Sandra Esteves, head of tax at Talend (at the time of this writing, in June), is certainly well qualified to be the president of TEI’s EMEA Chapter, which covers Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Esteves joined the EMEA board two years ago as a first-year director. Last year, she took the role of vice chair for the EMEA Direct Tax Committee (EDTC) and focused on the transfer pricing and permanent establishment working group. Starting in July, she’ll chair the EDTC.
As the pandemic began to wane, the EMEA Chapter resumed its face-to-face activities, Esteves notes. For example, she says, the chapter rebuilt its relationship with the European Union. “With COVID,” she explains, “many of us were working from home; it was hard to see people and to have quality face-to-face time. Once COVID slowed down, we reestablished the conferences with our EMEA members and prioritized rebuilding the relationship with the European Union Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs, to work on advocacy for our members.
“In parallel,” she continues, “the first week of June the EDTC was also successful resuming the relationship with the OECD. The theme for the OECD meeting was ‘Achieving Tax Certainty in Ambiguous Times,’ and the group focused on three hot topics for many TEI members: the BEPS 2.0 Pillar Two implementation, a project that many of us are working or starting to work on very hard; transfer pricing dispute prevention and resolution; and working from anywhere. For all three topics, the EDTC put forward constructive, realistic, and practical solutions that we hope the OECD takes into account in its effort to improve tax certainty and to prevent disputes.”
What’s in the cards for the future? Going forward, Esteves says, “For my new role as chair of the EDTC, what would be the priorities? I’ve been thinking about that and plan to focus on two priorities. One priority is to build trust between the EDTC and tax policymakers such as the OECD, the European Union Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs, and the United Nations. I’m looking forward to positioning TEI as a long-term business partner that is engaged early in thinking through tax policy initiatives, and not when tax policy proposals are sent for consultation. TEI has a unique asset, more than six thousand tax professionals across all industries, with hands-on experience about the impact on multinationals and how to find solutions to manage the challenges of implementing tax policy initiatives. We need to be ambitious and think strategically about leveraging our unique asset to add value to tax policymakers and, more important, the multinationals we work for. The second priority is our members, and the goals are to make available to the EMEA members tools that allow them to actively contribute to the EDTC networking, education, and advocacy initiatives and to grow our EMEA—Europe, Middle East, and Africa—membership.”
At the time of this interview in June, Esteves was actually changing roles between companies due to an acquisition. She referenced her experience at Talend, a technology company that offers data integration, data quality, and data governance in a single platform, as an opportunity for her to lead a tax function. “Talend was acquired less than a month ago by Qlik, a US-headquartered technology company and a leader in analytics and business intelligence platforms,” she explains. “I will be transitioning roles; we’re at a phase of the acquisition where the new role is still being redefined.”
EY & Deloitte
Esteves spent thirteen years in advisory roles at EY and Deloitte. “They were amazing technical and communications schools,” she says. “My technical backbone comes from the time I spent at EY and Deloitte. I learned a lot. The Big Four have a brilliant way of training people. Communication—it’s broader than communication, it’s also about active listening. At EY and at Deloitte I learned that what makes you a good tax partner is the ability to communicate a complex technical tax matter in a simple, constructive, and solution-oriented manner. This realization is what triggered me to move from advisory to corporate. I advised a customer about a solution that could be implemented, [but] I was not part of the implementation. Working through the strategy, how to tactically implement the strategy, and rolling up [one’s] sleeves to get it done is what I actually enjoyed the most about working in-house.”
Esteves also had a stint at SABIC, one of the world’s largest chemical companies. “I spent nine years with SABIC and worked my way up in the organization,” she notes. “At SABIC, I learned how important it is to step out of the tax function and work cross-functionally. I led the transfer pricing and business operating model functions, which meant I oversaw the transfer pricing processes and compliance and the business partnering for structuring the new supply chain and business operations. When I joined and designed and rolled out the transfer pricing processes, it was clear the success of the implementation was heavily dependent on controllership, accounting, [financial planning and analysis], supply chain, legal, IT. Designing a process was the easy part—getting it embedded and followed by nontax functions and the business is the challenge. When in my third year I stepped up into the head of transfer pricing and added business operating model structuring to the role, I gained perspective over the importance of partnering and working with the business to [account] for the impact of tax. Business drives the business strategy, and tax is responsible for ensuring that whatever the business does is tax compliant and, where feasible, optimized.