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.
To read prior interviews, go here.
Today's guest is James Sutton. James concentrates in the area of Florida tax matters, with an almost exclusive focus on Florida Sales and Use Tax. He has been a licensed Certified Public Accountant since 1994 and a licensed member of the Florida Bar since 1998.
He has 25+ years of experience working in Federal tax as well as State and Local Tax ("SALT"), including at a "Big 5" CPA firm and a tax consulting firm handling a wide variety of state tax planning and consulting work for Fortune 1,000 companies. Since 2001, James has been an Adjunct Professor of Law at Stetson University College of Law teaching State and Local Tax, Accounting for Lawyers, and Federal Income Tax I and also at Boston University College of Law's LLM of Taxation program teaching Sales and Use Tax. He is also the State and Local Tax Chairman of the American Academy of Attorney - Certified Public Accounts and now dedicates his time defending companies and individuals against the aggressive tactics of the Florida Department of Revenue.
Without further ado, here are his answers to the 14 questions:
Birthplace: Columbus, Mississippi
Education: Bachelors in Accounting, Stetson University; Masters in Accounting specializing in Taxation, Mississippi State University; Juris Doctorate, Stetson University College of Law
Career: I’ve worn a lot of hats in my career, but all seem to have complimented each other to make me into a better professional. I started out working for a regional CPA firm doing both audit and tax work. The firm did FDIC audits around the country, which was an interesting aspect of the job. In law school I worked part time for a law firm doing estate planning and probate work, which is what I went to law school to become. What I learned was that estate planning work wasn’t my cup of tea. After my LLM, I worked for Arthur Andersen for a number of years in the SALT department and loved the work. My father also worked for Arthur Andersen back in the 1960’s, so there was some nostalgia in the position too. I rode Andersen to the ground as everyone jumped ship following Enron and joined two other state tax professionals to form a new state tax consulting firm that didn’t get much traction. During the consulting firm venture, I was asked to partner up with someone in a residential construction company. I agreed and became the in house counsel/CFO for the company – learning a completely new industry from the ground up. We had several years of success until the residential housing market tanked around 2008. Then I was asked to join a commercial construction company that built hotels and jumped at the opportunity, again learning new things every day. I ended being more valuable on the sales side of the hotel business while also being the in-house counsel/CFO. By the end of 2010, funding for the hotel market dried up in the recession and I was again face with what to do next in my career. I decided to go back into the tax professional world and started exploring option. The next step was my best career move.
Best Career Move: When I was ready to move back into state tax law in 2011, I had the choice of hanging up my own shingle or partnering up with someone. I decided to partner up with someone that had 30+ plus years of experience in state tax law, but they were located on the other side of the state. So I opened a new office for the firm in a completely different city as the sole attorney in that office. The combination of having a partner to lean on when I needed it and the freedom to be almost a solo practitioner in my own office was a perfect combination for me. The result… we have an extremely successful state tax practice and we don’t step on each other’s toes! I will say, choose your partner well. I did!
Career Goals: To enjoy whatever I do (not “do what I enjoy”) and, hopefully, make good money along the way. I don’t think I’ll ever quit working because when you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t feel like work!
Most difficult situation faced on the job: Being responsible for it all and having the patience and focus to stay on target until success.
Career tips for students: Get out of your comfort zone. Learn something new every day. Be the most positive person around you. Even if you don’t realize it at the time, every step you take in your career is either a step forward or a step sideways, but never a step back. Never give up!
Role Models: These days, Elon Musk. In my early career days, probably my dad. My dad died from ALS before I started my career and we didn’t discuss a whole lot about his career before he died. My role model was probably what I idolized his career to be.
Family: Married to a woman that is much smarter than I am. She is a college professor teaching finance. I have two girls, who turn 12 and 15 in 2018. I’m relishing the time with them while they are still at home and looking forward to more travel with my better half when they are starting their own lives.
Pastimes: Mountain biking is my favorite hobby. I got into it while doing my LLM at University of Florida and still do it 3 or 4 times a month. We have some great places to go around Tampa, believe it or not! I also enjoy fishing and any crazy adventure my kids get me into (paintball, zip lines, hiking, camping, etc).
Most memorable book: Basic Economics, Seventh Edition by Thomas Sowell. Not kidding. Amazingly good with short, real life scenarios to describe economic concepts and mistakes people make in both business and politics. Highly recommended and it’s available on audiobook.
Favorite Restaurant: Louie’s Backyard in Key West, the best food/wine and amazing sunsets. I got engaged there!
Ideal vacation: Adventure! Scuba diving, fishing, and good food with family and good friends. As long as these things are present, the location doesn’t matter.
I hope you enjoyed meeting James.
Thank you James for sharing.