By: AJ Chambers | 7 June, 2024

Shaping Success: Clair Dart on her life, career and tax leadership

Clair Dart, Corporate Tax Partner at Alliotts, sits down with AJ Chambers to discuss her private and working life. Clair explains how personal events have helped shape her career path, leading her to become a senior figure in her sector. She also shares views on why people are leaving the tax industry.


Hello Clair, who are you and what do you do?

Who am I? it depends on who you ask!

Professionally I am a Corporate Tax Partner at Alliotts, an independent firm of Chartered Accountants with offices in London and Guildford. I’m based in our London office. I am a Chartered Accountant and Chartered Tax Adviser with nearly 20 years of experience. I graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Mathematics and was the first in my family to have attended university. Although I live in North London, I’m a country girl at heart, born and reared in Dorset I’ve never lost my love of the country, animals and open spaces!

I am also mummy to my wonderful 2-year-old son Patrick. To him, I am everything. I am a fiancée to my lovely man and father of my son, Gary. I am his soul mate.

I’m a dog-mum to two spaniels. I’m also an orphan. I’m the youngest biological daughter of my Mum and Dad, both deceased, one of 6 biological children and 3 stepchildren that my father had, one of 2 girls born to my mum. I am auntie to 25 of all ages from newborn to the eldest in his late 30s.


“I’m a serial networker and enjoy generating new connections. I am also passionate about supporting other women and people from diverse backgrounds.”


land rover

To my family, I am somewhat a black sheep, the smarty pants, the one who is always busy and who often misses family events. I am however a big lover of family and try to be there for them all when they need me.

I’m a good friend to a number of people. I am the sole driver for my immediate family and local friends. As my sister’s only real family. I am her support with her 4 children. I am a petrolhead with a love of all cars, Land Rovers in particular. I am DIY enthusiast, I am a hobby mechanic, I am keen badminton player, shopper, reader and quizzer!

I am a mentor to my team and colleagues providing support and guidance. I am a serial networker and enjoy socialising with my extensive list of contacts to generate connections. I am passionate about supporting other women and people from diverse or difficult backgrounds especially women in professional careers.


Why did you to choose to go into Accountancy?

The truth is that I fell into it. My mum died when I was 17, and I decided to drop out of higher education. I had always wanted to be a vet, but I couldn’t leave my Dad at home for 7 years. I had a wonderful teacher who said my mum was determined that I should go to university. She encouraged me to do a course that was only 3 or 4 years, but that was something that I enjoyed so I naturally chose mathematics.

During university I spent most weekends travelling home. My Dad was devastated by the loss of my mum, and my sister was trying to hold down the family business (removals) while looking after Dad. I also had 2 jobs in Poole at weekends to help fund my studies.

I didn’t fit in the social circles anyway and given I spent all week studying, and all weekend at home, I didn’t make many friends or socialise at university. When the course ended I had missed the milk round, I had no clue what to do, so I returned home. I took up some temporary work while I decided what I wanted to do next. I figured that accountancy was the obvious choice and an advert appeared in the local paper for a trainee.


“I hadn’t always wanted to be an accountant. But once I started, I fell in love with the career and have never looked back.”


I’m not sure I’ve ever admitted to the principal at that firm, Roger, that I hadn’t always wanted to be an accountant because I must have convinced him in that interview! They were wary of me though, an Oxford graduate who wanted to work for their small firm in Dorset. So rather than the usual 3-year contract I was put on a 4-year contract.

Roger was incredible as was Lawrence, the Office Manager, who both trained and helped me to become the accountant that I am today. They were inspirational, Roger oozes knowledge and is a great leader. You cannot help but have the utmost respect for him. So, once I had started, I fell in love with the career and have never looked back.


poole harbour

What has you career journey been like, to date?

My career journey has been a bumpy road, like my life. I started out at a small firm in Poole and progressed quite rapidly. I was on a 4-year training contract, but I gained a huge amount of experience. So by the time I qualified, I was already managing clients, looking after staff and mentoring.

Five years after I joined, the company had grown to 50 staff, and, as a result, they split the firm into three teams. Each had a Team Leader responsible for reporting into the Principal. It was quite a kick in the teeth that I wasn’t selected as one of the leaders.

However, one of the three team leaders was about to go on maternity leave, which was my chance to step up and take over the role. While she was away, I grew the team, inspiring others and hiring staff and once she returned I was given my own team. It was pivotal for me, because it drove me to want progress.


“Recruitment is an issue. People are leaving the industry. People are retiring early. People are going from practice into industry. More and more corporates now have an in-house tax team.”


In 2016, after 10 years working in Poole, I decided to move to London after my relationship broke down and I separated. I had always wanted to try working in London, an managed to get a role at Blick Rothenberg as Business Services Manager and I liked how they still felt like a small firm at that time.

My next move was to Sayers Butterworth in 2019 as Director. While I was there my dad sadly passed away, so I thought it was the right time to move.

