Q&A: Susie Walker, Head of Tax, Johnston Carmichael
When did you qualify as a CA and who did you train with?
I qualified in 1986 with Deloitte Haskins & Sells in Aberdeen.
Brief career history
On qualifying I spent five years in the corporate tax team at KPMG in Glasgow looking after a portfolio of companies and large partnerships. I then helped set up KPMG's technical tax database in London, before taking on an in-house role at Bank of Scotland in 1991.
I was in a team of four, which did everything from transactions, compliance, VAT, profit-related pay and employment taxes. We were challenged to find pragmatic solutions to all sorts of questions, including structuring the acquisition of Countrywide Bank in New Zealand and determining the benefit-in-kind implications of shipping a grand piano out there for the general manager!
I became head of tax for Bank of Scotland Group in 1993 and remained there for 20 years, latterly as group tax director for Lloyds Banking Group. I then completed a four-month fixed contract with HMRC's Policy team – fantastic experience seeing how the other side operates – before joining Johnston Carmichael.
What does your job involve?
I lead the tax practice at Johnston Carmichael, which involves getting nearly 100 tax specialists heading in the same direction to add value to our client base. Any firm can do tax and any tax specialist can talk about tax rules and legislation. We focus on understanding our clients' business and optimising their tax position.
Who do you report to?
Sandy Manson, the chief executive.
What appealed about this career path?
It provides variety and challenge. Every day is different and I get a chance to travel around our network of offices across Scotland to meet people and build a team I'm proud of.
What's the best thing about your job… and the worst?
The best bit is definitely the people. The worst is timesheets – I'd forgotten what a chore they are.
What's your next challenge?
The year ahead is full of change for tax advisers – a Scottish Rate of Income Tax, further devolved income tax powers, Stamp Duty Land Tax replaced by Land and Buildings Transaction Tax, and major pension changes. We need to be on the front foot to advise clients and to be forward-thinking. On a personal note, I need to lose the three stone I've put on over the past two and a half years.
How's your work/life balance?
I'm not someone who can ever totally switch off from work and I'm at my best when I'm under pressure and can see projects complete and the results coming through. I'm pretty disciplined about not working every weekend.
What do you do to relax?
I have two teenage sons, six ponies/horses and a house that's always needing something done to it, so there's never any problem filling my days.
What single piece of advice would you give for a CA looking to pursue this career route?
Find a bunch of people you respect and want to work with. If you gel as a team you'll perform well as a team. If you're unhappy, move on and manage your own future.
This article first appeared in the June edition of The CA magazine.