A great teacher can often be a defining person in your life. Take Audrey Sherman’s tax professor, for example. “Through her I got involved in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. I joined Deloitte right out of college on the audit side, as you had to do back then, and when the opportunity came to participate in a six-month tax rotation, I jumped in and never looked back,” Sherman explains.
Sherman, now global head of tax at GW Pharmaceuticals, says she has learned several important lessons from her previous experience in the tax field. First off, she says, “Don’t jump to conclusions. Take your time, do your research, and think things through before you open your mouth. [Next,] don’t panic! As a favorite boss once said to me, ‘We aren’t curing cancer here!’ He was right. I’m an accountant, and this is not a life-or-death situation. Nothing is ever final. There’s always an opportunity to change things, whether it is through an amended tax return, an audit exam disclosure, or a Big 4 firm expert who has a helpful IRS employee on speed dial. [And last,] don’t sweat the small stuff. You can spend a lot of time trying to get to perfection on things that just don’t matter. Focus on the big issues that drive impact.”
She offers this advice to upcoming tax professionals: “There are a lot of tax jobs out there where you can utilize your skills and expertise and pay the bills, but it is the people who you do it with that make all the difference.”
Several factors attracted Sherman to GW Pharmaceuticals, particularly “the energy, culture, and purpose of the company and their desire to help people, particularly children, through research, development, and commercialization of FDA-approved, plant-based cannabinoid medicine options,” she says. “It is an interesting biotech space that is often misunderstood. GW received its first FDA approval in the US shortly after I joined, and it was exciting to be part of that initial commercialization. We now have approvals in the EU and are launching in countries across Europe and seeking approvals beyond. I was hired to build and lead a tax team to navigate the complex and ever-evolving tax rules as we grow the business. I love being a partner to the business, providing advisories and creating processes and systems that can make an impact.”
What’s the most interesting tax issue she has worked on at GW Pharmaceuticals?
“What issue isn’t interesting at GW?” she exclaims. “With a UK parent company, I’ve had to learn to think a little differently, having spent the majority of my career working at US multinational companies. I’ve become ‘intimate’ with the HMRC tax manuals in addition to trying to keep up with change under US tax reform. I would say one of the more interesting projects I’ve worked on and continue to work on at GW is collaborating cross-functionally on our international developing markets team to understand business requirements and advise on the various tax implications and requirements to enter new markets. Being part of a team that helps influence and drive positive outcomes has been exciting.”
Employee mobility is another issue that keeps Sherman on her toes. “Even pre-COVID, a need for flexibility and hiring of key talent often creates potential corporate PE [permanent establishment], state nexus, and employment tax exposures,” she explains. “Educating key stakeholders on related risks has been quite interesting.”
The TEI Experience
TEI has been instrumental, Sherman says, in keeping her connected to the latest tax legislative developments and other professionals who navigate them daily. “TEI brings the best and brightest from the various firms together for educational conferences,” she notes. “It is nice to make connections and be able to informally reach out to a network of people to discuss a challenging issue or get their opinion. I also appreciate the opportunities TEI affords to provide feedback to the [Financial Accounting Standards Board] or influence other proposed legislation through comment letters. I was able to take part in this in the past when I served as a vice-chair on the financial reporting committee.”
Sherman’s greatest accomplishment: “My kids. Although my career is important to me, I regard my two boys as my greatest accomplishment and have always tried to put them first. They are currently nineteen and seventeen, and it is so rewarding to see what sort of humans they are becoming and what impact they will make in this world.”
A Walk on the Beach
When not preoccupied by tax issues, Sherman likes walking on beach trails. “I recently discovered Pilates and have found their center and balance class a great way to relieve the tension of working in front of the computer all day. I also enjoy kayaking, reading (historical fiction is my favorite), bingeing on the latest Netflix releases, and loving on my dogs, a Chihuahua and toy poodle, both who found their way to us and are toothless, senior dogs,” she says.
Her Secret Passion
Did you know about Sherman’s secret passion? This is how she describes it: “I keep a crazy winemaker in check! We own a boutique winery in Fallbrook, California. The whole family is involved. My husband is the winemaker. He grows the grapes and supplements supply from other locally sourced vineyards. My kids help with the farming end, and I have been known to help out at harvest and always happily volunteer to taste test. Lots of work, but aren’t all things worthwhile hard work?”