Interviews with Female International Heads of Taxes

“I’m Proud of my Team and Don’t Take it for Granted”

International tax issues keep in-house experts busy around the globe. Johanna Rohwer, Head of Tax at KWS in Berlin, explains which countries are difficult to settle disputes with and why her team has to deal with so many issues at once.

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„Since I switched to the industry side, my fascination with taxes has only grown and it’s just fun,“ says Johanna Rohwer, Head of Taxes at seed company KWS in Berlin. There, she has been leading a department with 26 FTE since January 2021. She reports to the Head of Global Finance & Procurement. Previously, she built up the tax function for the tourism company GetYourGuide. The lawyer furthermore gained professional experience at Bombardier, Hogan Lovells and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), among others.

What are the 3 tax areas that currently require the highest attention of your tax department?
The German tax audits require high attention of KWS’s tax department as the years under tax audit lie far in the past. Naturally, our management is interested in the outcome for those years as they represent risks which are to a certain extent uncertain (not referring to IFRIC 23). Getting ready for various tax initiatives such as German real estate tax or OECD’s pillar two require also a lot of attention. They are unknown territory which makes it a challenge estimating resources regarding staff, budget and IT. Last, but not least, at KWS, summer is yearend closing season which requires attention and resources of the tax department. The tax department has only been established recently and I am proud of the dedication of my team in mastering expectations and processes while delivering a stellar job.

What are your experiences with international tax dispute resolution and tax dispute avoidance?
I made in fact very different experiences with international tax dispute resolution. From being approachable and responsive as the Netherlands to being very difficult as People’s Republic of China. Unlike the reputation of the German tax authorities as being slow movers, in some cases I found them supportive with business acumen.

Is Pillar Two relevant for your company and what is your approach currently undertaken in this regard (first mover or follower)?
Yes, Pillar two is relevant for KWS and we will launch a respective project. I know some groups already commenced their Pillar two project; therefore, I would say that KWS is in the middle between first mover and follower.

How do you manage scarce resources of tax specialists, what is your strategy in this regard?
KWS is lucky to have a fully staffed tax department and I as mentioned earlier, I am proud of my team, their skills and commitment; however, I do not take this for granted and I pay attention to retain staff (and act). Going forward I want to see also companies and not only tax advisors invest in educating staff. From accompanying students through their master thesis to offering support in the preparation for the tax advisor exam.

This year’s IFA Congress takes place in Germany, what is you outside-in-view of the German tax landscape, what was your most remarkable experiences with Germany in terms of taxes?
My view is indeed an inside-view as a German tax specialist; my two most extreme experiences are on the one hand the fast decision that tax authorities were able to reach at the beginning of the pandemic on a topic which was crucial to my then employer and on the other hand a good four-years-wait for a response by the Bundeszentralamt für Steuern including a run through the maze of different departments.

The interview was created in noncommercial cooperation with Win@Ifa, the women’s organization of the International Fiscal Association. The International Fiscal Association (Ifa) is a neutral, independent, non-lobbying organization. The purpose of the Ifa is to study and promote international and comparative tax law. The Ifa realizes its purpose through scientific research, the organization of congresses and seminars and the publication of studies. The Ifa currently has more than 11,000 members worldwide, both individuals and companies. This year, the IfaCongress will take place in Berlin at the beginning of September.

The Women in Ifa Network (Win) is a network of women within the Ifa who work in the international tax field. Win Global and Win Germany promote professional exchange through the Win Seminar and Win in Conversation and hold cultural events such as the Win Reception, the Win Luncheon and the Win Lounge.

Die deutsche Version finden Sie hier.
The answers were given originally in English by Johanna Rohwer, KWS.

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