Q&A: Kathy Travis
Throughout your career, you’ve been a successful tax practitioner/ business owner and now a corporate executive. What has stuck with you about your professional transitions between the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds?
That is complicated because I have gone from entrepreneur to corporate back to entrepreneur, and now back to a hybrid of both. There have been several transitions. When I began Gilman & Ciocia in the 1980s with three male partners, it was a tight-knit family with an entrepreneurial spirit running through every decision we made. Decisions were made on the fly, not after multiple board meetings, conference calls, and email threads. Once we started to exponentially grow, the company took on a life of its own. The scale of it, and going public, meant an inevitable loss of that entrepreneurial energy. We were less nimble and it wasn’t as simple to make decisions. I always prepared tax returns, year after year, despite my ascent up the corporate ladder. I felt this was the only way to keep in touch with the needs of our ultimate bosses, the customers. Keeping the entrepreneurial instinct alive is key to success at any level.
One of the traits I think women strongly exhibit is empathy, and what I found transitioning from entrepreneur and back is that empathy is valued and respected in the former world, while it can be regarded as a sign of weakness in corporate America. While I have adjusted, I still believe empathy, compassion, kindness and understanding are essential in both worlds. Toughness has a place in business, but executives without heart will struggle to attract business the same way a warm and engaging empath would. So for me, it’s about achieving the proper balance, and having been in both worlds, I feel uniquely adept at navigating the right course.
Can you share a common theme or lesson you think women specifically should keep in mind regarding their tax planning?
First, resist the old model of American life where the man in the relationship controls and guides the financial decisions. Both partners in every relationship should be intimately involved in all of the financial decisions of the home. This ensures a seamless transition in the event of a death or divorce, and it also ensures a second perspective on financial decisions. A second opinion never hurts.
Is there anything about the new tax law you think isn’t getting enough attention?
Tax reform was sold as a massive tax cut, when in reality, the loss of certain deductions has caused this to be a wash for most American families. It’s essential to employ the same tax avoidance and deferral techniques we at National Gilman have championed for years. So it’s not so much the new tax law that needs our attention as it is those that have been around forever that people must be certain they’re taking advantage of. With inflation creeping up, wages stagnating generally, and trade wars looming, every penny counts more than ever.
What impact would like to see the Women of National initiative have on the company and beyond?
Our company should look more like the country at large, not just from an optics standpoint, but also as a sound business strategy. As women finally take their rightful place in corporate America and in government, there will be a shift (and we already see it happening) whereby women make more of the investment and tax decisions in a household—and these women may want to see female advisors, tax planners and financial strategists. National should be at the vanguard of this movement so that we don’t look reactionary but rather visionary and proactive.