We spoke to TaxCalc founder Tracy Ebdon-Poole about her career to date and what makes her tick
Tell us about how TaxCalc got started. How has the business evolved?
I founded TaxCalc 15 years ago. In some ways it seems like yesterday. Having commercialised Dyson’s inventions in the early 90s and been his MD for four years, I was ready for a new challenge in a different sector.
I ultimately acquired the business assets of two companies – the basic source code from one and the trademarks from another. Then came my baptism of fire! From thereon it was one steep learning curve and I drew on every modicum of business knowledge I had ever learnt to get to market. From humble beginnings the business has grown exponentially. The TaxCalc team now tops 100, and we’ve been fortunate to enjoy sustainable growth year on year, for which I’m hugely grateful, not only to our wonderful team, but to the thousands of accountants who see the value in not only our products but our whole corporate ethos.
Tell us a bit about your professional background before TaxCalc. It’s been varied for certain!
I’ve worked extensively in FMCG and retail, namely M&S, Thorn EMI, Asea Brown Boveri, Belling and Dyson, where I was the youngest MD in the FTSE 100 and a woman to boot. Following Dyson I was a business trouble shooter and worked extensively in the M&A sector. As a Department Manager, Marks & Spencer taught me the benefits of strong corporate values at a very early age. Sir Marcus Sieff, who was chariman at the time I was there, said to me “The customer is God and cashflow is King” and that, has been the very foundation of my corporate values where ever I have worked and stood me in good stead.
But my fondest memories are of the time I worked in advertising with my late father. That taught me the most – and that creativity is a hugely valuable commodity in business. With creative eyes you see how to zig when others zag. I hear his wise words now and find myself repeating them to the youngsters in my business. Mentoring is the best gift you can bestow on the young.
As a non-accountant, what drew you to TaxCalc as a company you wanted to run?
I do suffer from number envy! I have huge respect for accountants and the values they add commercially. With the demise of the traditional bank manager it’s the progressive accountants who have nimbly filled that gap. Our Finance Director, who is also a woman, has a huge commercial grasp and that is the perfect storm in business – we think differently but come up with the same answers.
At the start, I saw a gap in the market for high-quality, affordable customer-centric software that was simple to use and was determined to fill it.
What was it like making your way as a woman starting up a business?
How have things changed for women in the workplace? I’ve never believed in the glass ceiling – I’ve never allowed myself to be limited by other people’s perceptions of me, irrespective of my gender. However, it would be remiss to not acknowledge that women have had to work harder to attain senior positions in business. Love her or hate her, I have to admit that Maggie Thatcher paved the way for women in business in the 1980s, and things have changed in a hugely positive way. I have come up against and fought against discrimination but sadly that’s life. I dislike bigoted, combative people and chose not to work with them.
I don’t have a double persona – you don’t need one. I treat everyone the way I like to be treated, with respect, regardless of race, creed or gender.
What’s the one thing you’ve achieved at TaxCalc that makes you most proud?
There’s more than one! Creating a diverse team of fantastic people committed to the business and its customers and who are hugely valued by me. Being the first software provider in 2005 to have transparent pricing and software available to download, install and use direct from our website.
Still allotting time to mentor and get involved in charitable causes close to my heart that TaxCalc now helps fund.
Championing women in enterprise as well as entrepreneurship in the SME sector.
What are the biggest challenges facing the accountant in practice today?
Brexit, MTD, and legislative reforms, such as the Companies House Transformation Project and supervisory body crackdowns (AML/GDPR) are all big topics. Handling legislative change and compliance is a big headache for our customers.
What are the big trends in accountancy?
The digital workspace – adopting and maximising advantage through the use of the right technologies for their current and future practice, automating tasks to perform time-intensive tasks more efficiently. The digitisation of workflow is a trend that will only continue to grow, for practices small and large.
Accountants need to free themselves up to spend more time providing value added client services alongside compliance services, while also making time for themselves and their families.
How has it been working with HMRC and on MTD?
What are your views on MTD? MTD represents a huge learning curve for accountants and taxpayers alike. It’s the biggest change to our taxation regime since the introduction of PAYE in 1944. It will be a mammoth activity to undertake and challenging to implement. The real trick is in developing solutions for what’s relevant today while keeping the bigger picture close. While the lack of concrete information is hugely frustrating, HMRC are supportive to the software developer community and responsive to our queries. Those I come into contact with are equally passionate about what they do – but they are the oil tanker that takes weeks, months, years to change course and we are the speedboat. There are too many layers of red tape.
HMRC has got to increase awareness more effectively and educate the tax paying populous of the changes they may expect. This has to be done in conjunction with accountants and software developers to control the administrative impact on our sector.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in business today?
Be polite, be kind and never get complacent. Keep things simple. Review your processes continually to keep the engine running efficiently.
Your reputation is your brand. Guard it as if it were the most precious thing. Be brave, explore, have fun but never at your client’s expense. Be yourself. The money will come.
What do you like doing when you are not at work?
Spend time with my family, especially our grandchildren – we now have three. Getting all the kids and grandchildren around the table for lunch – anywhere as long as we have ‘our’ time together. We love Devon so walking the beach and surrounding coastline is top of the list. Posh stuff and pampering is all well and good, but proper happiness is a state of mind with those you love and care about.
Who do you most admire?
My Dad, for being wise, kind, loving, mischievous and hugely entrepreneurial. My Mum for teaching me how to stand up for myself without being rude, how to cook and the importance of being kind.