Contrary to what some people may think, a career in tax can provide fascinating opportunities and great rewards. Just ask Marg Marshall CTA, Specialist Tax Advisory Partner at WLF Accounting & Advisory in Hobart, and a Director on The Tax Institute’s National Council.

“You get to meet so many interesting people in my line of work” says Marg Marshall.

“I work with a diverse range of clients, from small family businesses to big listed companies, and everything in between.

“I’m also on the board of a not-for-profit organisation in Tasmania, which is something that’s really important to me. I want to ensure my skills aren’t just used for profit making. Having the opportunity to give something back to the community and knowing I can help to make a difference is really satisfying.”

Marg joined the Partnership at WLF Accounting & Advisory in 2009, after a career that started in a small firm in Central Queensland and included a year’s ‘sabbatical’ from accounting to work as a youth worker.

She freely admits to being a ‘tax nerd’ these days, but her original move into tax specialisation came from an interest in challenges and problem-solving.

“Knowing I can look at an issue and find a practical way through it for my clients continually drives me. It’s challenging when you come across something you haven’t dealt with before – particularly when working in the international space – but conquering challenges really gives me a buzz!” she says.

“I’ve worked with a significant not-for-profit organisation in Tasmania who had tried and failed to get tax deductible gift recipient status from the ATO. The work our team did got them across the line, and we know the financial benefit we helped them achieve is doing some great work for their cause.

“Another recent win for our team was saving a client $250,000 on a tax audit – these sorts of achievement are great for us and our clients, so the ‘feel good’ factor is always high.”

WLF is Tasmania’s largest independently-owned accounting and advisory firm, with 12 partners and 70 staff. It has three primary divisions – Specialist Tax Advisory, Audit, Assurance and Advisor and Business and Personal Advisory – as well as a business consulting team.

“As a large firm in the Tasmanian market we are able to work in the same space as multinationals such as KPMG and Deloitte. But the fact that we have local ownership, have been operating continuously since 1890, and have always focused on contributing to the Tasmanian community, means we’re also very appealing to the small business sector, charities and not-for-profits” says Marg.

“This keeps our client base broad, which means the work is also interesting.”

Inspiring and leading women in tax

Local context can also play a role in career pathways, particularly for a woman in an industry that has been traditionally male-dominated. Marg says she’s found both advantages and disadvantages as one of the few female leaders in the tax specialisation.

“Certainly there have been times when I’ve felt like a bit of an outsider, particularly in the early days of my tax career. The profession tends to have a lot of middle-aged men, and that can sometimes be a bit cliquey. It was hard to break into.”

“But I’ve also found that my gender is often seen as an advantage. I’m fairly forthright in how I present – I know my area of expertise, and am confident in putting it forward – but I don’t try to change my personal approach or mannerisms. Maybe some people are just happy, or surprised, to see a woman in this role! Either way, it doesn’t seem to work against me on a local level.”

Marg is a strong advocate for young women who have an interest in joining the tax profession, and she is always keen to mentor staff at WLF.

“I’m available to the whole firm, and if anyone has an issue with tax that they want to bounce off me, the door is always open. For my own team, it’s about providing mentoring and support for their health and wellbeing as well as for the work side of things,” she says.

“Since joining WLF, I’ve personally encountered and overcome a substantial health challenge, and the support of my colleagues was crucial in my recovery. Ten years ago, when my youngest daughter was born, I developed a condition that left me unable to walk. I guess my determination to conquer challenges really came to the fore then, but I could never have achieved any level of recovery without the support of so many great people, inside and outside the work environment.”

Thankfully, Marg has been back on her feet for some years, but the process of recovery is something she continues to work on, training and building strength through exercise and a healthy lifestyle.

“In November 2016, I completed a 30-kilometre trek in Victoria, which was a very proud moment. For me, this highlighted how vital health and fitness is. I want to ensure all our staff are taking care of themselves and are genuinely balancing their work with their lives,” she says.

“I personally work four days a week, so I can have the flexibility to attend school excursions or concerts and don’t run myself into the ground. I feel it's very important to keep that balance.”

Building a career in taxation

Marg’s advice to someone wanting to build a career in tax is relatively straightforward.

“You have to put yourself out there and be seen to be actively involved in the profession. Take advantage of opportunities to present at seminars and conferences, even if it’s just at a local level,” she says.

“I’ve got a fairly big gig coming up this year – presenting at The Tax Institute’s National Convention. But my speaking engagements started on a much smaller scale, and I’ve built my expertise and confidence over time.

“Also, you need to be involved in relevant professional organisations, learn from mentors and take the chance to contribute in discussions wherever you can. Tax is a great profession to be involved in, and the sense of achievement you feel when a client sees you as a trusted advisor for their business is great.

“If I had my time again, I’d choose a career in tax specialisation without a doubt.”