Jethro Leung CPA, Tax Director, APAC and Intercontinental, at Gilead Sciences, a biopharmaceutical company committed to advancing innovative medicines, shares how his CPA training equipped him with the skills needed to switch from practice to biotech, and for a tax career in London
What are the three biggest lessons in your career so far?
The first is to listen carefully to your business partners’ or clients’ needs and concerns. This is always the first step in solving problems, and sets the tone for everything that follows. The second is to communicate clearly and be direct. If the solution that I’m proposing is not straightforward, or if there’s no straightforward answer, then I try and make it clear that that is the case. The third is to work efficiently. For many of us in the profession, we like to mention every minor detail and cover every possibility of risk, but I don’t think that’s helpful. It’s always better to ask, “what’s the objective?” or “what are the expectations?” Doing so helps to maximize results while using the optimal amount of effort.
What do you like most about specializing in tax?
Tax is involved in every aspect of a business. For example, when you’re making cross-border payments, you need to think about things like withholding tax. When you’re hiring an employee in another country, there are a lot of tax issues involved, and of course with mergers and acquisitions, tax is almost always part of the equation. As a result, practitioners like myself get a unique insight into the business and the opportunity to work with people from different functions and different walks of life. We need the technical skills to address various issues, and the soft skills to deal with different types of people.
How has your experience in practice helped you in your current role?
My experience at a Big Four was very important. It provided me with intensive training, which sharpened both my technical and soft skills. I was able to learn a lot from different mentors who were all, in their own way, very effective and efficient in how they work. With that experience, I understand what it takes to deliver results. This really helped me to develop my enthusiasm for my work, which naturally carried over when I switched to an in-house role.
The international tax landscape continues to evolve. What actions are you taking to prepare for changes?
I cannot emphasize enough the impact that Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) 2.0 Pillar One and Pillar Two will have on the international tax landscape. I’m based in London but cover the Asia-Pacific and Intercontinental regions, and there are still a lot of questions as to how these measures will apply to each jurisdiction because you have the overall international tax framework and then you have domestic legislations to consider. As an in-house tax specialist, it’s important to keep up-to-date with the latest developments, share knowledge and collaborate with other tax specialists.
What do you love most about working in the pharmaceutical industry?
It sounds clichéd, but you really see the impact you’re making on people, especially as our company develops drugs to prevent and treat life-threatening diseases, including HIV, viral hepatitis and cancer. Being able to participate in ensuring that the drugs get to patients on time, and making sure the tax aspects are taken care of, makes you really feel like you are doing good. Gilead developed the first antiviral drug approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration to treat COVID-19. When the pandemic first hit, it was all hands on deck trying to help as many people as possible. Being part of that process is very rewarding.