Women in Sales Tax: Taking on the Business World & Pursuing Their Passion

The Sales Tax Institute is proudly woman-owned and woman-led. In light of Women’s History month, we’re celebrating all the women who spend their days working in sales tax.

It’s a special month to take the time to elevate the voices and experiences of women in our field. Women in sales tax lead corporate tax departments, government agencies, law firms, consulting practices, and beyond. Their contributions to the field and their respective organizations are significant.

We reached out to some of the talented and hardworking women we know in sales tax and asked them a series of questions about their careers in our favorite indirect tax.

Our interviewees work in a wide range of industries and include several of our fantastic former students. All are sales tax rock stars in their own right. Get to know these impressive women through their memories, accomplishments, and industry insight.

B.J. Pritchett is the founder and owner of Pritchett Sales & Use Tax Consulting and the Arkansas Sales & Use Tax School. Whether it’s testifying at the Arkansas Supreme Court to shape tax policy or saving her clients thousands of dollars as a consultant, B.J. Pritchett is a force to be reckoned with. We’re proud to have her as a sales tax institute faculty member.

Lauren Stinson is the National Leader of Sales & Use Tax at Cherry Bekaert LLP. Lauren has started two firms and has over 25 years of sales tax experience. She is an expert on tax issues that directly impact manufacturers.

Samantha Breslow is a State and Local Tax Associate Attorney at Horwood Marcus & Berk. She is an excellent tax writer and even co-authors CCH’s Annual Guidebook to Illinois Taxes.

Azita Naghavician is a Tax Analyst at Infineon Technologies. She is a former Sales Tax Institute student with a wide variety of tax experiences in areas spanning from professional services to health and fitness in almost a decade in the field.

Amy Thomas Laub is currently the Tax Director at Nationwide Insurance. She has held several senior tax positions in top companies during her career. Amy also has income and property tax expertise in addition to sales tax.

Chandra Wing is a Senior Tax Analyst at Steelcase. She spent her formative years in sales tax as an auditor for the state of Michigan. Chandra is also an Advanced Workshop attendee with a passion for educating others about sales tax.

Cate Battin is a Partner at McDermott Will & Emery who provides national state tax strategies for clients on a full range of state tax issues. She is an award-winning tax attorney who has obtained favorable rulings in numerous significant sales tax cases.

Alexis Rozis is a Sales & Use Tax Manager at Nordstrom. She is former Sales Tax Institute student and retail sales tax guru. Alexis got her start in the industry in high school as a bookkeeper and built her way up to overseeing audits and special projects at Nordstrom.

Silvia Aguirre is the GM Certificate Management at Avalara. She’s the creator of CertCapture, an exemption certificate management software, and a real-life exemption certificate superhero.

B.J. teaching at the Sales Tax Institute Basics of Sales & Use Tax course.


What is the biggest challenge you had to overcome working in the field?

B.J. reflects on being one of only a few women at her company when she started her career.

“ When I attended accounting classes at the University of Memphis, I was one of three women in the entire accounting department. When I first started my business, I had to have a man call to get me into the facility. Now 20 years later, clients are calling me based on my teaching at the Sales Tax Institute and at the Arkansas Sales and Use Tax School.”
–        B.J. Pritchett | Owner, Pritchett Sales & Use Tax Consulting/Arkansas Sales & Use Tax School

Lauren didn’t let the unfortunate fact that sales tax isn’t always seen as the most prestigious type of tax to focus on stop her from pursuing her passion.

“For a long time, sales tax was always on the back burner of the tax world. It didn’t have the glory of federal tax. Sales tax was not something that people took seriously until it became a problem. Getting people to listen and be proactive with all the different sales tax compliance issues is a constant challenge.”
–        Lauren Stinson | National Leader – Sales & Use Tax, Cherry Bekaert LLP

As a SALT attorney, Samantha must stay informed of constant changes in sales tax laws and rules to best resolve tax issues for her clients. She describes this common challenge for sales tax practitioners perfectly.

