The rise and rise of the Tax Global Process Owner
September 29, 2021
Prior to joining PwC, I was the Tax and Stats Global Process Owner (GPO) for a major multinational - and there weren’t many of us around. It was rare that I’d meet another, but how things change. In the last year alone, I’ve helped to draft several new job descriptions for Tax GPOs in the FTSE100. The emergence of this role will help businesses transform how they work, just as GPOs in Record to Report, Procure to Pay and Order to Cash have done before them.
To be effective, a GPO needs to own their processes end-to-end. They need to be able to drive standardisation across departments, free information from silos and balance resources and risk.
Unlike the change champions of old, a GPO is responsible for delivering clear, tangible business benefits including finding efficiencies in the tax process and ensuring compliance throughout the organisation.
Getting the GPO right
A good GPO needs authority and budget. Budget goes without saying. Authority is needed because the GPO is an agent of transformation. They need to understand the tax process, from upstream, where orders are received, all the way through the business and through the tax function. Only then, the GPO can improve that process.
I’ve met a lot of very skilled tax professionals who have the technical attributes to look at the end-to-end process and identify what needs to change to make it better and who have a good grasp of operational tax concerns.
Having budget and authority is a great start, but not quite enough. The ability to influence is key.
A truly effective GPO makes the prospect of transforming processes – and then keeping them running smoothly – seem not just possible but exciting and desirable. To do that, the GPO should remember that not everyone has the same experience or world view. They must take time to connect with key business users - and not run too fast. It's tempting to jump over details that might seem obvious to speed things up (it doesn’t). The GPO needs to bring to life the desired end state - explain the route and make the individuals feel part of the journey. Even the smartest people in the room can shut themselves off if they don’t understand the ask.
"Centralisation is the route to efficiency in global businesses, and the key to unlocking those economies of scale is standardisation and automation of processes. GSK has fully embraced this, by empowering and investing in GPO teams in 14 separate areas, one of which is Tax. Throughout my four year Tax & Stats GPO tenure, I moved compliance to an outsource model, created synergies between direct tax, transfer pricing and stats processes, supported business changes such as M&A (divestments and integrations), redesigned the process for monitoring and implementing regulatory changes, and many other process improvements involving ETL tools such as Alteryx. There are so many areas of Tax where a better process can make a huge difference – but without being able to bring strategy, influence and execution together change simply won’t happen. In-order for any plan to become a reality, those ideas must be translated into a business case and a story that decision makers and purse-string holders can connect with."
Head of Tax Operations, GSK
A GPO needs to be able to dig down and get to the root of the issue, rather than simply treating the symptom or popping technology on top of bad processes. For example, you could decide to move a spreadsheet designed to clean up bad tax data to a new platform to reduce the tax time drain, or focus on solving the “upstream” problem within the finance or master data team which may eliminate the tax task altogether.
Being a GPO isn’t simply a grassroots job, though, connecting with the masses and leading the rank-and-file. It’s a strategic role and needs the backing of the CFO and buy-in from the business. If you’re a GPO, you’ll need to be able to get senior leadership to embrace your vision and support you. And of course you need the authority and support from the Board to back it up.
And that brings up one of the hard truths of being a GPO. Because you’re an agent of change, because you’re going to ask people to do things differently, and because you’re going to exert control over areas people may consider theirs, you have to expect push back. To be frank, transforming the tax process end-to-end is no cheerleading exercise, and you’re unlikely to win any popularity contests. But it is incredibly satisfying and the improvements you are able to make will speak for themselves.
A truly effective GPO, who sees the big picture, works for the benefit of the business, and communicates their vision clearly, will ultimately be well respected as they’ve taken on the mantle of preparing the business for the challenges ahead.
One thing that can really help a GPO, at any stage of their career, is building connections to others in the same role. For organisations that have a network of internal GPOs, I’d encourage the Tax GPOs (and those that are an agent for change in tax but perhaps don’t have the role yet) to connect with their counterparts and work thorough joint initiatives that could create that coveted win:win outcome. Other Tax GPOs will fully understand the unique challenges of the role and can offer tips, share ideas and provide a support network. That’s why we’ve created a Community of Interest for Tax GPOs to come together - contact me if you’re interested to hear more.