Marji Gordon-Brown.

PositionMacAndrews & Forbes Inc. vice president and associate tax counsel

When Marji Gordon-Brown was in law school, she needed an elective. Having majored in accounting as an undergraduate, she thought that taking a somewhat numbers-oriented class would not be too difficult. In that elective, Gordon-Brown says, "I had a wonderful professor, Linda Galler, who was a new, young, energetic teacher. I did not earn an A, but I developed a wonderful friendship with Professor Galler that continues to this day. I took as many of her classes as I could. I became her research assistant and helped her with two articles about Chevron deference. Without her influence, I am not quite sure what I would be doing now."

From a technical perspective, Gordon-Brown says, after working at Andersen she came to understand the importance of contemporaneous documentation. "I often was involved in audit defense, and the difference between winning and losing a case, or sustaining a position on audit, often came down to proof. Show me the paper! It was frustrating to know that you had the better argument but you couldn't supply the documentation to prove it. I took that knowledge to IBM and impressed the same upon my staff. Our goal was to have files that were audit-ready. I would ask my staff to assume the return they prepared would be audited and then to guess what they would need to support their calculations. While I realized that it was time-consuming to do the preaudit work in advance, I knew that it was time well spent. Memories fade, papers are lost, people leave organizations."

From a soft skills perspective, she adds, she realized how important it is to express gratitude for and acknowledge the accomplishments of one's staff. It costs a manager nothing to say "thank you," "job well done," or "I appreciate your effort." "I find it goes a long way, especially during highly stressful times," she explains. "In my personal experience, I have found that people managers can do a better job with this sort of thing."

Gordon-Brown, now vice president and associate tax counsel at MacAndrews & Forbes Inc., says she was attracted to the company because the work environment and tax issues were very different from what she had been used to. "Working in a privately held organization with both corporate holdings and a family office brings with it some very interesting challenges," she says. "In the past six years I have addressed issues that likely only arise in the family office context. While I was hired to manage state and local tax matters, my...

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