"I don't do anything casually" is a quote I came up with as I was responding to my teenage daughter regarding some trivial matter. My family describes me as "intense." I concede, I can be 'wound a little tight.' I am a detailed, organized person that doesn't like clutter. However, my tendency towards perfectionism (or 'not mediocrity') is balanced by my determination to only focus on the things that matter and live the concept that "less is better."
Another key character trait about myself is that I like to fix things. I describe myself as a "fighter" and "fixer." When someone tells me a problem (any problem), I am not just listening to gather all of the information, I am thinking of how to solve the problem - where I will look, possible options. When I hear someone describe their problem, I take it on as my own. I want to fix it. I must fix it.
Both of these traits (i.e., intensity and fixer) drive me and have served me well to achieve results.
I started LEVERAGE SALT, LLC in 2013 after working in public accounting firms and corporate tax departments for almost 20 years. During my career, I have worked in a variety of environments and industries, with both large and small companies. My experience includes income tax, gross receipts tax, sales and use tax, and franchise tax in almost every state. I also have federal income tax experience with specific expertise in accounting methods and inventory.
During my 20+ year career, I have written 60+ articles, including my column (The SALT Effect) for Tax Analysts State Tax Notes, and delivered 50+ presentations. As a result, I have developed a process for conducting research and providing guidance to help companies achieve their business objectives in a state tax-efficient manner.
My favorite part of working in the tax field has always been conducting research to answer complex questions and helping clients develop positions and support when the conclusions aren’t quite clear.
I also enjoy following the ever-changing world of taxation on a daily basis and writing blog posts, articles, alerts, etc. attempting to explain complex matters in an easy-to-understand format while identifying the issues and potential action steps clients should take. In 2009, I started writing my blog, "leverage salt," to help businesses and other tax consultants with 'turning the technical into the practical." Today, the blog has over 900 posts on a variety of state tax topics (blog posts starting in April 2015 are posted here).
If you want to learn more about my perspective on blogging, check out my interview with Bloomberg BNA: Expert Insight: Brian Strahle on Blogging, Creativity, and Coping with SALT Celebrity
I currently serve as the subject matter expert for Bloomberg BNA's State Tax Analyzer product, and have served as an author/reviewer for Bloomberg's BNA Tax and Accounting Center State Tax Navigators.
Mission: I hate the status quo and believe conformity breeds mediocrity. I want to make life easier for companies operating in multiple states. I want to help accounting firms, law firms and corporate tax departments be proactive. I want to change the tax profession, influence tax policy, and build better tools. Mission Impossible?
I have 20+ years of tax experience working in public accounting firms (Big 4, national, regional) and industry (Fortune 500 tax departments). My experience encompasses federal and state income tax, franchise tax, gross receipts tax, sales and use tax in almost every state.
My clients have included large C corporation affiliated groups, S corporations, limited liability companies, single-member limited liability companies, Q-subs, and partnerships. I have also helped individual taxpayers with residency audits. In one of my roles, I helped manage state taxation for a large group (over 500 entities) of pass-through entities, so I know the pain of entity-level taxes, non-resident withholding and composite reporting for pass-through entities.
My clients have been in several different industries such as manufacturing, professional services (including technical, financial, advertising, legal, etc.) retail, technology (including software-as-a-service), real estate development and construction, transportation, auto dealerships, etc.
At one point in my career, I worked in the national tax office of a large accounting firm. That’s when I started doing webinars and seminars. I later started writing my blog, which led to more article writing and my column in Tax Analysts State Tax Notes. As a result, I have a great deal of experience analyzing current developments and transforming them into alerts, articles, whitepapers, presentations and blog posts. To date, I have written 900+ blog posts, 60+ articles, and delivered 50+ presentations.
I started my career (in 1995) working at a Fortune 500 company managing the state income tax function (provision, planning, compliance, and controversy) for a large consolidated group of companies operating in almost every state. I then gained federal tax experience working at another Fortune 500 company and regional accounting firms. I eventually became the accounting methods and inventory technical leader in the national tax office of a national accounting firm.
After gaining in-depth experience on the federal tax side, I ventured back into the state tax area by creating and leading an internal state and local tax group at a national real estate developer/construction contractor. I also served as a state and local tax office leader at a large regional firm in Minnesota and Big 4 accounting firm in Virginia. Prior to starting LEVERAGE SALT, LLC, I served as a state and local tax practice leader in Washington D.C. for a large regional firm with offices in the Midwest and East Coast.
