Lessons Learned From A Career In Tax

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.