“I have always enjoyed math and puzzles, and the fact that I could work with the two together has been a motivating goal for me,” she explains. And when, in her junior year in college, her adjunct professor, a practicing tax attorney, inspired her with stories of solving controversies and tax-planning “puzzles,” she was hooked on a career in tax.
Armstrong is now the tax director and assistant treasurer at Swedish Match North America. Right after college she began working as an auditor for KPMG in Norfolk, Virginia. “Back then, it was unusual for a brand-new hire out of college to start in the tax department. During my time in audit, I was enjoying the extensive travel and was building my foundational accounting knowledge,” Armstrong says. “I stayed in audit for almost three years before transferring to the KPMG office in Richmond, Virginia, and moving to the tax department. I was so grateful for the opportunity for flexibility and cross-training at KPMG. I have a great network of friends and colleagues from KPMG. We look forward to catching up at alumni events or various trainings every year.”
Her interest in tax planning continues today. “I enjoy preparing models to determine how to make my team’s process and outcome as efficient as possible,” Armstrong adds.
New Tax Legislation
The new tax legislation certainly paired well with her interest in tax planning and has kept her quite busy during her first year at Swedish Match, she notes. The new tax law had the industry’s full attention in early December 2017, she points out, just as she was entering her role at Swedish Match. “In fact,” she says, “I was busy preparing modeling scenarios my first day on the job.”
Her thoughts on the legislation: “Companies are currently, and probably will [be] for the foreseeable future, facing the burden of interpreting the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and adopting provisions into their current process. As with any law change of this scale, all companies will experience both opportunities and unfavorable impacts. Managing and planning for the impact of these provisions into our businesses is what keeps our positions so valued.”
Transfer Pricing Issues
The most fascinating tax issue Armstrong has faced so far at Swedish Match? “Defending our intercompany transactions against multifaceted tax rules has been an especially interesting issue that I have dealt with in my first year at Swedish Match. Understanding all considerations that become part of our transfer price and the economics and functional analysis of it all is an area that was new to me when I started at Swedish Match.”
Not a Dating Company
Armstrong truly enjoys working at Swedish Match. The company’s core values, she notes, are innovation, passion, ownership, and quality. “When I tell people I work for Swedish Match, I immediately get a quizzical look and a comment, ‘Oh, you work for a dating company.’ No, Swedish Match primarily manufactures and sells smokeless tobacco products. Our company vision is a world without cigarettes. This excited me to consider Swedish Match as a company I would like to work for—it is innovative and has a dedicated concern for the improvement of public health. Innovation, passion, ownership, and quality are values that I strive to instill in myself and my team in everything we do serving our internal and external customers.”
“Managing and planning for the impact of these [TCJA] provisions into our businesses is what keeps our positions so valued.”
Armstrong also previously worked at Performance Food Group, where her role grew to give her the opportunity to manage a team of six direct reports and at the same time manage tax account expectations for more than sixty division CFOs. The multistate complexity of the company added to the challenge. “I learned much about communicating effectively, managing different personalities, and maintaining confidence and consistency,” she says.
Her greatest accomplishment? “I am most proud of the work my team and I did managing a significant legal entity restructuring project. At the time, our company’s structure was overly complex, with dozens of legal entities conducting business nationwide. The tax department was especially overburdened with complex state compliance issues and financial reporting intricacies. The project crossed many departments within the company and took about ten months to complete. The resulting structure streamlined the company’s financial and operational processes while at the same time offer[ing] significant savings in time and effort.”
When not consumed by puzzling tax issues, her outside interests are centered on her two middle-school daughters. “My girls are both year-round competitive swimmers,” she says. “When I am not watching a swim meet, I enjoy gourmet cooking, touring Virginia wineries, and reading historical fiction (the reading can be done at a swim meet, so sometimes I get to multitask my hobbies).”
Armstrong has had a close association with TEI. “I first became active in TEI about ten years ago when my boss kept insisting that I start to attend our local TEI meetings. At the time, my boss was involved in TEI on the national level and encouraged me to volunteer on the board of my local chapter. I really was hesitant at first. I asked myself, How much more time would this take me away from my family? How can I relate what I learn in the technical sessions to my company’s fact pattern? How can I connect with these executive types at the networking events?
“I am so glad that my boss pushed me and that I talked to her about some of the doubts I was having. I still experienced some of my hesitations going in, but what I got in return made up for all my uncertainties. I have made so many lifelong friends that I can relate to both personally and professionally. And the travel to some of the conferences is exciting, too.”
Armstrong currently is the Region VIII vice president for the 2018–2019 year and looks forward to continuing to network with all the chapters in her region and with other regional vice presidents.
According to Armstrong, there are several ways TEI can become more relevant to emerging tax professionals: “TEI serves its members and enhances the tax profession by offering education courses, providing an environment for networking, and advocating issues on behalf of its members. As an emerging tax professional, I think the most relevant offerings would be opportunities for tax technical continuing education with the most knowledgeable presenters (live or online), professional development education, networking opportunities with other emerging tax professionals, roundtable discussions, and a robust mentoring program.”