Paying It Forward: FTL’s Mentorship Program

José Antonio Alicea, Senior Manager and International Tax Practice Leader for the Desert Mountain West Territory at Grant Thornton LLP, has been inspired by people who have shown him great consideration and opened doors for him in his career.  Following completion of a Masters of Laws in Taxation at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, José came to Denver for a job at KPMG—with everything he owned in three pieces of luggage. In an unfamiliar city, José knew few people in town outside of his coworkers. To this day, he is extremely grateful to Jeff Moran, who took José under his wing and essentially adopted him. Becoming part of Jeff’s extended family made a tremendous impact on José’s career and life, providing guidance and support that he very much wanted to pay forward.

That opportunity presented itself with Future Tax Leader’s Mentoring Program. When José learned of the program, he was eager to volunteer. FTL solicits mentee and mentor candidates for the Mentoring Program, taking time to get to know each individual. Careful matching of mentee and mentor interests, qualifications, and career goals fosters a positive relationship, allowing both parties to gain from the relationship.

In 2015, Eric Rash joined FTL and the mentor program while still in high school and contemplating an accounting/tax degree.  Although Eric’s mother Tami has had a long career in tax, Eric wanted another perspective—particularly one from a millennial.  Since being matched with José, Eric has met multiple times with his mentor and formed a bond beneficial to both.  José offered his vision of college and the tax profession; Eric sought insight on transportation and study habits.  On Eric’s first day at CU Denver, José met him for coffee and accompanied him to class. According to both parties, it was a great experience for each of them. It made Eric’s first day of college a memorable one.  How many freshman get a first day like that?

Compatible pairing and dedication to follow through are key factors to a successful mentor relationship, ones you’ll find with FTL.  Learn more about becoming a mentee or mentor with our Mentoring Program here.

Get to Know: Joni Johnson-Powe, Taxnologi Solutions

by Jamie Overberg

Joni Johnson-Powe

Continuing our “Get to Know” feature, this month we would like to introduce you to Joni Johnson-Powe. Joni had a rather interesting introduction to the tax world. Starting as a Husker, she earned her B.S. in Accountancy from the University of Nebraska. Pursuing her interest in tax, Joni headed to University of Colorado Law School in Boulder, with an emphasis in tax. E&Y saw her potential and recruited her for their Accounting Methods and R&D group. Wanting to explore outside this area, Joni transferred to Silicon Valley with E&Y and started working in SALT and tax technology. After missing Colorado (and affordable living), she returned to Denver in 1999 working now for KPMG in the telecom industry. This is where Joni’s interest in tax technology really spiked.

Joni has been fortunate to have two influential mentors in her life: her father and a mentor at KPMG. Her relationship with her father, combined with his passion for tax—exemplified through a 30-year career with the IRS—solidified Joni’s pursuit of a tax career. Joni’s other significant mentor was Dan Burnett at KPMG, who taught her a great deal about the telecom industry and how tax technology was so beneficial for tax preparers. Joni is extremely thankful for the impact of these significant relationships.

Around the time Sarbanes-Oxley was changing the accounting and tax services industry, Joni’s father left the IRS and started his own firm. Regrettably, he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away shortly after. Joni stepped in, helping his clients while on maternity leave. This became a launching pad to providing tax technology consulting services. Before fully committing to a career as a tax technology service provider, Joni spent some time at Grant Thorton and in SourceGas as a DOT.

Eventually, she created a successful business called Taxnologi Solutions, LLC. Joni and her team provide invaluable services, improving clients’ efficiency by implementing technology solutions. Taxnologi Solutions offer services in the sales and use and VAT tax automation arena, including integration and configuration of software packages such as Vertex and OneSource for retail, telecommunication, and manufacturing clients. Focused on how a tax department functions and its professionals’ needs, Joni’s firm is instrumental in setting design requirements and working with internal IT department to manage and implement conversion strategies.

Joni’s tax career is an inspiration to many young female tax professionals. She has developed her tax and client serving skills over the years while finding time to start a family, being blessed with four wonderful children along the way.

Joni’s first FTL event was a summer picnic, her interest piqued by cofounder Ashby Walters’ passion for the organization, the mentoring aspect of the group, and how tax professionals were able to come together in a casual venue. She found FTL events more intimate, allowing relationships to develop. Joni believes including students is a great aspect of FTL: She herself has an intern, and remembers her experience at the starting point of her career. Today, Joni revels in being able to interact with and mentor our younger tax professionals.

