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Arvin Mahesan

DNA of a Tax Leader

Arvin Mahesan headshotArvin Mahesan has over 15 years of corporate tax, accounting, audit, financial reporting and financial planning and analysis experience. Arvin is a CPA (US), CPA, CGA, and CIA (US) and holds a MBA. He is currently the director of Accounting and Tax at Hyundai Capital Canada Inc. He is also a Director, Toronto Chapter, Tax Executives Institute Inc.

He previously served as the Chair of Tax and Finance Committee for the Global Auto Makers of Canada and had worked on both income and commodity tax issues facing the automotive sales and automotive captive financing industries. Some of his tax work has included development of Transfer Pricing policies, including the advance pricing arrangements (APA), CRA risk-based audit assessments and tax planning strategies for securitization, cross border financing structures and business restructuring.

Director, Accounting & Tax
Hyundai Capital Canada

Have you always aspired to achieving a senior leadership role in Tax?
I started my career as a medical student, but decided to do accountancy when I migrated to Canada. It was a completely new field, but I was willing to face the challenges and move forward. I never regretted my decision at any time. I started with CPA (CGA) and CPA (USA), which was a great start to my career. I started in accounting on the operational side, and then moved into financial reporting, audit, financial Planning and Analysis, and Treasury (securitizations and cross border financing facilities). From there I went into tax accounting, compliance, transfer pricing and internal tax planning.

I approached each and every role with a positive attitude, rolling up my sleeves to take on as much as I could.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path? How did you overcome this?
My biggest challenge was not anything technical, but how you really work with and influence people in a rapidly changing tax landscape. So much of our training and certification is based on technical skills, but our daily tasks require excellent communication skills and collaboration with cross functional teams both locally and globally in order to come up with practical solutions to minimize tax compliance cost and tax risk to the organization.

I overcame these obstacles through practice, keeping up to date with the current tax developments and actively seeking out information from stakeholders and being able to analyze the facts to come up with the best solutions. Balancing competing opinions and priorities are very important in order to find the middle ground.

What attributes/characteristics do believe are integral to the role?
One needs to be able to adapt to changes. As a leader you need to drive change and promote team work, so the ability to think outside the box is the key.  Knowing the stakeholders and understanding their needs and priorities are important in developing business strategies and monitoring performance against the plan.

How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business?
The tax leadership role is about becoming a business partner with legal, treasury, sales, corporate planning other functions to drive business value while ensuring tax compliance and tax administration. All these departments want to minimize business risks so you need to all keep that common goal in mind and work together towards it while accomplishing other business KPIs.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
Adding value outside the finance function is something that I very much enjoy in my job. It’s very gratifying when you meet people outside finance whom the finance team helps to achieve their goals and KPIs to improve performance.

What is the one thing you have to have to be a Tax Leader in your opinion?
You need to be technically and strategically savvy. No one knows everything, so you have to be able to tap into your available resources and manage all the information that comes your way. Being able to see the big picture and able to understand how the details fit into the overall strategic plan make you a successful tax leader.

It’s also important to be able to communicate the changing landscape of tax legislation to the senior management and other non-tax experts and demonstrate how they will impact business to come up with strategies to minimize tax risk to the organization. 

In your opinion, how important is networking?
Networking has played a big role in my career. I see a lot of value in it. In my experience it is an invaluable informal forum to share best practices to find solutions to complex problems. I recommend making time at least once a month to network, whether it will be attending seminars or informal events. It is important to meet senior tax leaders from different industries so that you can tap into their expertise that you otherwise wouldn’t be able access. It also helps you to improve your confidence and make very valuable business and social connections.

In your opinion, how important is social media for networking/helping one achieve their career goals?
Social media is increasingly playing an important role in building your professional network. I’m active on LinkedIn and I’ve made a very valuable and useful connections through that. I think online tools are a great starting point for initial conversations and information sharing.

Is there anything you would have differently looking back at your career path?
I would have gotten a mentor early on and tap into tax networking organizations like Tax Executives Institute (TEI) or the Canadian Tax Foundation (CTF) to leverage the networking opportunities to expand the tax knowledge and leadership skills. It’s not easy to build those relationships but the earlier you create that touchpoint the more you’ll get from it. 

Compared to 5 or 10 years ago, in your opinion how would you say your role has evolved?
The traditional kind of leadership has changed. The modern leadership style requires one to be proactive and empower the subordinates by inspiring them.  In addition it is also about being a business partner for each function, rather than just leading your function. And your results and impact on the business matter more than your job title.

With increased globalization and e-commerce, leveraging the technology is crucial to gain competitive advantage.

Is there anything that the next generation should know?
You need to be a self-starter to drive change with a clear vision for the future. Don’t be too complacent with success but look for opportunities to learn new things and take on more responsibility. Be proactive about assessing your needs for improvement and find ways to rectify them.

Look beyond technical skills. You need to have the right education and credentials as a firm foundation, but soft skills are what will make you stand out.  These skills you can practice from very early on, both inside and outside work.