CEO Q&A: Brendon Silver, VAT IT

Business, Finance, Interviews | Wed 28 Mar | Author – Business & Finance
brendon-silver-vat-it
Brendon Silver, CEO, VAT IT

In the next CEO Q&A, Brendon Silver, VAT IT, talks global tax recovery and the joys of saving people money.


Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

We’re already global leaders in our field but that doesn’t mean we can sit back and relax. I’ve been at VAT IT for over a decade, and each year has been better and more challenging than the last. Now as CEO, I want to ensure that our people feel the same way as I have done over the past decade and that means constant innovation is my focus. We can’t sleep on this.

My vision is to ensure that VAT IT maintains its status as the largest, most reliable VAT recovery partner in the world, by utilising our technology platform and unique service model to give clients the premium VAT recovery experience. Ultimately our business will connect with all technology platforms available to provide the most automated recovery service possible, in conjunction with the technical expertise, and on the ground client service that has taken 17 years to build.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

I think my biggest challenge is ensuring that we provide the same level of quality across all our 36 branches globally. We have focused on hiring the most talented people in every region, and together with our customisable technology platform, we hope to achieve this.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

Every person that works at VAT IT shares the same DNA and that’s why – even as a global company over 36 countries – we all work so well together.

Something I encourage in my team is an open floor, healthy debate and a chance to challenge ideas. This has meant that everyone has a role to play in the success of the company. Accountability is powerful and a massively underrated tool in big businesses.

Q. What are the challenges facing your industry going forward?

Possible legislation changes are always a possible hurdle in our industry. Another challenge is while most businesses are adopting a scan and destroy policy for their invoices, for 13th directive claims (businesses outside the EU claiming from the countries in the EU), VAT authorities still require the original paper invoices. It’s a constant challenge to maintain and increase client VAT yields in this scenario.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

The digitisation of source documents needed for VAT recovery is widespread. It has allowed our technology team to create platforms that integrate with multiple partners, and has seen a move towards automation in our industry. We have invested heavily in technology in 2017, and continue to invest in this space, with key partners such as SAP Concur at the forefront of our technology solution.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

As with any industry in 2018, automation and machine learning have become a growing part of the work we do, however, with a large part of all claims still being paper based, and the need to constantly communicate directly with tax offices and have consultants compile complex claims, automation isn’t the only answer.

I’d like to see a shift in the attitude our sector has to businesses based on people. Companies that fall under the SaaS (Software as a Service) band shouldn’t dismiss the importance of human interaction because in our business it is an integral part of getting our clients their refunds. For the reclaim space especially, when you’re dealing with tricky legislation, this is crucial.

Now, people may see that view as regressive but if fine tuned with top line tech and innovation, that is progression at its finest.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

At the moment, no. At least not at VAT IT. We’ve been very lucky in that we’ve been able to hire ex-Big 4 managers from all walks of life to lead our various teams. We’ve got our own software engineers who are incredibly talented. Every person here has top qualifications and boundless energy and incredible ideas so personally I don’t see any skills gaps. I’m not sure how it is for others in our industry.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

In those days there was a great demand for any avenues that could save businesses money and help them contribute it to their bottom line during the crisis. And there we were – a company that could genuinely generate you free money! So we had a lot of take up in

those years and luckily many of those clients are still with us today.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Brexit has thrown a curveball at businesses where importing and exporting is their bread and butter. For us, it means an opportunity to show these companies how we can help them get the money back that they’re owed.

The recent changes made to the Cross-border Trade Bill – if it goes ahead – will spell a bureaucratic minefield for businesses to navigate through. Therefore, we have offices all over the globe with people who know the legislation like the back of their hands and will argue for you to get your money back where it is due.

Brexit won’t negatively impact our business, but we believe it will open the floor to potential customers seeking out advice. They should know that our door is always open and our advice is in abundance.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Victory – every penny we save a client means a win-win every time. When we build a technology that is a game changer in our industry, it’s a revolution. When we partner with powerful players like SAP Concur to reach more companies around the world and help them save more money so they can grow their businesses, it’s a triumph. It’s really wonderful getting up in the morning and knowing that you’re going to help another person’s business win today.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Ownership is underrated. You’ve got to let your people fly on their own but at the same time make sure they know they own their project and are completely accountable for its successes and failures. This way you make every employee the CEO of their worlds. People learn and grow faster and do their best work when they are the CEO of their lives.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

The top one must be our acquisition of Meridian VAT Reclaim (MVR). It is the first time two heavyweights in the sector have merged and it has brought with it huge technological innovation and knowledge consolidation.

Due to the similarities of the businesses, the acquisition provided limited challenges in terms of integrating MVR and its clients into our existing structures. As with any acquisition, though, it’s always a challenge to assimilate existing staff into the business and ensure that there is a meeting of minds when it comes to company culture in a new environment.

Another highlight must be hitting and exceeding our 2017 forecast – all with a significant increase in shareholder funding to fuel expansion and technology. We have a lot of very exciting projects that will be coming to market in 2018 – watch this space.

Q. What’s next for the company?

Following our acquisition of MVR in 2017, we will be automating and streamlining our systems further – our VAT Cloud was just the beginning. In a short space of time we have moved all clients over to one single technology and service platform, which has allowed our clients to integrate with enterprise relationship planning (ERP) and travel expense management systems seamlessly. In terms of future benefits, we are already seeing an increase in VAT yields for clients because of this new tech and service structure that has been implemented.

Whilst we instrument these tech advances to better the return for our end user, we’re still going to be taking a people-first approach because that’s what has made our business such a success.

Q. What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2018?

We hope to build many more integrations with partners across the expense management and business travel industry. We also plan to launch some ground-breaking technology solutions that are going to be revolutionary. We’re constantly looking for new markets to venture into. Our goal is to keep opening new offices worldwide so we can reach as many businesses as possible to help save them money.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

I’d like see a world where every company knows that foreign and domestic VAT recovery is possible and can be done at the click of a button. There’s no reason for why businesses should be losing out on these savings. In saying that, I’d like to know that VAT IT is top of mind when a CFO or business owner is looking for ways to save their business money.

Victory – every penny we save a client means a win-win every time.

VAT IT is a global leader in cross-border VAT and tax recovery. The company maximises your tax recovery end to end through its industry-leading technology, ensuring full compliance.