FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Marissa Enage
December 12, 2017
I’ve been looking to interview someone with cross-border tax expertise, in part because I’m interested in this area, in part because I know it is of interest to many of our readers who live/work/invest in more than one country. Together with my desire to meet interesting people living extraordinary lives – I found all these things wrapped up in one person. Marissa Enage [pronounced: eh-na-he] was brought to my attention by friend/colleague/reader Gabby Franco who spoke very highly of Marissa and how she is handling his offshore work …
We sat down recently at her Quarry Park office – she is U.S. Tax Senior Manager in the Tax Services department at Catalyst Group. Pleasantries aside, we dug right in …
Born in Manila, Philippines, she is #5 of 8 children [6 boys, 2 girls]. Mom was a housewife, later a writer/journalist. Dad was an engineer/builder, businessman. Marissa attended private schools for elementary, high school and university. She describes her school-day performance as average academically – with strong interest in dance, and a forced interest in piano (“my mom forced me”). A prima ballerina, she danced professionally. She attended De LaSalle University where she graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Economics. From there her life and career took a number of paths – she wanted to avoid accounting at all costs, wanted to focus on management and economics. She married in 1984 (they met on a blind date), worked in accounting positions in Manila, Los Angeles, Vancouver, New Westminster and Calgary … along the way, the family immigrated, children arrived (they had four), divorce, relocation to Calgary, remarriage and a theme emerged from Marissa’s story. A better life for herself and her family, better work – using her growing body of expertise which had her recruited again and again to focus on tax work for ex-pats, for Canadians with investments abroad and for corporate clients doing business in other countries – principally in the United States.
In her most recent billets the establishment of a U.S. tax practice began as a ‘one-person shop’ and it grew. Each move from firm to firm earned her increased responsibility and focus on U.S. corporate partnerships and international ex-pat filings. In her Vancouver days she took a six-month leave from KPMG due to illness [long-term sufferer of fibromyalgia – held in check with medication]. In 2003 she started her own practice, her dad died, and PriceWaterhouse Coopers came calling … then MacDonald Detweiler, Grant Thornton … Calgary, BDO … each assignment deepening her experience and knowledge in U.S. cross-border tax. When BDO shifted its ex-pat tax work to Mississauga, she met with a head-hunter who suggested talking to Catalyst – who wanted her but she said no at first. But negotiations led to a move – February 2013. She’s been instrumental in building the practice together with Carl Scholz, a partner at Catalyst. The firm has eight partners and about 60 staff – and Marissa’s shop involves her and three others and focuses solely on U.S. cross-border tax. The firm does audit, accounting and tax.
Much of the interview was a tug-o-war – I wanted to know more about ‘Marissa’ and she wanted me to know more about tax. In part, it is clearly a passion for her and her credentials are superb – but she also likes to keep her personal details private. She tells me her relationships with her children are better than ever – that her life is happy, she loves her work, her faith and her church (she plays piano for the choir). Her recreational reading is tax code material …
Why are you successful? “Because I work hard, I care about people and I take the time to do quality work. I’ve had difficulties – but I needed to survive, I had no choice! I had no family here in Canada – I had to keep going, provide for my children – I didn’t want them to have to go through the same difficulties I did …"
What has held you back? “I haven’t thought about that – I wouldn’t describe myself as an ambitious person. My priority is my family and my husband. That doesn’t hold me back – it strengthens me. I got my degree in economics – I never obtained an accounting designation, which has not impacted my progress.”
How do you see your business – U.S. cross-border tax business – going forward over the next quarter?
… currently we are very successful – the practice is growing and we are looking at adding staff. There are a lot of competing firms, but some are not expanding in this specialty. There is a very large need – it’s a very specialized practice. Lawyers feed us lots of work, accounting firms not so much …
And over the next five years?
… U.S. tax is very complex, both for individuals and corporations – not likely to get simpler. Though lots of back-office work is being outsourced off-shore, planning and client relationships will always be right here!
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I do business with people who care – who will take the time to do the right thing. Honest people who care about you and you can be confident in them. And, if I’m not happy, ‘I voice it out!’
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Marissa Enage, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
... I’m very customer service oriented. I try to respond with answers quickly. I’m very technically competent. I won’t bend the truth if it doesn’t conform to rules and the law.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I’m not as much of a perfectionist as I used to be. I am demanding. I like to delegate but my expectations are high. I trust my staff and take a personal interest in them, in their success. I like to see people feeling they make an impact on my life – and I on theirs, that’s my mission.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… not much – my daily life and work are in balance, but my biggest concern is my future, able to retire comfortably, that my family members are all well.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… the fact that I lived through a trying/difficult life/marriage (24 yrs.) – WOW … made me a stronger person. My faith got me through all this.
… I volunteer at my church – St. Michael Catholic Community and St. Albert's Parish – choir, piano.
What do you read?
… tax books – everything related to tax, about two hours a day. That’s fun for me!
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