Sarah trained at a ‘Big 4’ firm in Aberdeen before undertaking roles at a NYSE-listed Oil & Gas services company and the leading transport operator in the UK and North America. In 2017, Sarah joined the global engineering business, Howden Group. Rutherford Cross was delighted to assist Sarah with building her Tax team in her role as Group Tax Manager last year.
Here we ask her 10 questions about her career-to-date.
1.What is it like working at Howden?
It’s great! I enjoy the culture and atmosphere and I think we’re a great size – big enough to have lots of complex and interesting work to do but not too big.
2. What does your role involve and what keeps it interesting?
I lead a team of four (including me) based in the UK and US and we function as the in-house tax and transfer pricing team for the global Group. We have operations in over 30 countries and as no two countries operate in the same way, or with the same products, we are kept very busy. Every day is different, especially at the moment as we have newly become a standalone group.
3. Last year, ownership of Howden changed hands. How has this affected your role?
Under the old ownership, I had a dual role. I had global responsibility for Howden’s taxes and additionally managed the taxes of our parent’s UK group (which included entities they had via their other investments), reporting directly to a central US team. While I was part of a team of 12, I was the only person dedicated to Howden and the only one in the UK.
When it was announced that Howden was to be sold and that we were going to operate as an independent group, we had to develop our own Tax function very quickly. I went through a full recruitment process to obtain my current role and was the only tax colleague to stay with Howden.
It’s been a big change to lead a department and I’ve had to spend a lot of time on recruitment, selecting suppliers, strategy and decision making.
A lot of work was done to rearrange the Group ahead of the sale and then there was the transaction work, which has been followed by the standalone effort – all this in addition to the ‘business as usual’ compliance and reporting. At present we are busy with purchase accounting and consolidating for the first time.
4. Before moving in house, you worked in Practice – how does an in-house role differ?
With an in-house role you have to be a lot more commercial and pragmatic. You are working with a multitude of different departments and must consider how ‘what you do’ and ‘what you may want to implement’ affects them all.
You may also have your own budget to manage and purchasing decisions to make, which few people ever get to do in Practice.
I have found there to be more autonomy in-house too, you are expected to know your stuff and just get on with it, especially in a specialist discipline such as Tax.
5. In your opinion, has the role of ‘in-house tax professional’ changed much over the years and if so, what is the biggest change?
Yes. The obvious answers are the increased focus on transfer pricing, use of technology and RTI. I think that there is a definite expectation for a Tax function to completely nail the necessities, such as compliance, with no fuss (or surprises!) and to maximise the time available for value-adding opportunities such as process improvement, innovation incentives and legal entity reduction.
Previously, I think Tax may have been viewed as much more of a ‘compliance-only’ function.
6. What advice would you give to those looking to move from Practice into an in-house role? Don’t be put off if the job description is in your area but also mentions other taxes you don’t have much experience in (assuming you don’t mind expanding your horizons), as there is always the scope to learn.
Employers that are looking to recruit someone from Practice – especially Big 4, know that you will have had to specialise.
I’d also recommend the CTA qualification as it gives a good grounding in all areas of Tax.
7. What defining career moments have there been for you so far and what career advice would you give yourself when you were younger, if you could?
Two defining career moments come to mind:
- spending less than a year in a non-tax role and realising it wasn’t for me and that I was Tax for life!
- more recently, getting my current role and starting that steep learning curve
I’d advise my younger self to be a little more patient and give more consideration to long-term career goals. I’m not a natural ‘5-year plan’ kind of woman.
8. What kind of person fits in well at Howden?
Someone who is friendly, open, communicative, and hard-working. They must enjoy the complexities of working for a multinational group and not just want to do the same thing every year.
9. How would your colleagues describe you?
Probably the strange Aberdonian Tax person who isn’t good at mornings.
10. What do you do in your free time outside of work?
I like live music, box sets and going to stand-up comedy gigs. I’m also learning German and Gaelic.
For more information please contact our Tax Specialist, Eleanor Turner: [email protected] / 07799 462326.