Two UW Alums Share Their Experiences
We can’t predict where life will lead us. All we can do is take the steps that lead us in a direction that feels right, a direction that makes sense for who we know ourselves to be and where we excel. Accounting, and specifically the study of taxation, may not come to mind immediately as an obvious launching point, but as it turns out, when it comes to setting the stage for a successful future—tax is an asset, not a liability.
Jack Ferry, Partner & CFO at Columbia Pacific Advisors in Seattle is a great example of someone starting off in tax and moving up from there:
“I was senior manager at Deloitte, our client InfoSpace, had just gone public. They needed a Tax Director. I was very intrigued by this, but I was concerned about giving up a partner track—really loved Deloitte and still consider it one of my favorite places to have worked. But the tech boom in 2000 was very intriguing and I accepted the offer with InfoSpace. It was a great transition and I was essentially the only one in the company who knew tax. Unexpectedly I got the opportunity to travel to Ireland, the Netherlands, and Great Britain to explore where the company should co-locate. I put together a company summary and projections which I presented to each foreign government agency to determine possible government incentives and also visited other U.S. based high tech companies that had already set up business offices there.”
InfoSpace, with Jack Ferry as the Tax Director, did a remarkable 22 Mergers and Acquisitions in one year. His skills and hard work led him to become a VP of Tax and Treasury. He experienced the full cycle of a company—from startup to going public to a contraction period. He went through a successful B&O tax refund case with state of Washington and prevailed in a high- profile IRS matter utilizing the Fast Track appeals process resulting in millions of dollars saved to the company.
Jack later moved on to venture capital to serve as CFO for Ignition Partners, and then ultimately to the private equity group, Columbia Pacific Advisors. When asked about the transition from taxes into finance, Jack explains,
“It just made a lot of sense because partnerships tend to be fairly complex and if you have gone through a master’s program, it will enable you to execute and add value. Of course, I had to learn the finance part of it but that was not the most difficult given my accounting and tax experience.”
Another prime example of one who took a tax background and ran with it is Amazon’s Allen Kim. Coming from a working-class Tacoma neighborhood, and being a first-generation college student, Allen struggled when he first started college in 1999. The expense of higher education combined with low motivation, led him to drop out and go to work for a start-up hotel. It was there, during his 3-year gap, that he discovered a passion for business which brought him back to the UW with a greater sense of purpose.
It was in his undergraduate tax class where everything clicked—everything seemed more relevant, more real to him—
“Until I took tax, accounting felt like math with no purpose…It was not until I started taking tax that I fell in love with and it’s close connection to any business. It definitely connected me more to the operations side of the hotel, which I was still doing at the time.”
Allen went on to complete his Master of Professional Accounting in Taxation at Foster in 2007 and then after a satisfying 7-year stint with the public accounting firms, he was ready, though hesitant to try something new.
“I was scared I couldn’t do anything else besides personal taxes but with the help of having a personal network, I was introduced to a niche role in Amazon’s tax department. Tax got me in the door, and my experience and understanding of business workings helped me progress to where I am now.”
Allen’s work today as a Senior Tax Manager—Foreign Reporting and Compliance at Amazon is only partly about taxes and mostly about improving effectiveness and being strategic. He manages, trains, researches and sets policy—all of it based off the connections between business, people, accounting and tax.
For both Allen Kim and Jack Ferry, though their paths are very different, their refrains echo each other. Both emphasize the importance of communication skills, the courage to take on new challenges and the power of undergrad and graduate school networks. Both emphasized how the study of tax opened doors and provided opportunity.
Since we can’t predict where life will lead us, starting off on a path that opens doors and provides opportunity is a step in the right direction.
Find out more about the University of Washington’s Foster School MS Taxation degree.