Market Leaders Pick Their Market Leader: Who is the tax adviser with all the answers?

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The Independent Online
John Whiting

Tax partner


A SUCCESSFUL tax adviser is a mix of talents and abilities. You should be good on details (have you ever tried reading the Finance Act?) but at the same time be able to see the full, broad picture of the deal that is going on. You should be quick to react, but then be able to know when to take your time (I learnt a lot about that many years ago as a new partner when a client bank called me - their usual contact was out and as "number 2" I was asked my views on a point. Depending on my answer, they would go out and write tens of millions of business that afternoon. It certainly concentrated my mind!) You should also be creative, to think of new ways round a problem, but tolerant when things don't work in the way they should.

Above all, you have to be able to get on with people and want to help the client, because at the end of the day you are trying to get the best result for them. And that covers the range from helping on a plc's take- over bid to sorting out a repayment claim for a pensioner.

As for advisers I admire, there are those I met thorough the Chartered Institute of Taxation, such as Malcolm Gammie and Nigel Eastaway, who I admire for their range and depth of knowledge. Then there are those who work for this practice, such as Bernard Glass for his creative solutions. Then there are the many unnamed, anonymous sole practitioners who manage to keep their clients well served amid the welter of new rules and regulations that threaten to overwhelm us all.

David Williams

Tax Technical partner

Smith & Williamson

I HAVE a very high opinion of Nigel Eastaway of TaxSave. I admire him for his general grasp of the tax system, complicated beast that it is, and his ability to write and speak about the tax industry, which is admirable. It's important to be able to translate the ideas into plain speak, and this is something Nigel is particularly good at. It's also important to be able to communicate hugely complicated legislative changes to your client, who may not be well versed in tax matters. Finally, you absolutely have to have the stamina, both mental and physical, to be able to keep up with the absolute deluge of material the Government just keeps on throwing at us.

Nigel Eastaway


Chiltern TaxSave

I REALLY root for those tax specialists who are working for the mass of under-represented taxpayers. I think what they do is of immense importance. John Andrews, for example, formerly of PWC, appears to me as having set out to do just that - trying to knock sense into the tax system on behalf of the unemployed, those who are in and out of work, and pensioners. Then there's David Brodie who has set up something called Tax Aid, which exists for those who have got their tax affairs in a mess and can't really afford to put them back in order.

These are hugely talented men who, having honed their expertise in the business world of tax, are now trying to put something back into the system for the littler people. Peter Gravestock, as well, of Gravestock and Owen, is an impressive practitioner. He's got an amazingly broad-ranging knowledge of the tax system. So many people these days are specialists in what has become an exceedingly complicated area, but Peter is one of those people who understands all areas of it. How he does it, I just don't know.

David Cruickshank

Head of Tax

Deloitte & Touche

THE TAX profession in the UK is large and growing, even though headline corporate and personal tax rates are reducing. This apparent contradiction can probably be explained by a combination of factors: the increasing complexity of tax laws; the increasing complexity of businesses requiring greater specialisation, the advance of globalisation, and increased reach in new and different areas such as remuneration planning.

Effectively, three professions compete for the tax work - lawyers, accountants, and the tax bar. A good tax adviser must be technically excellent, but must also know how to access the technical excellence of others. They must also really understand client needs, and the ideal skill is to match the two competencies to provide solutions that can give the client some real advantage. Rather than picking out someone from the accountancy side of things, I greatly admire the solving skills of Michael Flesch and Kevin Prosser, both tax barristers.

Robert Purry

Head of Tax

Grant Thornton

IT IS difficult to pinpoint one person in the tax world, although there did used to be one colossus in our industry - Philip Hardman of our own firm, but sadly he died in the early Nineties. He was the undisputed tax professional. He was a master in select practical ability and in his influence with the institutes in revenue and government. But now, there is no single individual who could really be singled out above all others.

There are certain people who stand out in our crowd, such as Nigel Eastaway of Chiltern TaxSave. He is a man of enormous intellect, and is particularly well regarded in our field. He's a brilliant tax practitioner and is incidentally a hell of a nice guy. And then there are the other well-known figures, like Peter Wyman of PWC, Ian Barlow of KPMG, and our own Mike Warburton.

Howard Scott

Head of tax consultancy

BDO Stoy Hayward

SOMEONE WHO strikes me as a particularly capable man in the tax field is Mike Warburton of Grant Thornton. He covers the main areas that business men want to talk about effectively. And he's a very pleasant chap. He's got the integrity which is important in tax. It's a fiddly business: you've got to be objective and not just take the client's view. And you have to advise them according to the law, apart from any other considerations. There is a line in the sand you can't cross, and I think Mike illustrates this integrity particularly clearly.

I always think of David Marks from Arthur Andersen as being the tax consultant for real business men. He is able to combine creativity with a sense of humour. It's important not to take yourself too seriously. I should also mention Andrew Greenwood of Arthur Andersen. He is a very clever and cultured tax specialist who is able to cover a huge range.

Sheena Sullivan

Tax partner

Pannell Kerr Forster

TO BE a decent tax adviser, you should have the ability to combine imagination with an eye for detail - which is rare. You need the imagination to solve the complicated problems that always crop up wherever tax is involved. You need an eye for detail because you really don't want to get anything wrong. You should be decisive and flexible.

Then you need the ability to adapt to change. Tax laws are constantly changing - it's a very dynamic field. And finally you need to be able to retain a certain degree of independence. You have to advise clients who can't see the difference between fraud and practicality. It's a very fine line, which is liable to very subtle shifts and you have to understand that the line exists and to be able to pinpoint it exactly. I guess the tax consultant who embodies all these qualities would be Ian Mills of our tax investment practice. This is a difficult area where you need to be both commercial and independent. He deals with difficult clients and combines all these skills with great technical competence.

Anne Gregory Jones

Head of Tax in London

Kidsons Impey

TAX IS an area in which it can be quite hard to be a great success. People often think that it can be quite boring. The key to being a success is to be able to transpose immensely complicated tax jargon into layman's terms and make it interesting. Two people I've always admired are John Andrews, formerly of PCW, and Brian Freedman. I worked with John Andrews in an employment group at Coopers. He has very high profile in tax probably because he is a good, capable adviser and is able to market himself. It's important to build up a profile in our business, where most just keep their heads down. Brian Freedman, also of Arthur Andersen, is another chap who has built up a profile in his area.

I'd like to be able to name a couple of women - there are a lot in our business now, but they tend to be fairly low profile. People who get known are those who do the circuit, and write articles. Going back a few years, the first high-profile man of tax was Philip Hardman of Grant Thornton. No one has truly followed on from him. He put the tax professional on the map, as it were. He had an excellent brain and was a very personable man. He was very good for our profession, but no one has really stepped into his shoes.