As I mention on my site, I have started interviewing state tax professionals across the country and will be posting them on this blog to help each of us build connections and get to know each other better.
To be interviewed, all you have to do is answer the 14 questions (found here) and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org to be published on the blog.
As I have been receiving answers from multiple professionals, I have really enjoyed reading them. I have also received feedback from professionals that answering the questions is a great exercise. Looking back is a good way to help you move forward.
My first guest was David Brunori.
Today's guest is Mike Dillon. Mike is an attorney, and the founder and President of Dillon Tax Consulting. With his focus primarily on the state and local tax needs of businesses, Mike provides solutions and planning recommendations to clients' questions regarding sales tax, property tax, business license tax, various other state and local tax matters, and other business compliance requirements. In this capacity, he assists clients to identify their state and local tax obligations and areas of tax exposure, proactively mitigate these exposure items, secure refunds of overpayments, and develop controls to meet tax obligations and minimize tax compliance risks.
I have known Mike for several years. Before I started my own practice in 2013, he was one of the people I called (actually a few years before 2013). I wanted to know how his practice was doing and how he did it. He has been very successful and a good friend and colleague to reach out to.
So without further ado, here are his answers to the 14 questions:
Birthplace: Rochester, NY
Education: bachelor's degree in accounting, SUNY @ Buffalo School of Management; law degree, concentration in taxation, The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law
Career: 25 years including last 10 years as Founder and President of Dillon Tax Consulting, a multistate sales tax consulting and advocacy firm. Prior to this, spent 15 years working in Tax Department of publicly traded telecommunications company, Mid-Atlantic Practice Leader in National SALT practice for Big 4 accounting firm, Tax Director of publicly traded e-commerce company and multiple Sales Tax practice leadership roles in international public accounting firms
Best Career Move: starting Dillon Tax Consulting, a multistate sales tax consulting and advocacy firm; second best career move was as Tax Director for a publicly traded e-commerce company, which gave me tremendous perspective and experience in the practical versus the technical solutions to tax issues - for more on my career path, check out my LinkedIn profile.
Career Goals: to exceed client expectations while helping to shape fair, effective, transparent and efficient sales tax policy for the business community
Best advice ever received: Don’t be afraid - to put yourself out there, to challenge yourself outside of your comfort zone, and to fail. It is only through struggle and failure that we truly grow. The best education I have received in my profession did not come in school, but in the opportunities I pursued, and not all of them worked out the way I expected. Sometimes I failed. But I learned and grew better from the adversity. When I took on the role as Mid-Atlantic Practice Leader in National SALT practice for Big 4 accounting firm, I was 29 years old - only 4 years out of law school. I was the youngest in the firm at that position, but I was surrounded by people with more experience than me and I used this opportunity to learn from their wisdom and experience, pushing myself at an accelerated rate to catch up and exceed their wisdom at times; I was not fettered by prior experience, so I brought a fresh vigor to the group - the child-like way of asking, “why can’t we do this?” You never want to lose that ability to continually ask “why not?"
Most difficult situation faced on the job: representing small business owners who get ensnared in a large sales tax audit assessment that threatens to not only bankrupt the business and threaten their livelihood, but also threatens them from a personal financial perspective. I have had clients sobbing in my office. I have had to act not simply as a tax advisor, but as a therapist and counselor to help them maintain focus and perspective in the midst of tremendous adversity. I think my calm, yet spirited demeanor resonates very well with clients. You have to have compassion in everything. For me, there is no such thing as “It’s just business, nothing personal.” Because behind every business, large and small, are people, with lives and families, so everything is personal. As a business owner myself, I appreciate it on a persona level and not just as their advisor.
Career tip for students: seek your passion and pursue it. If you can identify what you are passionate about and can develop your skills to an expert level, success will come. And success does not simply mean more money, but freedom and flexibility to select what and when you want to do what you do. This freedom enables me to pursue passions in other areas - #1, my family; #2, my faith and nonprofits to which I am drawn, and; #3, friendships and community. After all, this is what I do professionally. It is only one aspect of me as an individual. No one should be so wrapped in their career that it defines most aspects of them. Plus, from a financial perspective, you never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer. “You can’t take it with you."
Role models: My parents. My father for his tenacity and perseverance in spite of any fear he may have ever had. He certainly did not show fear, and adversity only made him dig his heels in deeper to push forward. Because of this, he was highly successful in everything he chose to pursue. My mother for her heart and compassion, helping me to see from the two of them that it takes a delicate balance of both personality types to pursue excellence and success, both personally and professionally.
Pastimes: (1) spending time with my wife and 4 kids, ages 2 to 16. We eat as a family every night and I like to pick the kids up and take them out to lunch during school, or for a treat after school. My favorite things to do with them are outdoor activities, such as skiing, and playing board games or trivia games. The internet and streaming game apps on the TV are a great way to bridge their desire for all things online with our desire to simply send time with them playing a game. (2) riding my Harley - this is as much a reboot for my psyche as it is thrilling to get out on the open country roads and ride. (3) exercise - for me sports and exercise are as much about fun as they are about maintaining balance and harmony, internally and externally. I lift weights, ride bikes (spinning), do TRX resistance training, and yoga 5 days a week. I love everything outdoors - hiking and camping, skiing (snow and water), biking, ice skating. We live in downtown Annapolis, so we walk everywhere and are surrounded by water. It's a wonderful place to raise a family. They can walk to school everyday. So we do a lot outdoors.
Most memorable book: too many to distill to one. I love biographies and thriller fiction. I am drawn to historical accounts. My most recent read was “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. Before that was Springsteen’s autobiography.
Favorite restaurant: again, too many to name. But I love sushi at Joss in Annapolis, and thai food at Lemongrass in Annapolis.
Ideal vacation: We go to Grand Cayman every holiday/new year with extended family. It's a blast to get 15 or more family members together for a week to play games, swim, snorkel and eat meals together. With my wife and family, we like to do a different outdoor adventure every year, from a Wyoming dude ranch, to a cabin in Maine, to the lake in the Adirondacks. Anything that disconnects us from the Internet and connects us to the outdoors and each other is a blessing.
I hope you enjoyed meeting Mike.
Thank you Mike for sharing.