I hold a Masters of Science in Taxation from the Washington School of Law and a Bachelors of Science in Accounting from Millikin University. I am also an enrolled agent and a graduate fellow of the National Tax Practice Institute.
I have been married to my high school sweetheart, Becky (aka Farmgirl Paints), since 1992. We have two daughters and live on 16 acres just outside Nashville, TN.
LEVERAGE SALT is about my clients, it’s not about me. However, I think the benefits clients receive from working with me, come from understanding my background. So here it goes.
It starts in elementary school and doesn't seem to stop. The "cool kids" or the "athletes," or "you fill in the blank" seem to get all of the breaks. They are popular, drive the nice car, date the pretty girl, go to the best college, own the company, get the best advice and have the most money.
If that is you, then great. If that isn't you, then welcome to the club.
I have always viewed myself as an underdog. You could say that my marriage and my career choices and experiences have not been the "traditional" route.
My college experience wasn't the normal experience. I got married when I was 19 to my high school sweetheart. We put each other through college. I worked nights at UPS and my wife worked full-time while I finished college. When I got done, she went back and got her degree. I always joke that we spent the first five years of our marriage going into debt. We spent the next five years paying off the debt. Right after my wife graduated from college, we soon became pregnant with our first daughter. Never got the chance to have two incomes to help pay off our debt, but we did it anyway.
My career path has not been easy or direct. I started my career working in state income tax at a Fortune 500 company. After a few years, I went into public accounting to be a state tax consultant at a Big 4 firm. I then worked at a few large regional and national firms. I also made a short venture back into industry before returning to public accounting and subsequently, starting my own firm. I sometimes look back and think that it would have been a lot easier to have just stayed at my first employer. It was a good job at a large company. However, something always pushed me to want more. To learn more. To become more. The main pros or positives of making the job changes throughout my career are:
- I have learned and developed so many more skills than I ever would have if I had stayed at my first employer.
- I have also met and developed so many more relationships and contacts.
- My unconventional path (or too numerous job changes), despite not being the easiest path, makes me who I am today. And for that, I am truly thankful.
I also did not obtain my masters degree in taxation in the most conventional way. Colleges in my area did not offer a masters degree in taxation, so I obtained my masters degree via distance learning. I worked full-time and studied at night.
I also chose not to obtain the coveted CPA designation and chose the EA (Enrolled Agent) designation instead. During my college years (which I obtained a bachelors' degree in accounting), I actually did not like accounting or auditing. I liked tax. Hence, I decided to take the EA exam because the test is 100% tax law, no accounting or auditing. (I have been blessed to spend my entire career in tax.)
Despite my indirect career path and job changes, and the fact that my wife and I have moved 10+ times during our 20+ year marriage, the one constant in my life has been my wife and my faith in Christ. We have two great daughters and my wife has become a self-taught artist, painter, leather-cuff making, interior designer, furniture restorer, small business woman. It is truly amazing what she can do.
I have 20+ years of state and local tax experience. I have worked in a variety of environments (large, small, public, private, etc.). I have seen it all - the good, the bad and the ugly. I have experienced successful SALT practices and not so successful. I have seen good, experienced SALT professionals switch firms every two years in search of success and the 'right fit.' I have seen accounting firms attempt to build a sustainable SALT practice and only fail after a short period of time.
Small firms provided autonomy and the opportunity to be entrepreneurial, but lacked the support to build a sustainable SALT practice. The large or Big 4 firms have great practices, but I felt like a number - no place to make my mark. I liked working in industry - the people, no billable hours, etc.; however, the pay is not as good.
If you are young, I advise you to learn as much as you can from the work, the clients and the people around you. Also realize, that just about any firm or company you choose to work for - the work is the same. It's the people and the culture that make the difference. Money is part of the equation, not the whole thing. I made several job moves during my career because I was hoping the next one would be better (and it paid more). When making a move, always gather as much information as possible. Nothing is as good as it sounds, or as bad as it sounds. The truth is always somewhere in the middle.
I leave you with this quote: "Don't look back and ask why. Look forward and ask why not."