Embracing Passion, Academic Choices, and Impactful Career Moves!
In a world where career choices often follow conventional paths, individuals are faced with the challenge of making decisions that align with societal expectations. The pressure to pursue traditional professions can sometimes overshadow the pursuit of personal passions and unique interests.
However, amidst these societal norms, some dare to defy convention, charting their course with unwavering determination. Among these exceptional individuals, one name shines brightly: Amit Kashyap, the visionary CFO at Qatari Diar, a global leader in real estate excellence.
Amit’s formative years were spent in the picturesque town of Shimla, where he was brought up by his parents—a successful lawyer and a committed college lecturer. It was in this supportive setting that his exceptional academic abilities started to emerge. While his father aspired for Amit to pursue medicine, firmly believing in his capabilities to succeed in this field, Amit’s true calling lay in a different domain—Finance and Tax in the Real Estate industry. It was during his high school years that he wholeheartedly embraced his passion for finance, a decision that received unwavering support from his family.
To pursue his financial ambitions, Amit secured admission to Shri Ram College of Commerce, an esteemed institution renowned for its commerce and economics programs. This milestone marked the beginning of his formal education in finance and set the stage for his future success. His journey was characterized by determination, a trait that would continue to propel him forward.
Amit’s career trajectory can be delineated into two compelling phases: financial consulting and real estate expertise. His initial role as a financial consultant saw him advising clients across various industries. Notably, some of his clients operated within the real estate sector. It was during this period that Amit’s knack for financial strategies and his passion for real estate converged.
The opportunity to join Qatari Diar, a globally influential player in real estate, beckoned Amit with its promise of a unique challenge. In this role, he would not only contribute to the organization’s bottom line but also establish its in-house tax team—an unprecedented endeavor at the time.
Amit’s decision to join Qatari Diar was rooted in the desire to make a profound impact on an organization with a far-reaching global footprint. His strategic insights and financial acumen have played a pivotal role in steering the company’s financial success while elevating its standing in the real estate arena.
In a world where success is often measured by one’s beginnings, his journey reminds us that with tenacity and a relentless pursuit of excellence, anyone can ascend to the pinnacle of their chosen field.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Pioneering Qatar’s Real Estate Development
Founded in 2005 by the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, Qatari Diar Real Estate Company has emerged as a prominent player in the real estate development sector. With its headquarters situated northeast of Doha, Qatar’s capital, along the Arabian Gulf coast, the company was established to support the nation’s burgeoning economy and manage its real estate development priorities.
At the heart of Qatari Diar’s portfolio lies its flagship project, Lusail City, unveiled in December 2005. Lusail City has garnered widespread recognition for its innovative approach to real estate development. Envisioned as a progressive, self-contained city, Lusail represents one of Qatar’s most ambitious single development initiatives. While still in the construction phase, Lusail City stands as a testament to Qatar’s monumental progress, embodying the visionary and high-quality standards associated with the Qatari Diar.
Beyond its remarkable endeavors within Qatar, Qatari Diar remains committed to translating its vision into reality on both local and global fronts. The company’s mission revolves around creating real estate projects that elevate quality of life and make positive contributions to communities. This steadfast commitment has earned Qatari Diar a reputation as one of the world’s most trusted and esteemed real estate companies. Key principles that guide the company include an unwavering commitment to quality, community engagement, partnership building, and sustainability.
As of 2022, Qatari Diar boasts a shared capital of US $8.1 billion and is actively involved in 50 investment projects across 20 countries worldwide. These projects collectively represent an investment value of approximately US$35 billion, demonstrating the company’s global reach and commitment to shaping the future of real estate development.
Journey into Taxation and Chartered Accountancy
During his time in college, Amit developed a keen interest in taxation as a specialization. He aspired to work at Arthur Andersen, a highly esteemed firm for those pursuing careers as tax and financial advisors. To secure a position there, Amit underwent a rigorous multi-interview process conducted across the entire Delhi University campus. Fortunately, he was among the fortunate few to be selected and joined the Arthur Andersen tax practice in their New Delhi office. At Arthur Andersen, Amit’s role primarily involved guiding multinational clients on matters such as cross-border or Indian taxation issues related to establishing operations in India, conducting merger and acquisition activities, and repatriating funds from India. Additionally, he assisted multinational clients with navigating foreign investment and exchange control regulations and obtaining the necessary approvals for setting up business in India.
While working at Arthur Andersen, Amit also pursued his studies and successfully became a qualified Chartered Accountant in 2000.
Arthur Andersen to Ernst and Young
In 2002, the merger of the Indian business of Arthur Andersen with Ernst & Young occurred following the unfortunate events surrounding Enron. At that time, Amit had already accumulated considerable experience in providing advice on Indian taxation matters. The field of international taxation in India was still in its early stages, and Amit found himself captivated by the intricate investment structures in well-established taxation jurisdictions. Driven by a desire to expand his knowledge and expertise in international taxation, Amit decided to relocate to Ernst & Young in Australia in 2004.
This move exposed him to a completely different taxation system, characterized by more developed and complex concepts and legal principles. Consequently, his understanding of international taxation greatly deepened. Furthermore, Amit was fortunate to receive sponsorship from Ernst and Young to pursue a master’s degree in taxation at the University of Sydney, which significantly contributed to his comprehension of international taxation. During this time, he focused on advising clients on cross-border Australian taxation matters to legally minimize their tax liabilities. However, Amit’s thirst for knowledge was still not quenched.