In January 2020 I joined Alliotts as Corporate Tax Senior Manager and have since been promoted to Partner in 2022. I was appointed to Partner whilst on maternity leave and managed to work during my period of leave.


What are the latest trends you are seeing in the Tax industry?

staffing

Staff recruitment is an issue. People are leaving the industry. People are retiring early. People are going from practice into industry. I think more and more corporates are deciding to have an in-house tax team. Due to the ever-changing complexities of tax, it’s more economical to have your own in-house tax team.

Fewer graduates are coming into tax and accounting. There are too many stereotypes about it being a boring job. It’s a hard job and I think tax is losing its appeal because of this.

AI is moving incredibly fast. We have new software every month. However, it’s difficult to know what to use. We have to balance the fact that most of our clients are resistant to it.

Finally, people in their 50s just don’t want to do it any more. During Covid they changed tax rules every other week. It made it so difficult. This really put off a lot of the more senior staff, who decided to retire early.


“There are two types of candidates: the ones who move every year and those who stick with their firm forever and don’t want to leave.”


Are there any specific challenges you are facing at the moment?

Experienced staff are so hard to find. Then if you do find them, they don’t want to move. I’ve found there are two types of candidates: the ones who move every year and are trying to move up the ladder, even if they might not be the most talented; then the others who stick with their firm forever and don’t want to leave. Even though you’ve offered to pay them more and promised a better opportunity.


Who or what inspires you?

clair dart

Roger still inspires me. One of my fellow Partners at Alliotts, Sudheer, is a big inspiration for me. He works incredibly hard and is brilliant at looking after his clients.

My Dad – his work ethic, his hard work.

My friend and networking companion, lawyer Steph Kleyman. She is an incredible woman, unbelievably knowledgeable across all sorts of law, she enjoys what she does, she is a great mum to her two sons, a fabulous person, a great friend and always there when you need her. She is also someone who understands the importance of being human and personal relationships but also someone who takes no shit from anyone, no matter how rich or how influential they are. I would never want to be on the wrong side of her in a litigation!

People, in particular women, out there making history – there are so many and I am really not good with names, but I see so many people in the news these days, or connections that I have, women inspiring women. People who put others before themselves. People from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds changing the face of the industry and business in general. Startups with the bravery to follow their heart and put everything behind their idea, their innovation. People who face adversity and challenges and pick themselves up again and keep going.

In business – the Timpson group have an incredible story and are passionate about rewarding and looking after staff as are Lawsons.

Dame Stephanie Shirley – what a woman!! At a time when only certain courses could be undertaken by women and university and women needed permission from men to open a bank account and had to call herself Steve to help her survive in a male dominated business world! She was the first female president of the chartered British Computer society, having a software company, employed mothers working from home and has donated most of her wealth to charity.


“Find a firm that suits you, your nature, your culture, your style with clients that you want to work with. That is harder than it sounds, but too many people go straight to the Big 4, or Top 10 firms.”


What advice would you give others looking to pursue a career in Accountancy?

Talk to people doing it, as many as you can. Everyone has a different experience and you need to gain as much information as you can before you start.

I’m always open to a chat but lots of others in the industry are too. There are so many options in the job, specialisms, practice versus industry. I would advise people not to narrow their options from the start. Obtain as much wide experience as you can and decide later what you really enjoy and if you then want to specialise.

Find a firm that suits you, your nature, your culture, your style with clients that you want to work with. That is harder than it sounds, but too many people go straight to the Big 4, or Top 10 firms because they think that is what they should do, but that isn’t always the right answer and often you’ll get a wider and better experience at a smaller firm that will set you up for your career.

I was at my first firm for 10 years, and if my personal life hadn’t gone wrong, I would probably still be there! I’m not disappointed that I got the chance to move to London, but that first firm suited me and I knew that when I met Roger in that first interview.


What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

When you are emotional about something, step away and sleep on it. Everything looks different when you look back again.


Do you think Accountancy is attractive to school leavers?

No – there’s a very nuanced perception of the profession. I think there are a lot of stereotypes and bad press. I think it is difficult for school leavers to truly understand what the job is or what it involves. And the profession needs to take responsibility for changing that perception.

One way is by making entry to the profession more accessible (not everyone can afford a university education) and offering alternative routes to qualifying.  It was very hard for me and I struggled financially. Social mobility is the greatest limiter to progression and this needs to be addressed.

That’s where I have a mission to share what it’s really like and the opportunities for people with enquiring minds and an attitude to learn and challenge.  I’ve spoken to groups at local schools and colleges to spread the word and Alliotts have more than one route to entry. 


Clair was talking to Tim Keech and Rory Bysouth at AJ Chambers. If you would like to speak with Tim or Rory regarding talent attraction or the latest vacancies within Taxation, please email: tim.keech@ajchambers.com. | rory.bysouth@aj-chambers.com


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