A Journey from PCs and Software to Tax Technology
Way back in 1979 I became enamored with what would eventually become the personal computer industry. My first machine was a TRS 80 and I was instantly hooked. Living in a small town in Louisiana, the idea of being able to communicate around the world with a MODEM was fascinating and liberating – and so began a hobby that would soon evolve into not only a passion but a lifelong career.
In 1984 I worked the entire summer in the sweltering South Louisiana heat putting roofs on houses and commercial buildings to earn enough money to purchase the absolute most cutting-edge technology of the day – an Apple IIc. I paid the equivalent of approximately $3,100 in today’s dollars (a veritable king’s ransom for a poor kid from the Bayou). I was thrilled with the idea of having 128 kilobytes (yes, kilobytes) of data.
Over the years I stuck with teaching myself the ins and outs of software development during my stints at Louisiana State University and in the US Army. In 1988 I started my first software company with a buddy I met in the Army and the rest, as they say, is history. One of the first things I realized as a kid with no distinguishing accomplishments or education, was that I had some knowledge that older, more accomplished people simply lacked – how to make a computer do things. And this turned out to be a very powerful game-changer over the course of my professional life.
The Rise of Tax Credits and Incentives
I leveraged my computer knowledge into a career and found myself lecturing very senior people at some of the largest companies in the world about PCs, networks, email, the internet, and all things software. Since that time, I have started a number of successful technology companies, been a financier on Wall Street, and wrote a book on the impact of information technology on the balance of power between political and economic forces.
It is this shifting balance of power between human and societal development that drew me to The OIX when the board approached me to help them continue to grow their tax credit management company. The book I wrote in 2009, The Fourth Shock (admittedly not the best book you’ll ever read, but the best one I ever wrote), discusses this power shift and how governments will need to learn to match the flexibility of companies as these entities continue to use information technology to spread information and operations around the globe. A natural and inevitable consequence is the rapid growth of economic incentives offered by all levels of government to encourage good corporate citizenship and stimulate desired economic activity.
And this got me thinking about the role of tax professionals in corporations and the parallels to my early days in software. But it wasn’t until our new head of marketing casually remarked one day in a meeting that “tax people are the new tech people” that the idea really crystallized for me. This is because it is fundamentally true. In 1979, I had a fascination with a rather obscure field that attracted math ‘nerds’ and out-of-the-mainstream hobbyists. Twenty years later, the most successful people on earth would come from that bunch of nerds.
Tax Pros = Tech Pros
The same dynamic appears to be playing out in the world of tax. I don’t know too many people who think “tax professional” and envision a titan of capital markets. It’s generally safe to say that most tax professionals, like the 1970s nerds of yore, are considered necessary but non-strategic drivers of corporate development. Tactical value creators, if you will. But as information technology became the core and essential driver of competitive fitness in the 1980s and 1990s, the nerds became the cool folks and eventually, many of them became the ultra-successful. That trend continues today as Facebook, Google, Instagram, Netflix, Amazon, and others continue to create immense generational wealth by leveraging the evolving technology landscape.
So What Does the Future Look Like?
I believe the movie is playing itself out again, as those who understand tax credits and incentives and how they can drive long-term competitive advantage are moving from the nice-to-have world of reactive tax planning to mission-critical team members in overall corporate competitiveness. Today, at the most dynamic and successful companies, tax personnel are critical in making capital allocation decisions across all aspects of corporations – M&A, hiring plans, facilities development, and expansion, R&D, infrastructure, etc.
… and what’s the bottom line?
There has never been a more interesting and valuable time to be in tax credit management (particularly with the introduction of FASB Topic 832). At The OIX, we take pride in empowering these professionals to continue to expand their roles in their respective companies, creating margin and profit expansion that I believe will play a huge part in the companies that will dominate their industries (and frankly create new ones) in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen of the tax world, the nerds of the 1980s and 1990s salute you. Together, tax and tech will transform the world yet again and Tax Credit Software will shape a new future.