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Building an enduring network.

While education and advocacy are very important to the ongoing success of Tax Executives Institute, member feedback suggests that the primary reason that tax professionals join TEI is networking. That's one reason I share the experiences of members who have benefitted from the Institute's network of 53 chapters and more than 5,800 members. My last column, for example, bade farewell to two state and local professionals whose combined membership in TEI spanned six decades. My comments about Jerry Steltenkamp and Steve Friedlander prompted a message from Eugene K. Black, a long-time member of the Dallas Chapter and a former vice chair of the State and Local Tax Committee. Ken retired last July, and had found himself so busy in retirement that he hadn't had the opportunity to send in an "official" resignation. This was his message:</p> <pre>

At the time I retired, I had been in the accounting field for 36 years, the last 28 in state and local taxation and a member of TEI for 21 years. I made many acquaintances in TEI over the years

who became really good friends. I can remember when S&L was a very small part of the make-up of TEI and through many struggles and participation of people like Jerry, it is now a very integral part. I want to thank you and others at TEI for making my years in TEI such a great experience, as just a member, as a S&L Committee member, as Dallas Chapter President, and in other functions which I assisted with. It was work, but it was a pleasure working with you. Thank you for helping me grow in the tax profession. </pre> <p>Like so many of TEI's volunteer leaders, Ken is modest in describing his role in expanding TEI's state and local tax activities. A faithful member of the State and Local Tax Committee at a time when its meetings could be held in a rather small room, Ken pushed and prodded and helped us respond to the membership's growing needs in this area. I recall our struggling over the agendas for liaison meetings with the Federation of Tax Administrators and the Multistate Tax Committee, and am grateful to him (and his fellow committee members) for teaching me the fundamentals of state and local taxation. (As a federal tax practitioner before I joined TEI's staff, I thought SALT was something I was supposed to avoid, like mayonnaise and sweetened soft drinks.) One of my regrets is that a change in Ken's employment status forced him to step down from the State and Local Tax Committee just after he had been appointed its chair--something he had told me more than once would be a highlight of his tax career. I am delighted he is enjoying his retirement, doing (in his words) "less taxing things such as fly fishing, hiking, and skiing."

Ken's message was especially welcome because it came on the heels of some feedback that, while constructive, was less positive. Picking up a copy of the January 31 issue of the Sales and Use Tax Monitor, my eye was immediately drawn to a story captioned:

Don't Scrimp on Networking, Even If It Seems There's No Time

The opening sentence of the article could have been an advertisement for TEI or any other tax association. It read: "Networking--especially through associations--is a big part of a tax pro's routine, even though the time crunch can make it difficult...." What followed was heartening in terms of importuning tax executives to become involved in their professional association. It was sobering, however, in that TEI came up short in the networking department when compared with a couple of other associations.

The article included quotations from four tax professionals, and all of them heralded the role of associations in bringing people of common interest together. When it came to TEI, however, two of the professionals suggested that its state and local network was not particularly effective. Here's how the director of operating taxes for one company put it:</p>

<pre> Tax Executives Institute has a chapter nearby, but I'm not a member anymore. It seems like a lot of what they talk about is federal issues, and I'm focused on state and local taxes.... I was involved in TEI for many years and was on the board, but

now those contacts are few and far between. It's hard to free up the time. </pre> <p>Another professional acknowledged that TEI was "good," but opined that another organization was "better for state and local than TEI is."

The comments in the SUTM article stung a little bit, but they have the ring of truth about them. I know both of the tax professionals who are quoted above, and I know they are sincere in their beliefs. I also know, as Ken Black wrote, that TEI and its State and Local Tax Committee have worked hard to expand the Institute's network of state and local professionals and its effectiveness. Thus, the committee has expanded its membership, retooled our basic state and local tax course, planned excellent telephone seminars, and done the Institute extraordinarily proud by hosting outstanding sessions at our conferences. It has also championed the position of multijurisdictional businesses in comments filed with the Multistate Tax Commission (most recently, on the MTC's tax shelter disclosure regulations) and amicus briefs lodged with the courts (most recently, in California in a case involving the research tax credit, and in the Supreme Court in respect of the constitutionality of Ohio's investment tax credit).

