Alumni Spotlight: Q&A with Laura Carmichael of KPMG Tax

March 1, 2018

Article Image Group

Laura Carmichael

Laura Carmichael's tax expertise and people skills have been taking her places—Paris, specifically. A Chattanooga, Tenn., native who completed her undergraduate studies at The University of Tennessee, she's also a proud McIntire alum (M.S. in Accounting '13). Upon graduation from the Comm School, Carmichael moved to Washington, D.C., when she accepted a position in the tax service line of KPMG. After three years working in the nation's capital for the industry heavyweight, she took on a two-year rotation with the company’s U.S. Tax Desk in France.

As she continues her career journey, it turns out Laura's sister, Paige, is keeping the McIntire tradition in the family by following in her sibling's footsteps: She's enrolled in the M.S. in Accounting Program as a member of the Class of 2018. With an enviable trajectory worth emulating, which Carmichael readily admits was made possible by her time at McIntire, Carmichael recently spoke with us to discuss her experience of working overseas and how her Comm School training was integral to helping her to get where she is today.

Accounting sometimes gets a bad rap as a less-than-thrilling line of work, but you're in Paris employed with KPMG. What excites you about your job?
Working in public accounting, you sometimes find yourself in the middle of major deals or working for powerful, influential people or companies. As I've moved through my career, I've proved to myself that I can “run with the big dogs,” so to speak, and I love that feeling. No client or deal is the same, and you really do learn something new from each engagement.

What are some of the more challenging aspects of working in international tax?
To me, identifying tax issues is one of the most challenging things about all of tax, but especially international tax. Before moving to KPMG's U.S. Tax Desk, I worked almost exclusively on private equity clients, and so the international component of working on PE funds was a whole new ballgame for me. That being said, exposure to my PE clients has helped me transition to working on the international aspect of an engagement—PE funds often have international investors, and those investors have special filing obligations that they don't always know about. It's hard, especially in the beginning, when you're trying to grasp the basics on something you haven't seen before, but the challenge is why it's interesting.

Can you recall any important classes during your time at McIntire that directly relate to the work you're doing now?
All of my classes have helped me in my career, but as I mentioned, I've spent a lot of my career working with pass-through clients, mainly alternative investments. Professor Susan Porter's partnerships class was the most challenging class for me at McIntire but has helped me tremendously. If you want to work with partnerships or private equity, take her class. It will help you, and you will be ahead of the other associates and new hires who haven't had exposure to those topics.

Professor David Maloney's tax research class is also one that sticks with me. No matter what kind of tax service line or client you have, you will always be doing research. Every day, I'm looking something up, even if it's not something I have to formally document. Learning how to research, within the IRC and within your firm's resources, can save you a lot of time and help you be more efficient for your managers and clients.

What did you learn from working as a graduate assistant to Professor Lucien Bass?
Professor Bass is a top-notch professor and mentor. He has traveled the world, loves his family, and cares about his students. Working with Professor Bass was a treat, and I looked forward to sitting in on his lectures and meeting him to grade cases. He asks thought-provoking questions and encourages you to think. Some of my greatest UVA memories are listening to his stories from his time at UVA and at RJ Reynolds. If you haven't stopped by his office to say hello and chat, I highly recommend doing so.

In what ways has your time at UVA helped you navigate your career?
In a very literal way, UVA has played a major role in helping me to navigate my career. Without UVA, I wouldn't have made it to Paris—a classmate from McIntire told me about the opening for my rotation and is now my colleague here!

For current students hoping to go into accounting, what are some of the most effective things they can do right now to prepare themselves for future success?
Absorb every bit of being at McIntire. Listen to your teachers and make friends with your classmates and fellow students. Build your network—you never know who you might run into or work with later in your career. One of the things I liked about the M.S. in Accounting Program was that we used a lot of real-world scenarios and case studies. Go talk to your professors when you don't understand something, or even when you do. Having those discussions can help prepare you for talking to your seniors, managers, or partners, and being able to do that is invaluable.