Fifteen years ago, Iryna Soares left her native country of Belarus for the United States in search of the “American Dream.” Despite a background in education, Iryna made a career pivot into accounting. In her first jobs she was able to test out all the major areas in accounting, but one area held her fascination: sales tax.
Today, Iryna is the Senior Accounting Associate at Delaware Elevator, Inc. and a self-made sales tax department of one navigating one of the most difficult industries for sales tax compliance. With two years of dedicated sales tax experience, Iryna still considers herself a sales tax rookie but the knowledge and passion she already displays for the sales tax field is nothing short of admirable.
The Sales Tax Institute is proud to announce Iryna as the winner of the 2021 Sales Tax Nerd Award! The Sales Tax Nerd Award recognizes sales tax professionals who demonstrate a dedicated passion and commitment to the study and practice of sales tax.
The award does not solely weigh prior accolades or job titles, it also awards a professional for being a self-proclaimed “sales tax nerd” who loves working in the field and sharing their knowledge with others.
“In our interview with Iryna, it was evident she embodied everything we look for in a sales tax nerd. She overcame challenges including language, culture, and education and then even used these to her advantage when trying to explain the very complicated sales tax rules for construction and particularly the installation and servicing of elevators. During the pandemic, she used her off hours (and her own money) to read and study and take classes to help her better understand these complicated rules. If this isn’t a Sales Tax Nerd, I don’t know what one would be!” said Diane Yetter, Founder of the Sales Tax Institute.
Meet Iryna, learn more about her story, and watch her reaction to winning the 2021 Sales Tax Nerd Award!
Leaving political and economic turmoil behind in Belarus, Iryna certainly made the most of her opportunity to immigrate to the U.S. and pursue higher education. With grit and determination, she put herself through college on her own and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in accounting—a completely different area of study than she had pursued in Belarus.
Sales tax is not something covered in undergraduate accounting courses and Iryna knew nothing about it going into her first job at a nonprofit organization. When she entered the for-profit world, a previous boss taught her some sales tax basics and Iryna was fascinated. Two years later, she received an offer from Delaware Elevator to join their accounting team. Remembering that sales tax had sparked her interest, Iryna offered to take on managing the company’s sales tax duties as part of her new job.
“Shortly after learning how many states we are in, I realized I bit off way more than I could chew.” Iryna said with a laugh, “But, instead of backtracking and admitting it out loud, I got to work.” In Iryna’s case, to say she “got to work” is an immense understatement. Iryna accepted the position with Delaware Elevator only a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. During an uncertain time, she found purpose digging into her new job responsibilities with gusto.
Throughout the worst of the pandemic, when the workday was done, Iryna spent much of her free time learning all she could about sales tax. She researched endlessly, called Departments of Revenue, and sometimes even paid for sales tax courses out of her own pocket. During this period, Iryna realized “[sales tax] is exciting, extremely challenging, but nothing less than rewarding once the challenging part is overcome, and this is exactly what I want to do.”
An initial spark of interest had grown to a blaze as Iryna developed an unexpected new passion and saw the possibility of a new sales-tax-focused career path.
Iryna’s reaction to winning the 2021 award
Effective management of sales tax requires an understanding of sales tax-specific vocabulary, acronyms, and concepts. Fully grasping everything can be difficult for anyone new to the field let alone a non-native English speaker. Instead of backing away from the challenge during all her research, Iryna took her time and let her knowledge build more each day.
Iryna sees the language hurdle as something that actually plays to her advantage. “Because I’m not a native speaker,” said Iryna, “I break sales tax down to the terms that will be understood by everybody, not just by accounting personnel.”
“My teaching degree definitely comes into service and helps significantly in training someone. Breaking it down into shorter, more understandable terms, because you don’t always get to work with people who have accounting degrees, and you don’t want to overwhelm them with all the vocabulary.” – Iryna Soares
Iryna earned a teaching degree in Belarus before moving to the U.S. Today, she pairs her ability to share sales tax information in plain language with her teaching skills to educate others in her organization and train new personnel in a deeply approachable way. Despite ending up in a career that seems so different on its face, working in sales tax has been a way for Iryna to honor and apply her teaching degree.
Construction and real property is a difficult industry in which to try to find your footing in sales and use tax. There are so many factors to consider from the variety of exemptions that can apply to the range of contract types to figuring out who has the obligation to pay tax – all of which can vary state to state. Despite the many challenges inherent to working in this space, Iryna is on a mission to make her company the best in the industry for sales and use tax compliance.
“I would like to see where states can come into an agreement to allow tax exemption be passed through to contractors and subcontractors from the owner. It is such a complicated area in sales and use tax laws and there is so much fine print on each DOR website. I would love to see where it is, if not made universal through all states, at least become simplified.” – Iryna Soares
With just two years of experience, she has already restructured many of the sales and use tax procedures at Delaware Elevator to make them more efficient. She has also produced a detailed sales tax guide for their sales team to bring clarity about how to factor in sales tax. The guide is part of her larger goal to spread awareness not only in her own company but also to external contractors about engaging in projects for exempt entities.
“It appears a lot of accounting professionals are not aware about the non-existing pass-through nature of exemption certificates from an exempt owner to their contractors/subcontractors in many states,” said Iryna, “The lack of knowledge about it affects bidding processes and I would love to figure out the way to get the information out there, be that ‘loud’ advocate for it.”
As she looks to the future, Iryna is eager to take on more sales tax responsibilities for the various branches and service areas of her growing company. Her hard work and dedication will no doubt see her through.
What makes Iryna most excited to continue working in the sales tax profession is the fact that the learning never ends, no matter the industry. “Although the United States is the United States of America, there’s nothing united about sales tax laws,” Iryna stated. “The only stability in sales tax is it is always continuing to change – and that is what makes it exciting for me.”
With no sales tax mentor in her company, Iryna relies on her own research and learned experience to find and share answers in this ever-evolving industry. She is an undeterred department of one who has found that rewarding successes can come in small packages, in the a-ha moments when you finally understand what was unclear before and when we are able to pass the knowledge on to someone else.
“We may not forget that knowledge is power no matter how cliché it sounds, but once the knowledge is also supported by true passion and grit, that is when success follows and that is extremely rewarding.” – Iryna Soares
Iryna’s career to date is truly a testament to the power of personal initiative and perseverance. The sales tax field is lucky to have her pour her dedication into advocating for widespread understanding of a complex yet vital area of a business’ success. In celebration of the joy, passion, and determination she brings to her sales tax work every day, the Sales Tax Institute is thrilled to have Iryna Soares wear the crown of the 2021 Sales Tax Nerd of the Year.
She’s just getting started.
The Sales Tax Institute is also thrilled to recognize an outstanding group of 2021 award finalists. The finalists represent a variety of backgrounds and industries within the profession. All demonstrate a passion for learning and a dedication to paying their sales tax knowledge forward.
We are so proud to know this group of professionals that advocates to bring an increased focus on sales tax within their companies and the wider field of accounting.
The 2021 finalists include:
Learn more about each finalist on the Sales Tax Nerd Award page.