Q&A: EY’s global vice chair, tax, on career progression and the next generation of talent

Q&A: EY’s global vice chair, tax, on career progression and the next generation of talent

Accountancy Age spoke to Kate Barton about the challenges facing future tax leaders and career highlights

Q&A: EY’s global vice chair, tax, on career progression and the next generation of talent

Earlier this year, EY launched its Young Tax Professional of the Year award ceremony virtually, aimed at rewarding the next generation of tax leaders for its talent. As the industry evolves, young tax professionals face significant challenges including a global pandemic that has brought much uncertainty within the profession.

Speaking to Accountancy Age, global vice chair of tax at EY Kate Barton explores her career progression from intern to her current position – addressing the difficulties she encountered throughout her roles and the top skills to embrace as a newcomer in the industry.

What has been your biggest achievement throughout your career?

My biggest career joy was helping my first mentee get promoted to partner. I had a mentor that once told me that you needed to have a material hand in making another person a partner at EY.  At the time, I was still celebrating my own accomplishment at making partner. I really thought about this, and quickly started to pivot on how I could help mentor others and help them have the client opportunities that can make a difference in the path to partnership. A few years later when one of my mentees made partner, in part due to my coaching, I was thrilled. Years later, I have had a hand in supporting many qualified people, including many women, become a partner. It is still one of my greatest accomplishments.

How would you describe your career progression?

When it comes to careers, they do not always take a linear path. I can happily say my career has been an amazing journey with EY and the Tax practice, which over the past few years has expanded to include our Law and People Advisory Services as well. The client experiences, the people interaction and leadership challenges have all broadened my business and management understanding, and the learning never stops. My passion for tax began early. I grew up and went to school in Boston at Boston University, where I studied business management and accounting, and then Boston College, where I earned my law degree. I landed an internship at EY during my first summer in law school. I worked in EY’s international tax group in Boston while continuing to work part-time while in law school. I accepted a position full-time after I finished law school. For more than a decade, I was based in Boston. Now, I am aligned to our New York and London offices, and have been travelling and working with our clients and our teams all around the world as a vice chair (at least prior to the pandemic, now I do it virtually).

The opportunities to serve and solve clients’ problems for the past 35 years have covered tax matters for every industry and geography imaginable. For some – that may sound like a very linear career trajectory, but I can assure you that no two days are the same! Tax is an incredibly dynamic field that touches all aspects of our lives, and 2020 has shown just how important tax advisors are to everything including government policy to individual financial health.

What has been challenging throughout your various roles?

Every aspect of my career has been characterised with a unique set of challenges and opportunities, so it’s impossible to highlight just one factor. I have led practices through the 9/11 attacks, financial recessions, tax reforms, and now a global pandemic. All of these unique circumstances have caused us to develop resilience, flexibility, and an ability to develop life-long relationships. The ability to pivot and re-orientate my path and the teams I lead have all been vital mechanisms to navigating any challenge. Mindset plays a big part in how we address anything. However, like most people in today’s hyper-connected workforce, I would say the greatest challenge remains work/life balance – which I have yet to find the perfect solution to! Prior to the pandemic, I used to travel a great-deal – I’d be on a flight almost every week. So for me, a positive takeaway from this year has been an ability to stay closer to home and spend more time with my family and friends.

What advice would you give to the new generation entering the industry? Do you see the profession as getting more difficult to pursue?

My biggest piece of advice to those just starting their careers would be to remain curious. Remember that your working life will likely span several decades, and the one way you can guarantee that you continue to be stimulated by your job is to keep learning, keep pushing yourself to take on new challenges, and to keep asking questions.

As to whether the profession is getting more difficult – I wouldn’t necessarily say that, as it has always been demanding. What I would say, however, is that those starting their careers today will likely need to leverage an evolving set of digital skills. Technology now plays a hugely important role not just in tax – but all professions. Individuals with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) background will invariably have an advantage in pockets of the profession working with technological platforms and numbers, but it’s important to remember that tax is about people, so understanding their needs, and the implications of policy decisions in the wider context of geopolitical developments requires people from all backgrounds including the arts and social sciences. Diverse and inclusive work cultures, not just in gender, sexuality and race – but thinking – work better together, and I am very proud that EY places a big emphasis on building a diverse and inclusive working culture.

To what extent was leadership key when progressing towards your current role? What other skills do you deem vital?

Leadership is vital in all aspects of our personal and professional lives, and I am fortunate that EY has a strong culture that recognises leaders, invests in talent, and takes employee mentorship and professional development seriously, so I was able to learn from some incredibly influential mentors. As a global vice chair, it is now my duty to impart this within EY and the broader tax community, and I am very privileged to lead an all-female tax team at EY: Susan Pitter as our deputy vice chair – tax, Bridget Walsh – our EMEIA tax Leader, Marna Ricker – our Americas vice chair – tax, and Eng Ping, our Asia-Pacific tax leader.

In addition to leadership, I would add emotional intelligence and an ability to team – whether virtually or in-person – is also crucial. More than ever during coronavirus, it’s easy to get trapped behind a computer and lose the personal connection, but our jobs are ultimately about people, so it is vital we remain connected.

What lessons have you learnt from being an intern to achieving the position of global vice chair?

Too many to list! But the most important ones are likely to be relevant to people at all stages of their career: seek help when you need it; embrace technology; expect the unexpected; work hard; surround yourself with smart, driven people; and support those around you. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had some brilliant mentors throughout my career – and it is my duty and greatest joy to pay that forward.

Resources & Whitepapers

Why Professional Services Firms Should Ditch Folders and Embrace Metadata

Professional Services Why Professional Services Firms Should Ditch Folders and Embrace Metadata

8m

Why Professional Services Firms Should Ditch Folde...

In the past decade, the professional services industry has transformed significantly. Digital disruptions, increased competition, and changing market ...

View resource
2 Vital keys to Remaining Competitive for Professional Services Firms

2 Vital keys to Remaining Competitive for Professional Services Firms

1y

2 Vital keys to Remaining Competitive for Professi...

In recent months, professional services firms are facing more pressure than ever to deliver value to clients. Often, clients look at the firms own inf...

View resource
Turn Accounts Payable into a value-engine

Accounting Firms Turn Accounts Payable into a value-engine

7m

Turn Accounts Payable into a value-engine

In a world of instant results and automated workloads, the potential for AP to drive insights and transform results is enormous. But, if you’re still ...

View resource
Digital Links: A guide to MTD in 2021

Making Tax Digital Digital Links: A guide to MTD in 2021

8m

Digital Links: A guide to MTD in 2021

The first phase of Making Tax Digital (MTD) saw the requirement for the digital submission of the VAT Return using compliant software. That’s now behi...

View resource