As TEI’s Annual Conference in New Orleans came to a close, I could not help reflecting on the fact that we had just concluded our seventy-fourth such gathering during one of the most consequential periods in U.S. tax history as well as in TEI’s history. Let me explain.
First, we, the members of the in-house tax community, continue to confront the far-reaching implications of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the pervasive influences of technological innovation, and the shifting paradigms and operating structures of the tax departments we serve.
Second, this year marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of TEI’s founding. Three quarters of a century ago in New York City, Paul Smith (a tax executive from Schenley Distillers) and his colleagues created a vision for an organization dedicated to the professional needs of the in-house tax community—an association committed to helping create and sustain sound and administrable tax systems and to providing unparalleled education, networking, and advocacy for the benefit of its members.
Seventy-five years later, TEI, without question, remains vibrant, strong, and true to Paul Smith’s vision of service and support to the in-house tax community.
Indeed, the just-concluded Annual Conference represents strong evidence of our continuing commitment to fulfilling Smith’s vision: in-house tax professionals engaging with peers and subject-matter experts while building personal and professional networks.
I can only speculate how Smith and his fellow founders would marvel (or perhaps be shocked) at the scope and sophistication of the departments we now lead and serve and the range of technical, policy, and management-related content we must master.
A few data points for comparison. In 1944, the Internal Revenue Code of 1939 was a single slim volume; the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (the organization that created the framework for modern-day internal controls) was still decades away, as were tax policy organizations like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the statutory and regulatory regimes of Subpart F.
Fast-forward and consider that the regulatory framework alone for the TCJA exceeds 1,500 pages, that internal control guidelines are extensive (i.e., Accounting Standards Codification or its predecessor sequencing, the Fair Accounting Standards Board Interpretations or “FIN”), and that volumes of treaty, treatise, and interpretative commentaries already fill growing amounts of data space.
Smith’s challenge to his contemporaries and, in turn, to us, his successors, was to ensure that our educational offerings explore all the challenges that confront the in-house tax community, no matter the source or scope. Having actively participated in the development of this year’s Annual Conference, including being given the privilege to moderate a plenary discussion, “Tax Department Transformation—From Technology to the TCJA,” I can confidently say that our commitment to executing Smith’s vision is as strong as ever.
Over the coming months, TEI’s milestone will be recognized throughout our organization. Celebrations in our chapters and regions will honor TEI’s past trailblazers and today’s members and leaders as well as outline the steps we are taking to position TEI for its next seventy-five years. The calendar culminates in New York City, the place of TEI’s founding, on October 25–28, 2020, with our 75th Annual Conference. At the core, every event centers on you, our members, then, now, and into the future. Please be on the lookout for events taking place near you!
A number of our ongoing projects and initiatives are especially noteworthy in this regard. TEI’s Corporate Tax Department Survey, a detailed look at the departments we serve, is well underway. We expect the survey to be distributed in March of next year, with preliminary findings available in October 2020. We have also introduced two new TEI membership categories: Students—individuals engaged in full-time study, working toward a tax-related degree—and Associates—tax professionals already in the in-house workforce, who have yet to complete the five-year experience requirement necessary for full TEI membership. Students and Associates represent key sources of TEI’s future membership base. I would like to specially recognize and applaud the work of Colleen Brown (Salt Lake City Chapter) and the membership task force she led for their outstanding work on this initiative. Please watch for TEI’s new “Real. Opportunities.” membership recruitment campaign, which will be rolling out shortly.
We continue our efforts to embed diversity and inclusion (D&I) principles within the fabric of TEI, most notably through our educational programming. Planting and nurturing these principles have resulted in a greater awareness that D&I must become part of our operational DNA and a permanent pillar in the architecture of every in-house tax department. This is necessary to attract the broadest array of high-caliber tax professionals, develop the best leaders, stimulate the best ideas, and ultimately produce the best value for our companies.
In this spirit, I was exceptionally pleased to have represented the board at the Annual Conference and presented the Institute’s President’s Award to Don Rath of the Silicon Valley Chapter. Over two decades-plus of TEI membership, Don was instrumental in elevating TEI’s status as a trusted authority and advocate in the financial reporting area. Moreover, Don helped establish and chart TEI’s course to become a more diverse and inclusive professional association. We would not be where we are today without Don’s passion, drive, and commitment, and we wish him all the best in the years ahead.
I am delighted to announce that TEI is now “reopened for business” in China. We have restructured our operations and, under the outstanding leadership of our Asia Chapter board and members and the guidance of Tommy Wu, TEI’s head of Asian affairs and China general manager, we are now poised for future growth in this vital region.
I was privileged to join Tommy in Shanghai and to participate in a seminar at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (SUFE). SUFE is the oldest financial university in China, consistently ranked as one of the best finance and economics research universities in the world and, not coincidentally, Tommy’s alma mater. I observed firsthand the opportunities for TEI’s growth in this key global geography and witnessed the importance of having boots on the ground.
I would be remiss if I did not offer my sincere thanks to TEI’s committee and task force chairs, moderators, and speakers for their efforts to plan, prepare for, and participate in this year’s conference. Their willingness to share their time and expertise is very much appreciated. And, finally, I would like to express the Institute’s deep thanks and appreciation to Deborah Gaffney, TEI’s director of conference planning, who will be retiring at year-end after more than thirty-four years of exemplary service. TEI has greatly benefited from Deborah’s experience, strategy, multitasking ability, patience, and, most of all, her friendship. Deborah, we wish you and Alan all the best. We know you will enjoy your retirement and trust it won’t be too “taxing.”
TEI International President