Welcome to the latest in our ongoing series of Sales Tax Institute faculty member profiles! I recently sat down to talk sales tax with Jennifer Zimmerman, who is the Senior Manager, State Tax Audits and Controversy for Walgreen Co.
Jennifer is a more recent addition to the Sales Tax Institute faculty team. She first co-taught with me in early 2016 on our State Tax Credits and Incentives webinar. Shortly after that, she taught at the 2016 Advanced Sales and Use Tax Workshop. She also taught at our 2017 Basics of Sales & Use Tax course.
I chatted with Jennifer about her path from being an English major in college to becoming a sales tax expert, what she sees for the future of sales tax, and which football team she roots for. She has some great advice for those who are just getting started in the sales tax field. Read on to see what she has to say.
Tell us a little about yourself and how your career path lead you to working with sales tax.
Jennifer: I began my college career as an English major then went onto law school. During law school, I really liked the federal income tax class and got the top grade in the state tax class. My first job was with an estate planning firm. That firm was essentially a home office for wealthy families. We served as trustee so I did a lot of tax returns. This is not very typical for an attorney but I found it very interesting. Because of this experience, I got a call from a recruiter for Horwood Marcus & Berk which is a local Chicago law firm. I went there to do estate tax and within a year, the state and local group asked me to help with projects. Given the choice, I chose to keep working with state tax instead of estate planning. And that’s how I ended up in sales tax. I recently moved to Walgreen’s so I could get the corporate perspective and understand how the planning ideas I offered as an outside adviser actually get implemented. It has been a big change! But, I’m learning and gaining valuable perspective.
Like many of us – myself included – yours wasn’t a straightforward path to becoming a sales tax specialist. What do you find most compelling about working with sales tax?
When you talk about sales tax, things are always changing and there’s a variety of provisions in each state that can be similar but different. There’s never just one answer that applies for every jurisdiction. It keeps you busy!
No doubt about it, working with sales tax keeps you on your toes. What sales tax topic are you most passionate about teaching?
Within sales tax, the areas I most enjoy presenting on are nexus and the sales tax base. Regarding tax base, I’m interested in addressing questions such as: Are you going to expand the sales tax base to cover more than just 5 or 6 services? Will you include shipping charges in the tax base? That’s the area I’m most comfortable with.
Agreed, one of the topics I’ve been discussing frequently with colleagues and students lately is the expansion of the tax base to include more services. Do you remember your first time teaching a Sales Tax Institute course? What do you recall about the experience?
The first Sales Tax Institute course I taught was in March 2016 and it was a webinar on state tax credits and incentives. I really enjoyed it.
The first live course I did for the Sales Tax Institute was the Advanced Workshop in 2016, covering interesting topics. I really enjoyed exploring what’s in the forefront of sales tax and providing that information to the attendees. And the time after class and during breaks spent fleshing out the meaty issues the attendees were facing was really enjoyable.
I couldn’t agree more. Some of the most rewarding moments for me at our live courses take place in between sessions or after the course, when I talk one-on-one with attendees about the sales tax issues that are most pressing for them. Why do you teach for the Sales Tax Institute?
I just enjoy teaching in general. Even in college, I was considering teaching as a profession. I’ve always found it to be a way to prepare yourself. It’s a good way to keep yourself apprised of the latest sales tax developments. It’s not just about imparting info, but also self-educating. I like that dual component.
As for the Sales Tax Institute, I came back to teach at it because the program is excellent offering attendees up-to-date developments in this ever-changing environment. I have not only gained knowledge and insights from my fellow speakers but the attendees as well. The atmosphere is very open which allows everyone to feel a part of each session.
What advice do you have for professionals who are just getting started in sales tax?
When you talk about sales tax, you’re dealing with many different jurisdictions. Find out what jurisdictions you are going to be dealing with on a weekly basis. Attend the courses when you’re starting out in the field, whether Sales Tax Institute or other courses. That will give you a fair background of the basics. Without the basics, you can’t grasp the more complicated issues. You need to understand the order of analysis of a sales tax issue.
What do you see for the future of sales tax?
I think we’ll see expansion of the sales tax base. They’ve been trying to do it for the last 5-10 years and haven’t been very successful. There’s a lot of talk among governors where they realize a substantial amount of their revenue comes from sales tax. There will be more focus on how you broaden the sales tax base. And likely a stricter interpretation of sales tax exemptions.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to spend time with my family – my husband and two children. And spending time with extended family in Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida. I also like to drink wine and cheer for the Green Bay Packers!
Thanks to Jennifer for taking the time out of her schedule to sit down with me.