Photos: National Conference 2016

Over 100 people attended FTL’s first National Conference on November 28th and 29th. Packed full of CPE and CLE, networking, and prizes, it also had interesting surprises – such as visits from the exotic animals below!

Thank you to our Partner, Experis, and event sponsors, below, for helping to make this event a success.

Event Sponsors: Bloomberg BNA • EKS&H • Ernst & Young •  Grant Thornton • Holland & Hart • KPMG •  Morrison Foerster • Oxford Tax Recruiting •  PwC • Joseph H. Thibodeau PC • Thomson Reuters • Wolters Kluwer


Get to Know: Joe Schmidt, Tax Director, Grant Thornton-Denver

by Jamie Overberg

FTL is starting a monthly feature of a person of interest in our community. In our first post, we feature Joe Schmidt, State & Local Tax Director at Grant Thornton, and Vice President for FTL’s Denver Chapter.

Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, Joe selected Chaminade University of Honolulu in Hawaii for his undergraduate degree.  As evidence that life throws unexpected opportunities to you, Joe did not transfer as he had planned to another school as he fell in love with his roommate’s sister, Betty.  They married before they graduated and been happily together for more than 40 years.  Since then, Joe has collected many fascinating career tax experiences.

Joe started as a tax intern at Touche Ross.  He marvels about how far the tax industry has come.  For those of us who started our careers long ago, we can appreciate Joe’s early experience.  Joe started as a generalist attacking tax preparation by hand writing on actual printed IRS forms.  He received review comments that his input was sloppy.  He resolved the problem by using the blue pencil (you know the kind that does not show up on a copier) to create lines and commas to ensure his scribe was straight.  As many of us also did some audit with our tax time, he once had to verify an inventory for an art client.  He was scheduled for two days but spent two weeks on the project.  The audit manager communicated his frustration to Joe for his lack of efficiency.  However, he was spending his efforts on accuracy.  As a result, it was discovered employee theft had pillaged a third of the art inventory.  Although the audit manager thanked him later for his thoroughness, Joe decided he did not like audit work.

Joe wanted to work abroad taking the path of international tax.  He worked for Phillips Petroleum spending time in Norway.  His career also took him to Denver with Phillips Petroleum allowing him to obtain his MBA at University of Denver.  It was while working for BP Petroleum that a job assignment landed him in the world of state and local tax.  As his interest in this specialty grew, Joe then pursued his JD at Cleveland State University.  His next move was to Charlotte to specialize in SALT for KPMG briefly before moving over to Deloitte.   At KPMG and Deloitte, he focused in national restructuring transactions for companies from a wide variety of industries.  After a brief stint as an appeals officer for Alaska Department of Revenue, Joe and his wife landed back in Denver as a SALT Tax Director at Grant Thornton.  They are very happy to be back in Colorado enjoying trips to North Carolina to visit their daughter and two granddaughters.

Joe attended a FTL tax detox event and quickly grew attached to the group’s inclusive nature.  He truly enjoyed socializing with associates from industry and public.  Joe was further impressed with meeting students and mixed accounting professionals.  Joe believes senior professionals have a responsibility to foster earlier generations and views FTL as a great vehicle for this aim.  Joe looks forward to getting to know more of the tax professional community at all FTL events.

When Searching for the Perfect Job, Sometimes It Pays to Follow the Cat Videos

by David Landwehr, EKS&H

A year ago, I hadn’t heard of EKS&H, my current employer. In finding it, I learned that sometimes it pays to look outside the box.

I moved to Denver from St. Louis last October. Having lived in Missouri my entire life, it was the right time to discover what the Southwest had to offer over the Midwest. I began my job search last May, using common tools such as LinkedIn and company websites, but the perfect position was found through an online forum known for memes and cat videos, Reddit.

Among the cuteness and comedy on Reddit is the r/accounting forum. One quick search for “Denver” led me to another user previously asking the same question I had: What are the good accounting firms in Denver?

Side note: My random “Denver” search on Reddit also turned up useful accounting career advice, such as if you have a question about a project, always check your workpapers before asking your manager – someone might have asked the same question before and documented the answer.

When searching for great Denver accounting firms in Reddit, a number of firms turned up, many of which I had never encountered. I began visiting firm websites for job openings until I found the right fit. A month later, I was on a plane to Denver for an interview and within two months I was towing my belongings in a U-Haul across Kansas to begin my new job.

Denver and its metro area are on the rise, gaining a reputation for being a red-hot tech and start-up scene. Combined with other factors, this is a great place for Accountants to be, which goes to show that when looking to advance one’s career and potentially make a move, sometimes it pays to look outside the box and follow the cat videos.