President's Corner: Midyear Conference Was a Microcosm of TEI
David M. Penney
TEI - 3/15/2012

The 62nd Midyear Conference, which is highlighted in this issue, was a true microcosm of TEI and the reasons the organization remains vibrant and relevant nearly seven decades after its founding. The conference exemplified not only TEI's educational and networking activities and benefits, but also our outstanding advocacy work. Stated simply, there is a symbiosis between and among the Institute's education, networking, and advocacy activities. The Midyear Conference proved that, over and over again. Let me explain.

There can be no doubt that, on the education front, there is no better bargain than TEI. Dollar for dollar, and minute for minute, it is top-notch. (This is true not only at the Institute level, of course, but also locally.) The Midyear Conference confirmed this truism. From a plenary Washington Update session on Monday with current or present Hill staffers to concurrent sessions on "Federal and State Tax Traps of a Mobile Workforce" and "Debt vs. Equity in Related Party Transactions," our registrants had their choice among myriad sessions. Regardless of which committee was in charge of a session — Federal, International, State & Local, Financial Reporting, Corporate Tax Management, Canadian, or IRS Administrative Affairs — registrants received full value. I was especially gratified by the involvement of so many members as moderators or speakers at our spring meeting. Their practical perspective — born of experience — lent real credibility to the discussions that would otherwise have been missing.

Special note should be made of the sessions of our Corporate Tax Management Committee. First, Mitch Frank of J.C. Penney moderated a session entitled "World Class Tax Department: What Does It Look Like?" Two Chief Tax Officers — Claire Babineaux-Fontenot of Wal-mart and Teri Wielenga of Allergan (who currently serves as the Institute's Treasurer) — joined Mitch and Mark Schutzman of PricewaterhouseCoopers in a discussion of best practices; they also candidly shared their views (rooted in experience) of the challenges posed by the economic downturn and the attendant budget constraints.

The second CTM session, which addressed "Demonstrating the Value of the Tax Brand to Management," was also without equal. Randy Harvey of Con-Agra (who served last year as one of our Regional Vice Presidents) moderated an interactive session involving TEI members Warrenetta Baker of Capital One and Kathleen Fanning of Xerox. These three CTOs were joined by Mark Stutman of Grant Thornton, who not only asked a series of excellent questions, but shared his own insights based on decades of experience representing of a very broad range of corporate clients.

On the final day of the conference, the Corporate Tax Management Committee held its traditional Corporate Tax Department Workshops (one for people who work in large departments and a second for those in smaller departments). These sessions afforded the participants the opportunity — in an intimate, confidential setting — to roll up their sleeves, share ideas, and ask for advice from their down-in-the-trenches confreres. They epitomized what TEI is all about.

The Midyear Conference also advanced TEI's networking mission. One of the great things about the Institute — and our profession generally — is that tax professionals do not need an excuse to talk with one another. This was much in evidence during the Washington conference. Thus, during our receptions and refreshment breaks, at the banquet and our gathering for new members, even across the table as one speaker was leaving the podium and another one ascending, you could observe either deep one-onone conversations or group discussions about issues identified by our speakers or situations they were confronting in their jobs. It brought to mind a quotation from TEI's 50th Anniversary History, where a member of the Kansas City Chapter described the Institute as an organization where you can "call up people you don't even know and they will share their secrets." This has been the case during my twenty-plus years as a member, and I know the same is true for countless other members.

The ability to network, moreover, is not limited to members-tomember exchanges. Our speakers, too, collectively represent a rich vein of knowledge, experience, and insight. They, too, have shown a gratifying willingness to enhance the value of the Institute's network by sharing what they know. Whether it's the willingness to stay long after a technical presentation is over to answer questions or to spend time on the phone with a TEI member days, weeks, or months after a meeting, the professionals who participate as speakers — or who staff the booths in our exhibit hall — are a remarkable, giving group. (This is the case even before you consider the 16 receptions held by our Midyear sponsors for all conference registrants, or the numerous smaller events held by other sponsors during the Washington conference.) To be sure, the speakers and other tax professionals at our conferences hope to advance their own practices by their involvement in TEI. The complementary nature of the exchanges, however, should not detract from the full measure of selfless enterprise that is present in their conference activities. I thank them all for their involvement in TEI.

The role of the conferences in advancing TEI's advocacy program — and the interests of our members in improving tax law and administration — may be attenuated compared with their educational and networking roles, but it nevertheless is there. First, the Midyear Conference provided registrants the opportunity to hear first-hand from key government officials. At this year's Midyear, that included women and men not only from the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service, but also the congressional tax-writing committees, the United Nations, and the Financial Accounting Standards Board. Equally important, it allowed these officials to hear from our members. In this way, it advanced the Institute's own credibility — and hence its ability to advocate effectively on the members behalf — when the government speakers look out a ballroom full of tax executives representing an amazingly broad array of companies and industries.

There's one additional tie-in between our conferences and our advocacy activities: The meetings provide an opportunity to our committee chairs to highlight, and advance, our recent activity activities. Let me offer just one quick example: TEI's stellar work on the so-called tangibles regulations. On the first day of the Midyear Conference, we held a very animated discussion of the temporary and proposed rules, featuring two key IRS attorneys. Not only were Nancy Farahmand and John Orr — two of the Federal Tax Committee's vice chairs — able to brief the government speakers and registrants on the Institute's concerns, but the comments from the speakers (generally as well as in response to questions from the floor) helped the Federal Tax Committee hone its outstanding submission (which is reprinted in this issue).

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not use this occasion to thank the staff for their efforts in planning and running the conference and everyone in attendance for the courtesies extended to me. From beginning to end, the conference confirmed what is great about TEI, including the exemplary quality of the members themselves. Thank you all.