Tax Planning Through Industry Turbulence

A conversation with Paige Brown, general manager of property and sales and use tax, Delta Air Lines

As Paige Brown oversees tax planning and strategic initiatives, in addition to property and sales/use tax issues for Delta, she finds value in long-time employees who can adapt to an ever-changing industry.

How has Delta Air Line’s tax department evolved with the changes in the business and industry over the years?

One of the strengths of our tax department is the length of tenure of most of the members. We have several staff that have been with Delta more than 20 and even 30 years. They possess institutional knowledge that is critical when working in such a unique and ever-changing industry.

Most tax laws did not contemplate a business that performs so much of its activities in the air. In addition, we were regulated and then deregulated, but several states still consider the airlines to be a public utility.

Most of our staff were present during the economic challenges following Sept. 11 and leading into bankruptcy. We then made changes with our regional airlines and merged with Northwest airlines, but all the while, the Atlanta tax office has continued to be the central point for all tax services and planning. Delta continues to diversify into other business areas such as petroleum refining, manufacturing, and fuel and spare parts brokering. Most of this change has come without an increase in staff.

What is your strategy for outsourcing?

Each area of tax has a unique combination of outsourcing to large CPA and tax specialty firms, overseas shared service and cost-effective relationships.  This combination allows us to focus on value added work.

How much is data and technology crucial to your company’s tax strategy?

A significant effort has been placed on the development of a tax data warehouse and the use of software tools to minimize manual processes in such a data-rich environment. We work closely with our IT and finance transformation departments.

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