinking about the wider effects of aggressive tax planning – it’s legal, but is it the right thing to do?

After seven years at Barclays, what made you decide to move on?

My last three years at Barclays were amazing. I became head of M&A Tax at a time when Barclays was massively downsizing and selling about a third of the bank. I built a tax team to support that and we did loads of interesting transactions in a very short space of time. It was really fun, but it had a shelf life – the role was only so interesting so long as there was stuff to sell or buy. I could see that by the end of 2017, Barclays would have sold all it wanted to sell and my role would be coming to an end. So I started thinking about my next steps.

Was going back to Deloitte an option, as per the plan you’d had ten years earlier? And where do SRM Recruitment and Howden fit in?

I was talking to various firms about roles in M&A tax, including Deloitte. I was working on a deal in Johannesburg when Rory from SRM Recruitment popped up – he reached out to me on LinkedIn and told me he had a role that he thought was perfect for me. Ultimately he was right, because here I am at Howden! What interested me about the role was the opportunity to go out there and try to grow a business, which I’d never done before.

How fast did things move after that first email from Rory?

Unbelievably fast. It was in huge contrast to the bureaucratic, red tape environment I’d come from, where you can have six rounds of interviews and still no final answer. I had an interview with Howden’s MD on the Friday, met his colleague on the Monday morning and by Monday afternoon I had a job offer.

So you’re now Head of Tax Insurance at Howden – congratulations! Tell us about the workplace culture there.

It’s completely different to anywhere I’ve worked before. We’re majority owned by a bigger organisation but minority owned by employees, and there’s 40 of us globally in M&A. The team was created six years ago and it’s grown exponentially year on year. There’s a start-up feel to the place – it’s a really fun, exciting place to work. There are yoga sessions in the morning and everyone walks around in their sports gear. So it’s not your typical corporate world, but that’s not to mistake the fun for lack of professionalism. When we’ve got client meetings we’re all suited and booted and everybody works very hard, if not harder than in places I’ve worked in before.

Can you give us an overview of what you’re doing at Howden?

I sell tax insurance products. Let’s say a buyer puts £500 million on the table for a new business which has a £100 million tax risk. The next day that tax risk crystallises – the business is now worth £400 million and the buyer is out of pocket. I sell the tax insurance products to the buyer to protect them from that risk. Without insurance, the deal might not happen because the buyer and seller can’t agree how to share that risk. If you transfer that risk to the insurance market and both parties are happy to pay the cost of the insurance policy, which is a percentage of the total overall risk, the deal gets done.

What’s it like applying your technical tax skills in such a different environment?

As far as the technical tax skills go, the application isn’t that different from my previous roles. When you work in M&A you have to become a generalist – one day you might be looking at VAT risk in Singapore, the next it’s transfer tax in Italy. That part of my work hasn’t really changed.

So what is different around your current role – and what new skills have you developed as a result?

The work I’m doing around sales and building the business is very different to anything I’ve done before and I find it really interesting. The workload is intense: I’m working on deals, servicing existing clients and all the time trying to grow the business and make new contacts. There are lots plates spinning and you need energy and mental resilience to take all that on and not get too stressed by it. Work trips can be exhausting: we’ll do seven meetings in a day, from sitting around a table having coffee to presentations to 100 people.

And how have you embraced your new public speaking responsibilities?

Turning up at a conference and speaking for an hour to 100 delegates wasn’t something I’d done before. I do get a bit nervous beforehand, but generally I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my public speaking abilities!

What advice would you have for tax accountants in the early stages of their careers – or what would you tell your 22-year-old self starting out at Deloitte?

I’d say that it’s really important to make your own luck. There are so many things you can’t have a hand in – it’s just about being in the right place at the right time. But what you can do is try to make as many opportunities arise as you can. Do this by putting yourself out there and meeting people. The more you’re getting out there, the more opportunities will arise and when they do, you can grab them. The book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell was eye-opening for me. He writes about Bill Gates and how he happened to have regular access to a computer in the 1960s, way before computers became mainstream. So many moments are about luck, and it’s about recognising those moments and seizing them.

Discover more stories in our ‘Lessons From Leaders’ series in our blog. If you’d like to discuss your next career change, we’d love to hear from you, so please get in touch on + 44 (0) 20 3637 7808. Or submit your CV here.