Drive, Determination, and Dedication: Spotlight on Kelly Smith, 2020 Sales Tax Nerd Award Winner

Kelly Smith did not seek out a career in sales tax. However, when a sales tax opportunity presented itself, she dove in headfirst and never looked back. Sales tax piqued her curiosity and became a natural fit for Kelly as someone with a love of learning, a knack for math and accounting, and an innovator mindset.

Today, Kelly is the Director of Tax Compliance at Evolve Vacation Rental. Her curiosity has stuck with her and grown into a deep passion for sales tax. She cannot imagine being anything except a true sales tax nerd.

Kelly Smith, Director of Tax Compliance, Evolve Vacation Rental

The Sales Tax Institute is delighted to make Kelly’s sales tax nerdiness official!

The Sales Tax Institute proudly awards Kelly the second annual 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.

The Sales Tax Nerd of the Year receives several education and tangible benefits, including: a scholarship to attend a signature Sales Tax Institute course, a one-year membership to the Sales Tax Nerd Community, a year of mentorship with Sales Tax Institute President, Diane Yetter, a physical award to display, and a Sales Tax Nerd apparel item.

“This was a tough decision as we had 6 amazing finalists, but Kelly stood out from the others. Her determination to learn and advance in her career was unmatched. Plus, she is fully committed to giving back to help others learn. I’m excited to learn the nuances of the lodging industry from her!” said Diane Yetter, Founder of the Sales Tax Institute.


Meet Kelly, learn more about her story, and watch her reaction to winning the 2020 Sales Tax Nerd Award!


A Piece of Paper Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

People typically view a college degree as a standard prerequisite for most professional careers. Kelly Smith is living proof that a college degree isn’t the end all be all, and certainly doesn’t tell the whole story of career potential.

Kelly began her career without formal post-secondary education and worked her way up through various administrative and accounting roles before finding her professional calling in sales tax. Today, she works at the director level and has 15 years of substantial indirect tax experience. This career ascent would be admirable for any accounting professional, but for Kelly to have achieved it without a degree and the “alphabet soup” behind her name demonstrates the power of personal initiative.

Kelly has found other ways to demonstrate her will to succeed far beyond a formal piece of paper. Her innate drive and determination have helped rally the right advocates around her to support her in career. People have been willing to take a chance on Kelly, and for good reason—she has the knowledge, skills, and gumption to do a job well.

There have been occasional areas in tax and accounting where not having retained “degree knowledge” has required Kelly to work harder than others. But with each role she’s held, Kelly has trusted herself and built confidence in her ability to dig into any subject matter at hand and figure it out on her own.

A credential that does matter to Kelly is one that would demonstrate her expertise in sales tax. For this reason, Kelly plans to pursue IPT’s CMI designation in sales tax. “I know I’ve got a lot of work to prove myself and get the credits to qualify for the [CMI] without the degree being there,” Kelly said, “But, I’m stubborn enough to do it!”


Building an Expertise

From her very first role in sales tax, Kelly has never settled for going through the motions. She always wants to know the “why” behind the tasks she completes and as much detail as possible to ensure her success.

“I wanted to know everything!” Kelly said of her first role in sales tax, “I wasn’t happy with just “file the returns”, I needed to understand the data, the statutory obligations – everything front to back about the process.” Kelly has applied this energy and initiative to every role she’s held and has built an expansive indirect tax knowledge base with experience in a variety of industries from leasing to telecom to healthcare to food and beverage and now lodging.

Kelly’s burgeoning expertise has propelled her into leadership roles where she’s been tasked with turning subpar compliance processes into well-oiled machines. Today, she is in her second opportunity to build a tax function from the ground up in an industry few sales tax professionals have worked in and even fewer have developed an expertise in: hospitality and lodging.

“Simply put: if I’m not learning, I’m not growing. If I’m not growing, I’m doing a huge disservice to my company and career.” – Kelly Smith

Kelly is excited by the challenges ahead of her in the industry as well as the opportunities to learn. She’s laying the groundwork to be able to react to rapid-fire changes in marketplace facilitator laws and setting her sights on learning more about international taxes as her company grows abroad.


Education is Everything: Paying it Forward

Kelly quickly learned that there is a shortage of resources on short-term rental taxes after joining Evolve Vacation Rental. She sees this gap as an opportunity to take all of her indirect tax knowledge and experience into the educational realm to help others. Kelly has the amazing goal of becoming an industry leading subject matter expert in hospitality/lodging.

“I’ve attended many seminars and conferences through the years and feel that sales/indirect taxes could always benefit from more attention. There’s so much more to tax compliance than just income/corporate taxes!” Kelly stated. “I aspire to partner with COST, IPT, and of course, the Sales Tax Institute, as a subject matter expert panelist for future seminars and conferences.”

“I completely nerd out talking tax to other tax folks! I love gaining insight, I love sharing experiences,
and I enjoy helping others figure out their tax issues.” – Kelly Smith

Because Kelly’s company has a great engagement with Avalara/MyLodgeTax, she has already partnered with them to put on a webinar about the impact of COVID-19 on the vacation rental industry and was asked to join the Avalara advisory board for lodging tax industry. Make sure to watch for Kelly as a presenter or panelist at the next Avalara CRUSH event!

Kelly also invests time in various tax-specific LinkedIn groups and she is an active member of the Sales Tax Nerd Community helping others by responding to questions and posting important updates.

Kelly has a true passion for educating others about the nuances in sales tax, so they are more equipped to manage their obligations. She dreams of creating an association specific to the hospitality/lodging industry where like-minded tax professionals (nerds!) have a platform to collaborate on tax issues, legislative changes, and policies.


Sales Tax Professionals: The Unsung Heroes

The impact of sales tax (and sales tax professionals) is often undervalued by companies across the board. Kelly calls tax departments the “unsung heroes” in the background—professionals who have a direct impact on company financials, daily transactions, and risk mitigation.

“There’s no reason to sugar-coat this profession: it is a demanding, deadline-driven environment that may not be for everyone,” Kelly said. “But if an individual has determination, a willingness to “be a sponge” and absorb as much information as possible, mad Excel skills, and a penchant for rolling up their sleeves to get to the bottom of an issue, then the sky is the absolute limit!”

Kelly’s career path is evidence that no matter where your starting point is, sales tax is a profession full of opportunities to grow knowledge and display leadership.

“Thinking back to 20 years ago, I never really imagined myself as a tax professional, but today I cannot
imagine myself being anything except an official Sales Tax Nerd!” – Kelly Smith

The sales tax profession is incredibly lucky to have Kelly, and other enthusiasts like her, who make it their career-long mission to shine a brighter light on sales tax and the invaluable contributions of sales tax professionals. In this moment, the Sales Tax Institute is thrilled to push the “unsung” adjective away from “hero” as we celebrate Kelly as the Sales Tax Nerd of the year.



2020 Sales Tax Nerd Award Finalists

The Sales Tax Institute is also thrilled to recognize an outstanding group of 2020 award finalists. The finalists represent a variety of backgrounds and roles in 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 2020 finalists include:

  • Tammy Abla, AP Accountant, QuantiTech
  • Linda Bellizio, Tax Manager, DollarDays International Inc.
  • Will Mayer, Director of Indirect Tax, Refinitiv
  • Monica Schaefer, Compliance Analyst and Payroll Manager, Verge Health
  • Nancy Steele, Sales Tax Coordinator, Mountain Rose Herbs

You can learn more about each finalist on the Sales Tax Nerd Award page.

Posted on October 29, 2020