“The sales tax landscape is continually evolving, and this requires constant review of states’ changing case law and guidance. For example, just in the last few years, sales tax nexus has evolved from a physical presence requirement, to notice and reporting requirements created by economic nexus, to internet cookies constituting physical presence, to economic nexus set by bright-line thresholds. As a practitioner, you have to continue to read and network, or you will quickly fall behind.”
–        Samantha Breslow | State and Local Tax Associate Attorney, Horwood Marcus & Berk

What do you consider one of your biggest accomplishments working in sales tax?

Azita most recently took her tax savvy to the tech industry and is getting her tax department into tip top shape.

“I love technology and have always tried to take advantage of it to save costs and be more efficient. I switched to E-File for all of our sales tax returns when I started [at Infineon Technologies]. I am also working on using our company’s IT group to make the process of preparing the SUT compliance more automated.”
–        Azita Naghavician | Tax Analyst, Infineon Technologies

Amy brought years of senior tax leadership experience to a premier state tax organization that represents the best interest of taxpayers.

“My biggest accomplishment was becoming Chair of COST (Council on State Taxation). When I became Chair in January 2017, I was only the third woman to be Chair of the organization in 50 years since the organization began.”
–        Amy Thomas Laub | Tax Director, Nationwide Insurance

Chandra loves paying her sales tax education forward to help her company and customers operate more efficiently.

“My favorite accomplishment was implementing a certificate program for my current employer. When I started, they knew little about the certificate process and had a default setup in the system to not charge any sales tax to certain groups of customers. Since making the improvement to the system and removing the override, I have had an opportunity to education hundreds of customers and internal people about sales tax and how it works.”
–        Chandra Wing | Senior Tax Analyst, Steelcase

The women we interviewed are not strangers to advocating to make sales tax more equitable at local, state, and national levels as lawyers and tax experts. Cate is no exception.

“Winning the attorney fees issue at the Illinois Supreme court in the My Pillow case. Hopefully, that will disincentive more relators from filing false claims act cases relating to sales tax issues.”
–        Cate Battin | Partner, McDermott Will & Emery

Are you a sales tax nerd?

We already proclaimed 2019 the year of the sales tax nerd here at the Sales Tax Institute, so we asked our pros to finish the following sentence: “I’m a sales tax nerd because __________.”

Alexis brings up a relatable experience for many sales tax pros.

“I’m a sales tax nerd because I see a receipt and look to see if they are charging me the appropriate tax.”
–        Alexis Rozis | Sales & Use Tax Manager, Nordstrom

Silvia and Diane at an Avalara event.

Silvia is an unapologetic exemption certificate nerd and we love it.

“I’m a sales tax nerd because I love to understand and share what states are doing with exemption certificates. I tell people I have a super power, I can speak exemption certificates all the time any time”
–        Silvia Aguirre | GM Certificate Management, Avalara

Azita delights in parts of the audit process other tax professionals might dread.

“I’m a sales tax nerd because I never get bored pulling old invoices for an audit.”
–        Azita Naghavician | Tax Analyst, Infineon Technologies

Lauren is so dedicated to the profession that she dreams of sales tax.

“I’m a sales tax nerd because I try to read as much as I can about sales tax. I think about sales tax when I’m not working. I think about sales tax when I’m sleeping. I just really enjoy the continuous learning aspect – it’s such a broad area that it’s impossible to know everything.”
–        Lauren Stinson | National Leader – Sales & Use Tax, Cherry Bekaert LLP

Lauren and Diane at the Prosper Show.

What is one of your most memorable moments working in sales tax?

All sales tax pros understand the importance of knowing how the states define goods and services and anything involved in making those goods and services. B.J.’s efforts redefined a key sales tax term for the entire state of Arkansas.

“Having a sales/use tax issue dealing with terminology “Equipment” be redefined by my push from Administrative Hearing, Commissioner Hearing and into Garland County Trial Court.  Then beating the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration who appealed the Trial Case to the Arkansas Supreme Court and winning. The term “Equipment” in Arkansas has been “elastic in nature” and can include Chemicals.”
–        B.J. Pritchett | Owner, Pritchett Sales & Use Tax Consulting/Arkansas Sales & Use Tax School

Audits can be a stressful time in the life of a sales tax practitioner, Amy reminds us that audits can also be humorous.

