The LCN Tax Interview: Iain Stewart

We are delighted to feature an interview with Iain Stewart, the highly experienced Global Head of Tax of Damco, the international provider of freight forwarding and supply chain management services based in The Hague, Netherlands. Iain is currently a member of the International Tax Committee of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland having previously served on the International Tax Committee of the Chartered Institute of Taxation.

How and why did you get into tax?
It was a happy accident. As part of my apprenticeship I worked for a number of partners in the firm and one of them had a particular interest in taxes. I found it a wonderful puzzle where I felt I could make a difference and change the outcome for the client. I was hooked. I spent most of my training working in tax and specialised in taxes immediately after I qualified. I have never regretted the decision.

Who has been the most influential role model for your professional life?
That is a tough one as many people have influenced me in different ways over the years. If I had to single one out of many who have helped me it would be Jim McLeod, a tax partner in Arthur Young (now part of EY) in Edinburgh. Jim was always prepared to help a colleague but more than anything else I learned from him the ability to think laterally.

What do you see as the biggest trend affecting the tax world over the next 10 years?
In the current circumstances with all governments short of funds it’s tempting to opt for BEPS but I think it is Big Data. Most companies use ERP systems holding vast amounts of information. Technology exists to quickly analyse this information. Tax authorities will use this to identify processing errors and collect taxes and penalties. In the majority of cases these are innocent errors. Companies and their advisers will need to find methods of identifying and correcting these errors on a real-time basis. This takes us back to BEPS where such systems will be used to validate and analyse country reporting in BEPS.

What is your pet hate when dealing with advisers?
Advisers who do not understand us and who try to work for us not with us. Generally in-house tax departments have a deep knowledge of the industry in which they work. Bringing this knowledge, together with the adviser, will produce a very robust defence on an audit or sound basis for any tax planning.

In a movie of your life story, which actor would you like to play you?
Ewan McGregor.

What would be your dream job if you didn’t work in tax?
Professional Yacht Skipper.

What is your biggest extravagance?
I am not by nature an extravagant person. If I picked out something from the past which was an unnecessary indulgence I guess it would be when I owned a Porsche Targa. Some might say it was the conventional male midlife crisis but it was the best car I have ever owned and I was sad to sell it. I seem to have this out of my system and haven’t owned a car since I moved to Copenhagen in July 2011. The public transport systems in Denmark and Netherlands are so good I have never felt the need for a car.

What do you do to relax?
I cook. I like to experiment with various different food and flavour combinations. Once I have the basics of a recipe I will make my own modifications.

What is your favourite holiday destination?
Any place that involves all my family being with me. We all enjoy sailing on the Dalmatian Coast off Croatia. The sailing is always good and the Croatian people very welcoming

What piece of advice would you give your 16 year old self?
Plan, plan, plan! Without a plan you are not in control of your destiny. Any plans I make rarely turn out as expected but the existence of a plan makes it much easier to adapt to changing events and circumstances. If I could add a second piece of advice it would be listen before you speak.

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