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Maria Severino

DNA of a Tax Leader

Maria Severino headshotA tax partner at Collins Barrow with more than 20 years of extensive public practice experience, Maria advises private, public and multinational corporations across a wide range of industry sectors in the areas of corporate restructuring, international tax planning, as well as estate, wealth-preservation and succession planning. Her strategic tax advice and tax-efficient solutions have proved integral in structuring many business transactions involving mergers, acquisitions and divestitures, as well as inbound and outbound investments and business expansions. She is also sought after for her entrepreneurial approach and commitment to understanding a client’s business and objectives. A graduate of the University of Toronto, Maria is a CPA, CA, having earned her designation in 1997.

Tax Partner
Collins Barrow

Have you always aspired to achieving a senior leadership role in tax?
Tax has always been my passion. I recognized early on that in the business world tax is a key driver in business decisions and it can have a significant impact. I wanted a career where I can make a difference to the entrepreneur and a role that allowed me to be creative and generate value.

Adding to that interest in the field, professional growth has always been important to me. This meant moving up the ranks to be part of the leadership team, from manager to senior manager and now partner. All of these are important leadership roles at Collins Barrow Toronto.

Collins Barrow LogoHave you ever second guessed your career path?
No, once I started in public practice I knew that it was where I wanted to be because of the variety in the work and the interaction with clients, potential clients and various centres of influence. Every day I get to meet new people, learn about them and their businesses.

My view is that business relationships and experiences are what enrich your career and I am fortunate to have the ability to develop both in public practice as a Collins Barrow partner.

What is the biggest obstacle you've faced along your career path? How did you overcome this?
I started my career at one of the big four national firms. Soon after, I realized that I wanted to expand my experience and have more depth in various tax areas and interact more directly with entrepreneurs. This can be a more challenging environment but for me it is what drives me to come to work every day. Collins Barrow Toronto is such a great fit because it provides a broad perspective and you have the freedom to define your own role here.

What technical skills do you think are integral to the role?
You absolutely need a strong financial background. Everything else is secondary. If you don’t have the tax and financial knowledge as a base then you won’t have that stable foundation on which to build your long-term career.

What attributes/characteristics do you believe are integral to the role?
You need to be passionate about tax. From outside the function, people often think of tax as being dry or just about process, but it’s very complex and there is an element of art to it, as well as technical knowledge. Tax can have a huge impact on a business and you need to care about the field overall, and your clients’ needs in particular. Being passionate makes you more client-focused, it helps you find creative solutions, and to clearly communicate with others so they understand why tax decisions matter.

I think you also need to be a pragmatic, critical thinker. Efficiency and results matter so don’t just accept “that’s how we’ve always done it” as an answer. Look at the why, analyze what’s changed and what the goals are so you can make a better decision for your company and your client.

What is your advice to someone who is moving up the ranks in the field and wants to pursue a management/executive career?
Take ownership of your own career and demonstrate leadership at every level. Don’t wait for a leadership role to take responsibility, look for ways to expand your knowledge and influence. Make suggestions, go above and beyond, invest in the results because that kind of engagement will stand out and will help you make the case for you to progress to the next level in your career.

How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business?
It’s very important. You need to understand all aspects of the business to bring what is best to the client.  Providing that depth and expertise in various areas is key to meeting clients’ needs and adding value.

Have you ever worked abroad?
No, but I have attend various networking conferences outside Canada, which I think has helped keep me informed about global tax trends, and allowed me to look ahead to what might be next.

What's your favourite part of your job?

Meeting new people every day and getting to learn about them and their business. Knowing I get to help committed business people improve their results is the most satisfying part of my day.

What is the one thing you have to have to be a tax leader in your opinion?
You need to be able to build trust and inspire your team to succeed. You can’t succeed alone, so being able to share your vision and get your team’s buy-in and support is crucial.