Sometimes, of course, an organization's broad-based membership and multi-faceted nature constrains its effectiveness, as its attention becomes diffused and the concern about dividing the membership push it toward inactivity. Other times, however, its diversity can be a real strength. It can, for example, enable it to resist the temptation to go in the direction of the loudest, biggest, or more generous contributor or to gain valuable perspective by examining comparable federal rules and applying them in the state and local sphere. The latter was clearly the case with our recent MTC comments and the brief we filed in General Motors' R&D case in California, and the former was the case when we undertook to address all the issues raised by the Supreme Court in the Cuno case rather than skirting one at the behest of particular members. All these efforts reflect and celebrate our diversity and the marriage of our federal "roots" and our state and local "branches and leaves," and they demonstrate why there's benefit in belonging to broad-based organizations (as well as more narrow, focused one). To be sure, TEI cannot offer a state and local tax professional a menu of "all SALT, all the time." But it can offer a balanced diet of state and local, federal, international, and management activities that not only can help the tax executive grow professionally but also reflects the integrated, multi-disciplinary, multi-faceted reality which every tax professional must deal with every day.

The comments about TEI's being a federally oriented association brought to mind another comment I heard (now many years ago) about why a certain Vice President-Tax had dropped out of active membership (even though he continued to pay dues). Why, I asked him. "TEI's just a old boys' club," he responded, "more interested in consuming alcohol than learning taxes."

Was there a kernel of truth in what he said? At one time perhaps there was, but if it were ever true, it was a long, long time ago. In 2006, I don't think it's a fair statement. 600 educational meetings (many over breakfast) belie the notion of a drinking man's club, as does the heavy dose of advocacy and liaison work performed not only by the Institute's staff in Washington, but by the committees and our local chapters. And if you look out over the crowd at a TEI meeting these days, you are bound to see as many women as men, just as an audience member is nearly as likely to see female chair, moderator, or speaker as a male one.

Can we do more? Of course, we can. And that's where you come in. As Mike Boyle writes about in his column, TEI has undertaken an initiative to expand its membership, and has significantly reduced the cost of joining in order to induce tax executives to join. While the initial focus of our recruiting efforts has been smaller and mid-size companies, we are also interested in reaching out to state and local tax professionals, regardless of the size of their companies. We want them to join, not just to find out for themselves the good work of Ken Black, Steve Friedlander, Jerry Steltenkamp, and their colleagues, but to bring their ideas and insights to the organization. Thus, I invite your help in carrying this message to your non-member colleagues. Urge them to give us a try. For $100, they will receive a paid-up membership in TEI through June 2007, and they will gain access to our interactive website, our excellent curriculum of educational programs, and our unparalleled network of local chapters and 5,800 members.

Many years ago, a TEI member wrote that the Institute was the only organization in which you can call up perfect strangers--professionals whose names you found in the membership roster--and they will tell you their secrets. The reason for this is neither profound nor a secret: It's because no one knows the challenges of being a tax executive more than a fellow tax executive. Troubled by a nexus questionnaire in State A? You'll find kindred spirits on TEI's State and Local Tax Committee. Overwhelmed by the demands of Sarbanes-Oxley? You can gain tea and sympathy--and practical suggestions for coping--in the foyer outside most TEI conference sessions. Curious about whom you should retain to help you in Country X or Locality Q? The answer is likely no further away than Perplexed by the IRS's e-filing mandate? You have a friend in TEI.

Finally, if you yourself have been frustrated by TEI or have suggestions for how we can do better, please us know. We'll do our best to address your concerns.

Timothy J. McCormally

TEI Executive Director
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Author:McCormally, Timothy J.
Publication:Tax Executive
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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