Navigating Taxation: A Journey from Public Practice to Independent Consulting

Published: 23 Apr 2024


Dr Julianne Jacques accepts the Tax Adviser of the Year Award, 2020

Max Hendriks, a seasoned tax professional and member of The Tax Institute for 30 years, has traversed the diverse landscape of both larger public practice and independent consulting throughout his career.

In a recent interview with us, he delved into his journey, shedding light on the pivotal transitions and challenges he encountered along the way. Max shares his experiences and perspectives on various aspects of tax law and his career, including working on tax law rewrites during his time at CCH, and his views on the complexity of the tax system.

How it began…

Max began his career in public practice with Greenwood Challoner, and then, still early in his career, took a role at CCH. Max gained significant experience and insights in this role, where he worked updating CCH’s publications in response to the tax law rewrites from the 1936 Tax Act to the 1997 Tax Act. This provided him with a deep understanding of changes and updates to tax legislation, which would prove to be valuable throughout his career.

He then returned to large firms, including PKF and BDO. For a decade, he spearheaded the PKF Professional Practices Network, honing his expertise in navigating intricate tax structures and regulations. His role involved collaborating with accountants across various regions, from city and suburban areas to country towns, offering invaluable insights and guidance.

Max’s experience with these large firms set the tone for his professional practice for years to come. He said, “…the part that shaped my career and ultimately led me to where I am today is just having those 10 years at PKF during 1999 to 2009.”

But the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2009 marked a turning point for Max. Amid economic upheaval, corporate dynamics shifted, leading to restructuring within many firms, including PKF, where Max was working at the time. Facing mounting pressures and unrealistic expectations, Max found himself at a crossroads, ultimately opting to explore independent consulting.

The transition to independent consulting

Transitioning to independent consultancy in 2009 offered Max newfound autonomy and flexibility, enabling him to tailor his approach to client-centric solutions. Freed from the constraints of corporate mandates and profit-driven agendas, he found his passion in focusing on the needs of his clientele, predominantly the tax advisory needs of accounting firms and their small business and private company clients.

This newfound freedom also afforded Max the opportunity to find a new rhythm in his professional life, marked by less pressure and a better work/life balance.

He also acknowledges the challenges inherent in his field, including uncertainties, financial considerations and the Australian Taxation Office's (ATO) formidable presence. Despite this, he finds fulfilment in delivering tangible results for his clients, and ensuring their financial well-being amidst the ever-evolving tax landscape.

He emphasises the importance of trying to level the playing field, advocating for fair treatment and for his clients' interests.

The highlights of a busy career

One of Max’s core areas of expertise in his consulting practice lies in small business capital gains tax (CGT) structuring and concessions. Through meticulous planning and strategic advice, he assists clients in navigating the complexities of CGT regulations, aiming to secure favourable outcomes amidst stringent tax frameworks.

A career highlight Max recalls fondly involved the successful representation of a client in a Personal Services Income (PSI) case in the early 2000s. The case argued whether PSI rules applied to attribute income to the individual. Although he initially won the case, even up against highly respected tax counsel, the decision was later appealed to the Federal Court.

So much of a thriving tax practice is about staying up-to-date with the changing landscape of legislation and guidance. When asked what he is using to make sure he has the most up-to-date tax information for his clients, Max proudly states he continues to frequent his old tax discussion group from The Tax Institute – “I think it's still called Tax Discussion Group #7”. Now that’s a blast from the past!

The complexity of our system

As a final word, Max shared his opinion on how our tax system could be improved. His main concerns were the need for less reliance on income tax as the main revenue raiser and the need for simplification of tax rules to make them more understandable for ordinary taxpayers.

He made note of the challenges faced by individuals, particularly business owners, in navigating the complexities of the tax system concerning issues like trust structures and property ownership – and how important it is for tax practitioners to understand this.

Max Hendriks' story embodies resilience, adaptability, and unwavering dedication to client advocacy. As he continues to navigate the everchanging landscape of taxation, his journey serves as a testament to the transformative power of pursuing one's passions and embracing new opportunities in the face of adversity. It is members like Max who contribute to the collective diversity and experience of The Tax Institute membership.