Lynne Clare knows value-added tax (VAT). She really knows VAT.
Currently the strategic VAT director at Sony, Clare has been involved with VAT issues for most of her career. It all began a little more than 26 years ago when she was posted to a VAT team at Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise (HMCE), a department within the government of the United Kingdom. It was an experience Clare clearly appreciates: “I was very lucky to have a fabulous manager who gave me plenty of opportunities and technical challenges to sink my teeth into. I quickly realized that I had been (albeit accidentally) given a great opportunity for interesting work.”
After four years working as a VAT inspector auditing the filings of a wide range of businesses, Clare worked on a short-term project at HMCE’s headquarters in London and never looked back. “At the end of that project, I secured a permanent headquarters policy role at the perfect moment— the internet was starting to be interesting, and tax authorities were starting to explore its potential impact on tax revenues,” she explains. She immediately became involved in reviewing challenges at both the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and European Union (EU) levels and drafting the VAT chapter for the tax document that was discussed at the 1998 OECD Ottawa conference. “I discovered that negotiating and transposing legislation was really interesting, and I thoroughly enjoyed the international aspects of my role that brought me into contact with tax policymakers from around the world,” she says.
Role as Policy Advisor
“My role as a policy advisor, with responsibility for the policy on ‘place of supply of services,’ brought me into contact with tax officials in many countries around the world through work I did as part of a four-country subgroup of the special sessions that predated WP9. In addition to the UK, the group included VAT/GST specialists from the Netherlands, Sweden, and Canada,” she explains.
Prior to joining Sony, Clare worked at Vodafone’s headquarters as its international VAT manager. Before that, Clare represented the UK in Brussels on EU matters as fiscal attaché (official title: First Secretary Customs and Taxation) for direct taxes, indirect taxes, and customs issues, a tenure during which several legislative measures were adopted.
A Challenging VAT Issue
The most problematic VAT issue Clare has faced occurred early in her career, after she helped negotiate the EU VAT rules pertaining to the way cross-border supplies of telecommunications should be subject to tax, protecting more than £800 million in VAT per year in the UK alone. “The basic change itself was not where the challenge lay. The amounts at stake were so significant that we knew businesses had an incentive to forestall the changes (by prepaying before the changes took effect for telecoms services, for possibly many years hence). So we needed to introduce watertight antiforestalling provisions to ensure that any forestalling would fail. In the midst of the project the [HMCE] lawyer who had supported me with the drafting of the legislation left to join Touche Ross, so we had to start again with a new lawyer. The legislation that we ended up with was so complex that I struggled to understand it myself. Although the legislation applied only for one moment in time, it stood to protect many hundreds of millions of pounds of VAT and therefore was extremely important to get right. Fortunately we succeeded!”
The Sony Experience
At Sony, Clare enjoys the opportunity to bring on more junior staff; the intellectual challenge of interpreting case law and applying it in practical settings; and the enormous experience, partly as the result of TEI membership, of shaping and influencing new legislation through extensive advocacy efforts undertaken by TEI’s European Indirect Tax Committee. “The wide variety of business activities has meant I never have a boring day. I have friends now all over the world, which is excellent when traveling. There’s rarely a place I visit where I don’t have someone to socialize with—for example, my absolutely lovely Japanese colleagues who have enjoyed trying to teach me some basic Japanese phrases.”
“I discovered that negotiating and transposing
legislation was really interesting, and I
thoroughly enjoyed the international aspects
of my role that brought me into contact with
tax policymakers from around the world.”
As far as TEI membership is concerned, Clare says it provides unique access to top-notch tax experts and offers opportunities to collaborate and network.
Despite her distinguished career, Clare is most proud of being the mother of a daughter who heads up Instagram’s media team. “I think that bringing up a child to become a successful and independent adult is far and away the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced in my life. Children create interesting challenges from the moment they are born, if not before. But they offer huge learning opportunities, many of which are entirely transferable to the work environment,” she explains.
Clare is also a “very basic” guitar player. “On the guitar front, my biggest challenge is finding the time to practice, which is frustrating, but I’m really looking forward to picking up again when I retire,” she notes.
When it comes to other hobbies and outside interests, there’s always The Boss—Bruce Springsteen. Clare attends Springsteen concerts all over Europe. “I’m a huge fan of live music and the theater. We go as frequently as we can manage, and I have been lucky to see so many bands live as well as some really excellent plays,” she says. Clare likes to travel to different countries and experience varying cultures; she finds Bhutan, India, and Guatemala particularly interesting.
What’s more, Clare has experience with the trampoline. Yes, the trampoline. “I bounced, judged competitions, and coached. It was great fun, but I realized after one injury too many that maybe it was time to move on. Maybe that’s why you don’t see too many older bouncers,” she says.