Making it in tax: Interview with Andy Raynor

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Do you have to be a geek to get on in tax? The former CEO of RSM Tenon doesn’t think so. Get the lowdown on what he thinks you need to succeed.

The tax profession still suffers from some common misconceptions. “There’s a myth that tax is full of outrageously bright people and is massively technical,” says Andy. “The truth is you don’t have to be a boffin. Sure, it helps to be clever and a thought-leader, but the key is fulfilling commercial objective.”

This all comes from someone who’d know. Andy Raynor qualified as a chartered accountant with KPMG before joining BDO Stoy Hayward in the East Midlands, at the time a small practice firm of 14 people. The business expanded quickly and he was head of corporate finance, head of business development and then in 2001, when that independent office was sold to the Tenon Group, he was managing partner. By 2003, he had been promoted to CEO of RSM Tenon Group, where he remained until 2012.

Opportunity to impact business

So, what does he make of the tax profession? “I come from a corporate finance and business development background but I would do tax if I had my time again. Because as a tax professional, you have the opportunity to really impact on the wealth of a business and its leaders. I have worked in practice for the majority of my life, where tax is the best pre-qualifier for a sale there is. If you ask someone whether they want to save on the tax they pay, who’s going to say no?”

Similar principles apply for in-house jobs. Tax specialists who save their employers money offer clear value that can be easily measured. But how much technical knowledge is required?

“A lot of tax professionals will say you have to be an expert first and foremost but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. What’s most important is that you understand how tax impacts your client or business. It’s this commercial awareness, combined with technical knowledge that's key to success in the tax profession.”

But how do I become more commercial?

So far, so good. But how do you put yourself in a position where this becomes second nature. Andy advises the following:

“Try to get a broad view of what the business is trying to achieve. From here, you can then assess what difference you can make and how you can do it. Most importantly, you should have it in your mind that your client - be they an external organisation or internal - wants to grow their business and create wealth.”

Job security

Another positive is the security. As a profession, tax does not face any long-term risks. “Tax isn’t going away anytime soon. If anything, it’s only going to get more stringent. This presents significant opportunity for the tax profession. Tax is a top business priority and it always will be. And high taxes should encourage good rates of pay for high tax savings.”

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