Interview with a head of tax and finance
After qualifying, Mark Gillett climbed the career ladder and now heads up the finance and tax divisions at Bank of Novia Scotia.
We speak to him to find out the key to his success and ask what skills are required to make it in tax.
How did you get to where you are now?
I trained in an audit environment and qualified as a chartered accountant before moving into tax and qualifying as a CTA. My first role in commerce was with Land Securities where I stayed for a couple of years before joining the Man Group where I became a divisional manager and then ultimately Head of UK Tax. I then joined Scotiabank, which is the third largest bank in Canada employing 80,000 people worldwide, but is more of a boutique investment bank in the UK. Initially, I became Tax Director before having my responsibilities extended to include finance too.
What are the main barriers to success facing tax professionals?
People who are starting out in the tax profession can get compartmentalised, which can be detrimental to their careers. I’d recommend diversifying your experience as much as possible - you need to be willing to take on challenges if you want to succeed. If you pigeon-hole yourself as a narrow technical specialist, it may be difficult to take on the broad responsibilities of a Head of Tax.
In banking, the technical and analytical skills of a tax professional are very helpful in dealing with the complex regulatory environment. Tax is also very topical at the moment so it’s an exciting time to work in the sector.
You need to be willing to take on challenges if you want to succeed.
Why did you choose tax?
I love the technical challenge and the fact that I’m a key decision maker. I routinely advise on multi-million pound transactions - people in the business will come to me and say, ‘can we do this deal this afternoon?’. It’s very exciting and I feel like I make a real difference to the business.
What skills are required to be successful in tax?
As a head of tax, you need a broad range of skills. While the ability to dissect technical information is crucial, you also need strong managerial and people skills. General accounting knowledge is vital. Numbers are key and ultimately how the street sees the performance of the business.
What do you look for when recruiting?
As you will gather, I value diversity of experience very highly. In the current market, employers are very conservative when hiring. Most don’t want to take the risk on someone who is not a cookie cut out. But I don’t subscribe to that point of view. I believe you should recruit for values but train for skills.
How do you think the tax profession has changed in the last few years?
The legislation has got more complicated, which has led to tax professionals to become more specialised in their skill sets. I’m not convinced this is a good thing - especially for people with aspirations to become heads of tax. I’d recommend that anyone looking to progress their career in tax tries as much as possible not to get themselves pigeon-holed.
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