Before Albert Gonzalez emerged one of the most accomplished in-house tax counsels in the US, he began his legal career at Arthur Anderson in 1998. Just two years later, he left the accounting firm and joined Leboeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, LLP (now Dewey & LeBoeuf), a global law firm where he climbed the ranks and attained partner status. Over the course of a decade, he specialized in mergers and acquisitions and asserted himself as an expert in tax planning and reorganization.
While working on the tax controversy team in Albany, New York, and Stamford, Connecticut, he worked on many significant projects in which he facilitated communications between General Electric (GE) and the government as well as helped to successfully resolve many complex issues. When GE migrated its tax department in a partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), PwC named Gonzalez as a principal at the Big Four accounting firm’s Boston offices in 2017.
In January 2020, Lockton Companies recruited him to serve as the independent insurance brokerage’s first global head of tax. In this role, Gonzalez was tasked with modernizing Lockton’s tax function and developing a department that would be a strategic partner in fostering Lockton’s tremendous global growth. Fortunately, he inherited a highly skilled tax team that has been instrumental in implementing his vision of a value-driven tax department dedicated to highest standards of quality and integrity.
Tax, not unlike other corporate functions, has been slow to embrace the revolution in big data. “I would say tax as a whole was late to the data game,” he says. The SVP reflects on the evolving field and notes that it has missed out on the benefits of automation and strategic use of automated data processes for some time.
Fortunately, at GE and PWC, Gonzalez watched the Fortune 500 companies prioritize data and empowering their teams to leverage it for strategic decision-making. When Gonzalez joined Lockton, the company was on a mission to evolve its tax function into a modern, digital-first department. His data-focused insights and mindset made him the perfect fit for the team, and a strategic player in bringing Lockton’s vision to life.
“In working with my team members and analyzing their processes and tools, we came to the conclusion that if we wanted to become a truly modern tax department, we needed to make some enhancements,” Gonzalez remembers. From that point forward, with the support and resources of our company, the team focused on identifying process automation opportunities, leveraging data management tools, and filling any skills gaps to empower use of these tools expertly.
“We prioritized providing associates with the developmental opportunities they need to become modern tax professionals,” he explains. “Key to implementing these changes is having a team that is excited to learn and grow, and which embraces challenges as opportunities, not as obstacles, as well as having a company that believes in your vision and will provide the resources needed to accomplish that vision.”
Identifying skill gaps and providing development opportunities was key for Gonzalez. “It’s the equivalent of hiring a brilliant engineer to build you something, except you tell them that they can only have one sheet of paper, they can have a pencil with no lead and no other tools, so go to work,” he says. “The engineer is there saying, ‘I’m super smart; I’m brilliant. But I can’t do what you want me to do with what you’ve given me.’ You have to give people the tools.”
By the time the eager tax team finished their assessment of the tax department’s needs, they spearheaded a series of initiatives that made their modern tax department dreams a reality. They resolved to gain buy-in across the organization, consulted with tax compliance specialists at Ernst & Young (EY) to help, and streamlined processes for employees to pull metrics with ease. The team prioritized training sessions focused on modernizing their skill sets to better enable the use of their new tools.
“Al is respected by all the professionals with whom he interacts,” says Paul Philips, global client serving partner at EY. “With his stature, demeanor and technical knowledge, Al commands the respect of client corporate management and directors, as well as of his own staff and colleagues, while remaining approachable and able to communicate and transfer knowledge in a seamless, nonintimidating manner.”
And as everyone who works with data (and tax) knows, the work is never done. “This is an ongoing process. We have made improvements, but we are far from done.” And the same goes for the paramount work of diversity, equity, and inclusion, which he is just as passionate about.
“We rely on multiple viewpoints,” Gonzalez says. “Everybody on my team understands that if they have a view, then I want them to share it. As I tell them, we hired you for your brain, and so I want to know what your brain is thinking. I want to know how your brain is looking at something. If I don’t get that, I’m not doing my job, then our department is suffering.”
Gonzalez may not be the first leader that strives to foster a culture of diversity, open-mindedness, and transparency. Neither is he the first executive to champion a direct communication style that champions feedback. Beyond the benefits that performing his job with those values can bring him, it’s his experiences as a first-generation college student, as well as a Latino in the workplace, that inspire him to ensure his coworkers feel included.
“You don’t want people to think less of you, so you’re a little bit more reserved in how you approach things,” he comments on his journey through college and corporate America.
He continues, “As I got more comfortable in my skin and I got a little bit older, what I learned was our relationships with the individuals, or people that I work with in my mentoring of those people, those ended up being some of the most rewarding aspects of my career, my professional life. We may be different people. We may have different experiences, but there’s a little bit about what you’re going through that I do understand.”