How do I become an Indirect Tax Senior Manager?

Time and time again, we’re asked by junior candidates what it takes to reach the senior grades within the indirect tax world. And rather than give you our answer, we thought it would be best if we shared the views of those who have been there and done it! Our first interview took place a few weeks back with Ausra Miltenyte, who discussed becoming an Indirect Tax Director. If you missed the blog, have a read here.

This time in the ‘Becoming’ series, we caught up with Kiran Ramdas (Senior Manager – Global Indirect Tax at Juniper Networks), to understand more about his journey in moving through the ranks and into a senior-level Indirect Tax position. Here’s what we found out…

First off, Kiran, thank you for taking the time to speak to us – To share a bit about your background, could you tell us where your story starts?

I studied law and taxation at Leiden University in the Netherlands. After University, I spent 6 years of my career at PwC where I gained a lot of knowledge and experience as a VAT specialist and indirect tax lawyer.

While I was enjoying working at PwC, at a certain point I had some doubts about whether [indirect] taxation was something that I wanted to commit to. At that time, I thought that working as a criminal law lawyer or a human rights lawyer would be more exciting than Indirect Tax. I did eventually seek advice from friends and family and I got the age-old answer: ‘You should do whatever makes you happy’. Cliché.

After some thought, I decided to stay with PwC. I don’t regret the decision because I learned a lot there, worked with very good and intelligent people and I was serving some of the world’s largest multinational clients. I was also seconded to Lenovo for a short time period where I was assisting them with the SAP implementation/testing for VAT. It was a great experience and it gave me an opportunity to look inside multinational organisations.

In 2014, I decided that it was time for something new. Time to learn new things in a different environment. Juniper Networks came across my path and after interviewing, I was already really excited about the job. Having experienced technical VAT matters, Juniper allowed me to continue my technical work but also broadened my experience deeper into indirect tax; including [but not limited to], technology, compliance, people management and business. For me, working at Juniper Networks, as expected, is rather different to PwC. My teams are not only in one country but in different parts of the world. This can be challenging with the time differences, however, it’s allowed me to immerse myself in different cultures and environments.

My role is now much broader at Juniper and it’s required me to invest more time educating myself in these areas. Nowadays, I look more often in the law book than I did at PwC – not just the Dutch VAT Act or the EU VAT Directive, but also at the legislation of different countries e.g. Indian GST legislation and Saudi Arabia, UAE and Malaysian legislation. Being part of the core side of the business has also required me to think practically and understand the ins and outs of how the business operates. Although it’s my job to look after Indirect Tax, sometimes it’s more important to look at the bigger business picture.

My journey in Juniper Networks has also been quite interesting – I started with an EMEA role, but over the years I got the opportunity to take over the responsibilities for LATAM, APAC (now including India) and US Sales and Use Tax. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my team and management.

Sounds quite challenging, yet rewarding – Did you find that you needed to be active in self-education and gaining market knowledge for yourself?

Most of my training is on-the-job training; looking into legislation, and discussing topics with internal and external colleagues. If necessary, I tend to take additional courses that supplement my knowledge of indirect tax. At Juniper Networks, we also have our University – which is great for development. There are thousands of online training courses available, which are accessible by anyone wanting to improve!

Furthermore, I meet up with VAT managers / Directors from other multinational companies frequently to share information about Indirect Tax and Technology. If something is really urgent and I need advice from the in-house VAT manager or directors, it’s easy to drop a message or call through the convenient VAT WhatsApp Chat set up by Harvey John.

Some of the education comes with experience. For example people management, presentation, negotiation, etc. Reading books or attending classroom/online training can be really helpful, however in my opinion, information sticks from practical application and learning from mistakes.

Safe to say that networking is nothing short of important! Do you have a daily routine that you follow religiously?

I normally start my day by checking emails or having calls – I don’t have a daily routine. Every day is different, which in a lot of cases is enjoyable.

Some days end up looking completely different to how I had initially planned the day before. I also get the chance to travel, so this brings variety to my work. It’s given me the chance to meet new clients or business partners that I don’t see frequently and expose myself to new environments and other cultures.

The majority of my team works in India, so we like to make sure we organise team-building events from time to time, like Laser Tag last October! We have good fun when we meet – I find it paramount to have face-to-face meetings to understand how each other works.

Having a global role also means that I receive emails throughout the day. Every morning when I wake up, I can bet that my inbox is full of messages from our team over in the APAC region. In the evening, I do get emails, especially from the US or LATAM. Safe to say a lot of my schedule weighs on corresponding with our teams abroad.

Busy schedule if I might say so – however I can say that many would envy travelling for work! What do you think someone needs to do to become an industry expert and enjoy these perks?

Nowadays, being just a VAT technical expert is not enough. You need to be a good people manager, know how technology works and should have a good understanding of compliance as well. Moreover, you must have a good level of comprehension of the industry you work in.

In this day and age, tax authorities are putting more focus on compliance and technology. If you look at the developments globally with indirect tax being digitised, I think that the way we’re dealing with compliance today will change in the future. Everything, including data sharing, will be online, real-time and immediately available for all parties involved e.g. vendor, customer and tax authorities. My advice would be to invest some time into learning about technology and compliance. I always try to simplify, document, automate and harmonize processes. I’m not an IT programmer myself, however speaking with (Tax) Technology professionals does help – practical experience!

Furthermore, it’s good to have a big network of people. I reach out frequently to indirect tax colleagues working for other companies. Most of the time, they have experienced the same issues or opportunities so their experience is invaluable. So, the lesson here is to network!

Words of wisdom in any industry I might add! Do you have any advice you would give to young professionals looking to delve into indirect tax?

First, you’ll need to understand the concept of the sector. You should have a good understanding of the legislation and case law. However, these days it’s worth investing a lot of your time in comprehending how technology is impacting the market. You don’t need to be a tax technology expert, but you should have a good understanding of it. For example robotics, OCR technology, AI, Blockchain, analytics tools, presentation tools, etc. It’s always worth investing your time in developing your own knowledge, not just for your company, but for your own career! And as I previously mentioned, networking is the key. It’s not only helpful for your own development, but it’s fun once you get into the rhythm of it.

For young professionals, I would say Indirect Tax is becoming more and more relevant every day. I recently came across an EY survey which indicated that Indirect Tax is marked as the number 1 priority of tax authorities in the G20 and non-G20 countries. In other surveys, I’ve seen that heads of tax and CFOs are giving more attention (or making more budget available) to Indirect Tax than a few years ago. So, get out there and take notice. Don’t ignore the trends in the market, but be the first ones to adjust to the ever-changing industry of indirect tax!

Well said. Again, very transferable to all walks of sectors, but valuable information nonetheless! Thanks, Kiran for taking the time to speak with us. I’m sure many professionals moving into the specialist sector will benefit from your insights.

Are you at the senior level within Indirect Tax? If so, we’d love to hear about your experiences and share them with our global tax network.

Search our latest indirect tax jobs here.

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