In 2007, an opportunity arose for him to join the International Taxation team at Ernst & Young London, which he eagerly seized. Once again, his learning curve skyrocketed, further solidifying his position as a trusted global tax advisor. The wealth of experience Amit had gained from his time at Arthur Andersen and Ernst & Young proved to be highly relevant and instrumental in his subsequent role as the head of taxation at Qatari Diar. This was especially crucial given the extensive international asset portfolio of the company.
Some notable projects that he was involved with while working at Ernst & Young are:
- Advising a US-based hedge fund on the tax implications for UK, Australian, and European investors of a proposed capital reorganization.
- Advice on the separation of worldwide operating and non-operating businesses at a large investment bank
- Involved in the conceptualization, advising, and implementation of a US financing structure for a listed entity.
- Advised a listed entity on tax-efficient acquisitions of businesses in Sweden, Slovenia, and Russia.
- Advised a leading fund on its IPO, which involved the preparation of a tax opinion included in the ‘Prospectus’ and a tax report on the Australian and UK tax implications of the holding structure for the fund’s investments.
- Advised a listed Japanese financial institution on the acquisition of the fleet financing business of an Australian bank.
- Advised a listed retail industry company on its entry strategy into India, tax planning opportunities, and expatriate taxation.
- Advised a leading Swiss confectionary company on its tax consolidation strategy and reorganization of Australian business operations.
- Ongoing advice to clients on tax aspects of share buybacks, employee share schemes, CFC implications, thin capitalization issues, tax consolidation issues, etc.
- Managing compliance functions of designated clients, including preparation/ review of income tax returns, business activity statements, and other tax filings Liaising with the ATO about the above
- Co-authored article, ‘Residence of Companies Not Incorporated in Australia’ published in Taxation in Australia (Issue 39/ October 2004) – Australia’s largest tax journal.
Transition from Tax Advisor to Head of Tax and Finance
By 2008, Amit had accumulated approximately 11 years of experience providing advisory services to clients in India, Australia, and the UK on matters related to international taxation. Being an advisor meant always considering things from an external perspective without being directly involved in making business decisions or facing the consequences of such decisions. It was during this time that Amit realized he didn’t envision himself as a tax advisor for the rest of his career. One day, while traveling on the tube, he came across an advertisement for the position of Head of Tax at a real estate company in the Middle East.
After meeting with the company’s CFO and Head of HR, Amit immediately felt a connection and knew he wanted to be a part of the future and success of Qatari Diar. At that time, the company had already acquired a significant portfolio of projects and assets in various locations, from the UK to Yemen to Malaysia. The challenge of establishing a tax function from scratch was something Amit was certain he wanted to take on.
Despite having previously agreed to a smooth transition back to Australia with EY, where he had been seconded to the UK office, his wife fully supported his decision. Becoming one of the earliest in-house tax professionals in Qatar at that time is something Amit takes great pride in. In 2010, Qatari Diar’s largest project, Lusail City, required the establishment of a dedicated finance function. Due to Amit’s success in setting up the tax function, he was allowed to establish the finance function for Lusail. This marked his first venture into a broader financial role beyond taxation.
Navigating the Tax Landscape
When Amit joined Qatari Diar, he was the sole person responsible for taxation. At that time, taxation was not widely understood in Qatar, which was primarily a tax-free country. However, Qatari Diar had investments in countries with developed taxation systems, making it crucial for business teams to consider tax implications when making decisions. It was also important for stakeholders to comprehend these implications in a business-friendly manner due to the complexity of the concept.
He recognized the need to transition from being a tax advisor to providing in-house tax support. Many professionals struggle with this transition because they are unable to shift from an advisory mindset to a decision-making mindset. Amit successfully overcame these challenges by promptly identifying the tax consequences of investment decisions during his reviews. Some of these consequences were significant enough to potentially hinder the investments. Before his arrival, these issues had not been recognized or emphasized. Once stakeholders understood the importance of proactive tax planning, he gained their support and was able to incorporate tax considerations into investment criteria.
Navigating the Shift
Amit believes that having industry experience is important when transitioning from an advisor role to an in-house position, but it is not crucial. The key factors are the ability to smoothly switch between the two roles and apply knowledge in business situations while effectively communicating with stakeholders. The Big 4 professional firms are known for providing a solid foundation, which he had gained during a decade of experience before joining Qatari Diar. This experience also instilled a strong work ethic that is valuable across industries. Additionally, his exposure to cross-border transactions enabled him to quickly identify important issues and present them to management for approval.
Amit’s learning and experience at Qatari Diar surpass anything from his previous life as an advisor. The opportunity to work in varied roles with the support of their bosses has allowed Amit to consistently deliver. They began by setting up the taxation function and building a team, then moved to Lusail to replicate the successful setup as the finance head. This transition provided a tremendous learning experience.
After successfully running the Lusail Finance function, he was entrusted with additional responsibilities for Financial Planning, Analysis, and Accounting when there were organizational changes. These experiences offered a broader view of the entire Finance function, which was different from their initial tax-focused days at Qatari Diar. He feels humbled to be one of the few individuals given the chance to work in such diverse roles within the company. This opportunity also allowed them to showcase their ability to take on the CFO role when the right opportunity arose. Amit attributes their success to the faith and confidence that their bosses and the CEO of Qatari Diar have placed in their abilities to deliver as CFO.