Soonthree Cochrane, senior manager of tax policy and controls at Lockheed Martin Corporation, went right into tax after college graduation. At the time, she says, most college graduates with accounting degrees started their professional careers in audit at accounting firms. But auditing didn’t appeal to her. “I was lucky to find a company that was willing to hire me in taxes right out of school,” she recounts.
“I started in state tax compliance and had no knowledge of apportionment factors, nexus, franchise tax, and other state tax issues. I learned on the job and, to my surprise, I liked taxes. In the tax industry, it’s not hard to stay busy and challenged. I’m still with the same company that hired me right out of school, and I’ll be celebrating my thirty-year service anniversary in July 2020,” she says. The most interesting part of tax law for Cochrane is how differently people can interpret tax law and regulations. “The taxpayer can interpret the law one way, but the IRS or state auditors can have a totally different interpretation. The audit process can get interesting when this happens,” Cochrane says.
Tax Reform Legislation
Her opinion of the major tax reform legislation, the so-called Tax Cuts and Jobs Act? “We had been hearing about potential tax reform for years, and it finally came to fruition,” Cochrane says. “Prior to tax reform, the U.S. corporate tax rate was one of the highest in the world. But the legislation came out so quickly that taxpayers had to scramble to interpret the legislation, determine what new data to collect, put systems in place to collect that data, determine how to do the computations, and identify the impacts to their company. It was difficult in some cases, because the guidance was insufficient, especially in the international arena. It was a challenge, to say the least, but a good challenge. It definitely kept the tax community busy.”
The Lockheed Experience
“The best parts of working for Lockheed Martin are the people I work with and the senior leadership,” Cochrane says. “We have a female CEO who is not solely focused on the bottom line. She has changed the company’s culture to be more customer-focused, and she also cares about diversity and inclusion. She formed [the company’s] Executive Inclusion Council, which led to the formation of the Enterprise Operations (EO) Inclusion Council. EO is the business area I’m in, and I had the pleasure of serving on the council as an ambassador for the first two years of its existence,” Cochrane explains.
Cochrane says she is continuously learning: “It seems like I learn something new every day, whether it’s about the company or the way we account for something. I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to move around and gain experience in different tax disciplines, including both federal and state tax administration and tax consolidations. A couple years ago, I was honored to be asked to fill a newly created position, tax policy and controls senior tax manager. I still serve in that position now, and I get to provide oversight, guidance, and review of accounting for income tax matters and internal controls.”
Her greatest accomplishments? One is personal, the other professional. “I feel that my greatest personal accomplishment is raising two good kids with my husband. My kids saw me in action at work when they were young and thought that all I did was math all day. As a result, I wasn’t able to talk them into a tax career! Instead my daughter is attending the University of Maryland and hopes to become a doctor. My son is in high school and has applied to colleges to study physics.”
Cochrane says her greatest work accomplishment has to be the implementation of Section 199: “I was given the opportunity to work independently to develop a new process, write a new program in our tax software to do the calculation, and work with the IRS to get our methodology approved. The Section 199 deduction was always one of the biggest drivers that reduced our effective tax rate. Of course, now with tax reform, Section 199 is gone, so I kind of feel sad about that.”
A Volleyball Aficionado
When not immersed in tax issues, Cochrane enjoys playing volleyball in a women’s league and in a coed league. “I primarily play the setter position, but every now and then I get to hit,” she says. “Volleyball has been a great way to meet people; in fact, I met my husband at a volleyball clinic.”
Cochrane also enjoys watching sports, and she has season tickets for University of Maryland volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball. “The volleyball season is over, and basketball season has just started. Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams are in the top ten, which is really exciting,” Cochrane says.
Finally, Cochrane enjoys photography and trying out new recipes.
What has TEI meant to her? “TEI has afforded me the opportunity to network with other tax professionals, accounting firms, and law firms as well as develop my leadership and social skills. I’m a bit of an introvert, so my roles as board member and chapter officer have helped me to engage with people socially as well as professionally. TEI also provides excellent educational opportunities.”
As far as recruiting millennials is concerned, she says that TEI is going in the right direction by opening up student and associate memberships. “Tax is a specialized profession, and we need to get the word out to college graduates of the opportunities out there in the tax field. The best way to do that is to get on college campuses,” she notes. “I recently ran into my daughter’s friend, who is an accounting major, and I tried to sell her on the tax field. I let her know that she could have a solid career in tax and mentioned an article that says tax manager is the top accounting job with the best opportunities. I’m not sure if I sold her, but maybe our conversation will get her to think about it,” Cochrane adds.
Oh, one more item certain to bring about mixed reactions: “I am a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. The team is not doing as well as I’d hoped, but they still have a chance at winning the division,” she said in December 2019.