Creating and Sustaining a Winning Culture

Patrick Evans sat down with Romana Giesen, Group Head of Tax at Swisscom AG, on how multinationals can push for progress when it comes to corporate culture and diversity and inclusion.

Romana joined Swisscom AG in 2013 to lead the Group Tax function, during this time she has also held board positions with Swisscom Belgium and Swisscom Italia, as well as the role of CEO for Swisscom Telco GmbH.

Romana has a proven track record in tax, legal and strategic consulting and corporate governance, with a successful record of accomplishment in conducting and driving strategic and cultural change, digital transformation & innovation.

A passionate advocate of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, Romana holds a key role within the Tax Executive Institute and the Women of IFA Network.

A leading telecommunications company requires innovation, at the same time efficiency is also key to ensuring profitability. How do you help leaders achieve this balance? How does tax play a part in this process?

It’s key to have a balanced focus and to evaluate projects (cost efficiency and innovation) from a short, mid and long term perspective. Short term efficiency might jeopardize long term sustainable innovation. I support leaders by looking at and presenting the “complete picture”.

There are a few points in this process where tax can provide added value:

  • Thinking outside of the box and accepting that there are more important factors than tax when it comes to the ultimate success of a business;
  • Cost efficiency of the tax department (automation, clear processes etc.);
  • Ensuring tax is established as a good business partner which has a clear oversight of various projects, creating impact, cross savings with other projects, whilst also highlighting not only the tax effects but also the broader financial impacts;
  • One key element – communicating and educating all stakeholders on the positive impact the tax department can have.

How do you go about creating a culture that reinforces this?

It’s important to constantly explain the “Why” to colleagues to ensure we are all fully engaged in the changing environment, creating and supporting a culture that welcomes change. For me, it’s important that my team “owns” the strategy; I try to achieve this by creating a culture of openness, placing ideas whilst also celebrating with my team when we are successful.

What are your experiences of trying to change a team culture?

Many people do not naturally like to embrace change. As a function we must welcome change, especially when such scenarios are forced upon us, e.g. due to cost pressure. I try to create an environment where the team continuously thinks ahead, it’s all about “change-taking ownership”. For instance, automation is currently a key topic and one which can also create levels of fear and uncertainty. It’s vital for us as leaders to show that there are opportunities out there for us to develop as individuals as well as a function – rather than seeing some of these opportunities as threats.

I’ve also learned that it’s extremely important to bring the team along on the journey. Prior reflection has helped me realise that I’ve often moved too fast which in turn may have had a detrimental impact on team spirit. Clearly explaining the “why”, identifying change champions that support other team members through such periods and constantly listening to concerns are vital if we are to navigate the hurdles which lie ahead. If we can accomplish this, team spirit will build, collaboration amongst colleagues will increase which in turn will lead to the creation of a positive, supportive culture.

Looking at emerging technologies making an impact, what challenges do you envisage for the tax function?

Certainly, the turnaround time for the telecommunication and IT industry is getting shorter, constant change is the paradigm for these sectors. The way the business is rendered and the geographic location, selling and purchasing online without any supply in the “real world” is the “new normal”. The expectation is that everything needs to be available immediately not only in our private life but also in business. To stay ahead of this trend and be successful, tax functions have to be very agile and up to date if they are to effectively support the business.

Tax & IT don’t always speak the same language, similarly, when it comes to focus and KPI’s, the business and the tax function aren’t always on the same page. A strong and early liaison between both parties is key for success, to develop an efficient strategy on how taxes need to be reflected in a completely new business context, i.e. business location versus tax impact etc – it’s vital to have the business on board and to establish a strong partnership from the outset. Since the tax industry is highly regulated, the business is not always aware of certain constraints which can create challenges as we look to achieve a healthy balance whilst still effectively supporting our internal stakeholders. As we look to the future, it will be vital for us to identify holistic solutions, something that can only be successfully achieved together.

You hold a key role in the development of the Swiss Women of IFA Network (WIN) – Can you share an insight into the organisation.

The WIN initiative was launched in 2013 at the international level of IFA by Jeanne Goulet to represent and connect the large number of women working in the field of international tax. The initial network began small, but Jeanne identified a clear need, since then WIN has grown rapidly supported by the introduction of country organisations; in 2019 WIN became an official committee of the IFA.

The IFA strives to (i) build an international network of women working in the field of international tax law and (ii) increase the participation of women in the role of speakers or on panels and consequently their visibility within the profession.

The Swiss WIN was launched in 2016 by 5 Swiss tax lawyers. Local events on fiscal and social issues are regularly organized in German and French-speaking Switzerland (see www.linkedin.com/groups/8607912/).

I’m very proud to have been part of this journey from the beginning, building a solid and sustainable network as well as creating visibility for our members, both of which are key priorities for me. My focus is not solely on the experienced seniors but also on young female tax advisors, supporting them through mentoring programmes and exchange opportunities within the network. Covid has presented us with some challenges given we’ve lost the all-important face to face contact, however, having now navigated this period, I’m confident we’ve created a trustful, constructive space for businesswomen in taxes.

How do you view the current gender diversity position across the Swiss market?

By achieving an improved gender balance across all levels of a tax function how can this positively influence team culture and ultimately organisational performance?

Within both the tax as well as broader finance profession, I’ve observed a level of improvement concerning gender balance over the past 5 years. However, whilst total numbers have been improving, when considering grade, this is not yet satisfying. More focus on bringing the gender in balance at the “higher floors” of a company is needed. In societal terms, gender balance is the basis for sustainable performance (or even survival); this certainly applies also to corporations.



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