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How Did I Get Here? Liz Zitzow, British American Tax

19th Jul 2005
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Continuing our How Did I Get Here? series, Liz Zitzow, talks about her journey from making a living in a rock band to becoming Managing Partner at British American Tax.

Current job title
Managing Partner

Describe your initial training within the profession
I took the three month H&R Block Tax school (starts every year in October), got high grades, and was offered a position for the next tax season. Only top scorers in the class get hired, typically 1 out of every 20 of the students.

What positions have you held?
US Tax Accountant, H&R Block - 3 yrs.
US Tax Accountant, TaxMan - 5 years (I got my EA license in my third year). Top sales four years in a row!
US Tax Reviewer, TaxMan - 7 years. Reviewed 3,000 returns each tax season.
Senior US Tax Accountant, US Tax & Financial Services - 5 years. International & Expat tax.
Managing Partner, British American Tax - 2 years. Started my own firm, handling high net worth international taxpayers.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of entering the profession?
If you have no credentials, or if you're switching careers, start out in tax. You can learn on the job, and you don't need a college degree. If you don't have a college degree in accounting and don't want to get one, take the Enrolled Agent path. (In the UK, it's the ATT/ATTI path.) But don't think it's an easy row to hoe: You won't ever make as much money as a CPA/CA unless you are extremely highly motivated.

Is there a significant event you can tell us about which had an impact on your career?
Working in tax is a career change for me. I did a lot of one and two month stints in working class jobs (waitressing, factory work, etc.), and didn't really enjoy it. I played in a rock band for ten years, but wasn't making a decent living at that either. I certainly didn't want to waste another four plus years training for a career after all that! Tax served as a quick entry into a professional field. To make a career change successful, you must apply yourself at a high level of diligence.

What is your overall view of the finance industry and the people in it?
The industry: Find out early where the money is.
The people: Financial industry has three kinds of people in it:
1) Techies, lacking sales skills. You know everything. People come to you when they want answers. Unfortunately, you couldn't talk someone into buying something if you gave it away for free. If you're one of these, you'll find it difficult to advance to the top earning levels, since at some point they want you to sell.
2) People people, party people, Sales types. While you have the possibility of rising to the top, the lack of technical expertise means that you risk misselling and lost sales opportunities for products that will solve problems your client has that you don't realize he has.
3) Symbiosis. combining the technical expertise of the techie with the networking sales skills of the people person. These are the guys who make partner, start their own companies, and invent new products other people must buy.

If you're a techie, you can acquire networking skills through clubs like BNI, BRE, Toastmasters, etc. You do not have to be born with it!

Who most inspired you to get where you are today?
My Great Aunt Ruth. She was an actuary for a huge US blue chip. From the 1920's to 1960's, she computed the pensions for all the employees of the firm, all without computers or calculators; doing log tables in her head. Doing maths wasn't a career choice for women in those days! She spent the 1970's to the day she died in the 1990's traveling all over the world. In her 1980's, she went to Antarctica three times, tried white water rafting, and flew in a hot air balloon.

What has been your greatest achievement?
Inside accounting: Making my targets, selling more every year than I did the year before.
Outside accounting: Recording 65 songs over several albums.


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