Georgiana Head talks to Ian Andersen about developing tax rules for the Qatar Financial Authority
Ian Andersen is the director of tax and finance for the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) Authority and is developing the tax regime for the Centre. He trained in the UK, qualifying as a chartered accountant and a chartered tax adviser. He spent 10 years with PricewaterhouseCoopers before moving into industry, where from 1993 he was director of tax and treasury at My Travel Group. Andersen is a specialist in world wide tax planning, cross border leasing and debt financing.
What was your first job?
If you ignore furniture delivery in Sidcup then it was as an audit trainee with Coopers and Lybrand in London. I spent most of my first year doing quarterly reviews at British Telecom pre-privatisation which convinced me very early on that I did not want a future in auditing. I arranged my escape to the tax department as soon as I could.
If you weren't in your current job what would you like to be doing?
Ideally I would like to be working on converting a ramshackle barn I own in Scotland. Unfortunately, that will not pay the mortgage or school fees.
What achievement are you most proud of?
Definitely helping MyTravel survive the first few weeks of the financial crisis that enveloped the company after announcing its third profits warning in six months in 2002, before the hordes of consultants and other hangers-on descended on the company.
What's the best advice that anyone has ever given you?
Do everything to the best of your ability. I was told this by my first manager in tax as he shredded a draft of a letter I had written to the Revenue. It is important that you set your own standards for quality of work and particularly integrity, then stick to them.
What's the best thing about your job?
It is a quite unique opportunity to be able to create a tax system from scratch, and to use the experience gained over the previous 20 years to avoid some of the worst features of established tax regimes. I enjoy coming into work in the morning. Also the QFC is a truly international centre, and I have the pleasure of working with people of over 20 different nationalities.
What would you say to anyone considering taking an opportunity to work overseas?
I would say take it. It gives you a whole new outlook on your own country, and you realise that the world is not such a big place. The whole family has enjoyed the experience in Qatar to date.
What is your favourite place in the world?
Vancouver Island; beautiful scenery, reasonable wine and not too many people or cars. It is also one of the friendliest places I have visited.
If you had the opportunity to meet someone from any era, who would it be?
The Duke of Wellington.
And what question would you ask him?
I would like to know how he made decisions. He had to operate in high pressure situations, making decisions affecting the lives of thousands of men and then live with the consequences. In the world of tax you normally have time to consider your decisions, unless of course you are the finance minister.
If you were the UK chancellor of the exchequer what one change would you make to the tax regime there?
I have to cheat here and make three suggestions; abolish capital allowances, put a red line through approximately half of all tax legislation, and introduce a 12 month tax holiday for all overseas income remitted to the UK.
This would simplify the UK tax system, give the Chancellor some breathing space to come up with some sensible proposals on overseas earnings, encourage the return of funds to the UK and take the wind out of the sails of companies whingeing about the UK tax system.
However I could never be the chancellor as I would make a very poor politician.