“My very first sales tax audit I was working for an airline. The State had an exemption for aircraft repair/replacement parts. In a conference with the auditor, he told me that deicing fluid was exempt because it was essential for the aircraft to operate but the blue fluid used in aircraft toilets was not exempt because it was not essential for the aircraft. I still get a chuckle to think that the toilets are not essential on the aircraft.”
–        Amy Thomas Laub | Tax Director, Nationwide Insurance

Several of our interviewees named the Wayfair decision an unforgettable moment in sales tax. Samantha shares what the “Super Bowl of state taxation” meant to her and her career.

“The recent Wayfair decision was an exciting experience as a SALT practitioner at the beginning of my career. It is no overstatement that it was the Super Bowl of state taxation as the office roared with excitement (and some frustration) when SCOTUS entered its decision. As an attorney, we are tasked with reading and understanding case law that was often decided decades prior. For the first time, I was able to experience that seminal case and be at the forefront of writing and speaking on its anticipated implications.”
–        Samantha Breslow | State and Local Tax Associate Attorney, Horwood Marcus & Berk

Because sales tax is a niche industry, it is more possible for sales tax pros to become a tight-knit group of professionals. For Silvia, long-term friendships make working in sales tax all that much sweeter.

“Meeting other sales tax experts and knowledgeable people. I will never forget meeting Will Yancey very early in my career. He told me I need to attend Streamlined Sales Tax meeting, which changed my life and Will introduced me to Diane!”
–        Silvia Aguirre | GM Certificate Management, Avalara

A throwback picture of Diane and B.J.

What makes you excited about continuing to work in the field?

B.J. finds pride in knowing that sales tax expertise will never go out of style.

“The laws keep changing and my knowledge base of sales/use taxes will always be wanted by taxpayers. When I can save my client 1/2 of a million dollars, I’m thrilled.”
–        B.J. Pritchett | Owner, Pritchett Sales & Use Tax Consulting/Arkansas Sales & Use Tax School

Alexis highlights the promise of career growth in the field.

“To be honest, that its ever changing. Due to our role supporting the operational side of the business it allows for our ‘customers’ not only to be the ‘customers we serve at the store or online’, but the ‘internal customers’ that are continuously reinventing the wheel.  Although it doesn’t come without its challenges, it does allow for continuous growth opportunities.”
–        Alexis Rozis | Sales & Use Tax Manager, Nordstrom

Finally, Cate succinctly sums up what gets many of our pros out of bed in the morning: an excitement and willingness to tackle tomorrow’s challenges in an ever-evolving industry.

“I’m excited to work in the field because of the unpredictability of what issues tomorrow will bring.”
–        Cate Battin | Partner, McDermott Will & Emery

This is Women’s Work

What matters most in sales tax is a desire to learn, work hard, and a dedication to serving your clients, company, or constituents to the best of your abilities.

All of the women we interviewed exude this type of professional excellence. They inspire us to encourage more women (and men!) in accounting and tax to pursue careers in sales tax.

Mentorships and friendships in the field – particularly among women – are invaluable sources of encouragement and build up the next generation of successful professionals. If you’re a woman in sales tax, don’t underestimate the impact of sharing your skills, knowledge, and expertise with others. Let’s all pay it forward and celebrate every success and win we experience.  In today’s world it is easy to just hear about the unfortunate, scary, and bad things. Let’s make a commitment to each other to celebrate the power we have as women in sales tax and to support each other!

We also want to hear from you! We can continue the celebration by sharing on social media. Let us know if you’re a proud woman in sales tax using #salestaxnerd We’d love to hear your stories of career milestones, how you are lifting up other women in the field, or how you’ve been helped by another woman in sales tax.

A huge thanks to the nine women in this article for sharing their experiences and serving as exceptional role models to everyone in sales tax. I’m honored to know them all – some for decades and some for a short time. I’m inspired and in awe of each and every one of you!

Posted on March 29, 2019